Science and Foreign Policy

By Hamilton, Lee H.; Nichols, Rodney et al. | Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Science and Foreign Policy


Hamilton, Lee H., Nichols, Rodney, Bernthal, Fred, Guruswamy, Lakshman, Issues in Science and Technology


Frank Loy, Under Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department, and Roland Schmitt, president emeritus of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, recognize that the State Department has lagged behind the private sector and the scientific community in integrating science into its operations and decisionmaking. This shortfall has persisted despite a commitment from some within State to take full advantage of America's leading positions in the scientific field. As we move into the 21st century, it is clear that science and technology will continue to shape all aspects of our relations with other countries. As a result, the State Department must implement many of the improvements outlined by Loy and Schmitt.

Many of the international challenges we face are already highly technical and scientifically complex, and they are likely to become even more so as technological and scientific advances continue. In order to work with issues such as electronic commerce, global environmental pollution, and infectious diseases, diplomats will need to understand the underpinning scientific theories and technological workings. To best maintain and promote U.S. interests, our diplomatic corps needs to broaden its base of scientific and technological knowledge across all levels.

As Loy and Schmitt point out, this requirement is already recognized within the State Department and has been highlighted by Secretary Madeleine Albright's requested review of the issue within the State Department by the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC's preliminary findings highlight this existing commitment. And as Loy reiterated to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC), environmental diplomacy in the 21st century requires that negotiators "undergird international agreements with credible scientific data, understanding and analysis."

Sadly, my experience on Capitol Hill teaches me that a significant infusion of resources for science in international affairs will not be forthcoming. Given current resources, State can begin to address the shortfall in internal expertise by seeking the advice of outside experts to build diplomatic expertise and inform negotiations and decisionmaking. In working with experts in academia, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and scientific and research institutions, Foreign Service Officers can tap into some of the most advanced and up-to-date information available on a wide range of issues. Institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NRC, and WWC can and do support this process by facilitating discussions in a nonpartisan forum designed to encourage the free exchange of information. Schmitt's arguments demonstrate a private-sector concern and willingness to act as a partner as well. It is time to better represent America's interests and go beyond the speeches and the reviews to operationalize day-to-day integration of science and technology into U.S. diplomatic policy and practice.

LEE H. HAMILTON

Director

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Washington, D.C.

Frank Loy and Roland Schmitt are optimistic about improving science at State. So was I in 1990-91 when I wrote the Carnegie Commission's report on Science and Technology in U.S. International Affairs. But it's hard to sustain optimism. Remember that in 1984, Secretary of State George P. Schultz cabled all diplomatic posts a powerful message: "Foreign policy decisions in today's high-technology world are driven by science and technology . . . and in foreign policy we (the State Department) simply must be ahead of the S&T power curve." His message fizzled.

The record, in fact, shows steady decline. The number of Science Counselor positions dropped from about 22 in the 1980s to 10 in 1999. The number of State Department officials with degrees in science or engineering who serve in science officer positions has, according to informed estimates, shrunk during the past 15 years from more than 25 to close to zero. …

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