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Science Diplomacy and the U.S. Department of State

Reno Harnish, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science
Remarks at the Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia
November 10, 2008

Date: 11/10/2008 Location: Richmond, VA Description: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ambassador Reno L. Harnish speaks to a group of students at Virginia Commonwealth University about the role of science in foreign policy diplomacy.   State Dept Photo
State Dept Photo/Nov 10, 2008/Richmond, VA
Today I would like to speak to you on the Purpose and Impact of Science Diplomacy. I will start first with bilateral science cooperation; second, broader science cooperation; third, I will dwell on an example of cooperation with the Muslim world; fourth, how are priorities established, and I will wrap up with some conclusions on science in foreign policy.

The Department of State (DOS) engages governments, business, universities, non-governmental and international organizations, and individuals from every region in the world to promote scientific cooperation and education. To accomplish this, State applies a suite of diplomatic tools including: formal bilateral science and technology (S&T) cooperation agreements that facilitate international collaboration by technical agencies, promotion and support of S&T entrepreneurs and innovators, scientist and student exchanges, workshops, conferences, meetings, public-private partnerships, seed funding for scientific programs and innovation activities, and production of educational materials, including films, websites, posters, and cards. Our own activities and cooperation with other USG agencies cover a wide range of scientific topics, including alternative energies, health and medicine, environment and marine research, nanotechnology, space exploration, weather, seismology, and geology among many others.

The U.S. is a model for research: competitive, transparent and peer reviewed.

  • Benefits even advanced countries seek to draw lessons from the U.S. vs an institute system;
  • It is a major development goal, in my opinion, that will encourage scientific talent to stay at home, solve local problems, help construct a work force that is more capable of applying technology in a competitive world.
  • Serves foreign policy interests like non-proliferation. We do this with 180 people assigned to the Oceans, Environment and Science Bureau of the Department of State in Washington (GS, FS, AAAS, Jeffersons). 58 bilateral ESTH officers and 12 ESTH Regional officers “Hubs.” We pursue more than 350 negotiations on technical topics and administer $75 million in programs.

I. Bilateral S&T Cooperation Agreements

Science and science-based approaches make tangible improvements in people’s lives. Strategically applied, S&T outreach serves as a powerful tool to reach important segments of civil society. Sound science is a critical foundation for sound policy making and ensures that the international community develops reliable international benchmarks. Science is global in nature – international cooperation is essential if we are to find solutions to global issues like climate change and combating emerging infectious diseases. International scientific cooperation promotes good will, strengthens political relationships, helps foster democracy and civil society, and advances the frontiers of knowledge for the benefit of all.

The Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science (OES) in DOS pursues such efforts through the establishment of bilateral and multilateral S&T cooperation agreements. There are now over forty of these framework agreements in place, or in various stages of negotiation, in every region of the world – from Asia and Africa, to Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

These bilateral agreements have significant indirect benefits including contributing to solutions and initiatives that encourage sustainable economic growth (Vietnam and Brazil, innovation), promoting good will, strengthening political relationships, helping foster democracy and civil society, supporting the role of women in science and society, promoting science education for youth, and advancing the frontiers of knowledge for the benefit of all.

The agreements are instrumental in advancing our diplomatic relationships with key countries (like Egypt and Pakistan). They bring leading U.S. government scientists together with foreign counterparts and policymakers to discuss the important role of cooperative scientific endeavors in advancing, for example, our understanding of key elements of the climate system. Through our bilateral relationship with Russia, to cite one such project, we have advanced the state of research on the impacts of climate change in the Arctic – a key system in which we are working to address important gaps in knowledge. In bringing senior officials together to discuss areas of common concern, the bilateral partnerships have helped to demonstrate how much we have in common and have thereby advanced our diplomatic relationships and helped us achieve our objectives.

II. Broader Promotion of International Cooperation

The International Space Station Agreement and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) projects are multilateral projects the Department supports that have the promise of broadening knowledge, strengthening capabilities, and extending benefits to the United States and our international partners. (In my tour in Italy, space station was example of cooperation as synergy, Super Conducting Super Collider points to difficulties).

Disseminating knowledge on the use of remote sensing capabilities in developing countries and negotiation of nanotechnology standards for emerging products and services in member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are included in the wide range of subjects supported by DOS. (In addition to new Rules of Cooperation with Russia, $6 Billion Fund cooperation should be examined).

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is one of the greatest gifts of the American people to the world. OES works with the USG interagency community and foreign space-based satellite navigation providers to promote compatibility and interoperability of other provider’s signals and services with GPS for the benefit of users worldwide. A GPS-Galileo Cooperation Agreement with the European Union and Joint Statements on GPS Cooperation with Japan, India, Australia, and Russia are producing tangible results such as common signal design and protecting United States national security interests.

OES works closely with the United Nations (UN) Office on Outer Space Affairs and other interested nations to form a voluntary International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (ICG) and related Providers Forum. This multilateral venue provides an opportunity for discussing and resolving spectrum compatibility and interoperability issues, considering guidelines for the broadcast of natural disaster alarms via Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), seeking ways to enhance performance of GNSS services, promoting GNSS use among developing countries, and coordinating work among international scientific organizations for GNSS applications worldwide.

OES protects U.S. security and global economic growth by promoting global health. Global health policy is firmly grounded in a scientific understanding of the infectious, environmental and potential terrorist threats to public health worldwide. OES works with agencies throughout the U.S. government to facilitate policy-making regarding environmental health, infectious disease, health in post-conflict situations, and surveillance and response, bioterrorism, defense of the food supply and health security. OES works on global health with other U.S. government agencies, including the National Security Council, Homeland Security Council, Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Defense, USAID, and intelligence agencies. (During my time in Azerbaijan DTRA collects samples of pathogens then gives AZ a facility for securing them and doing responsible research.) OES also works with the United Nations (especially the World Health Organization) and other international organizations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and foreign governments.

Often, the scope of scientific endeavors and research interests requires DOS, due to limited financial resources, to leverage its resources with other governments. For example, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) leadership and DOS cooperation, the United States hosted the First Earth Observation Summit in 2003, with 34 participating nations, to generate international support for creating a comprehensive Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). This ambitious undertaking involves coordinating disparate Earth observation systems across the world in order to improve our collective ability to address critical environmental, economic, and societal concerns. The now 72 member governments, including the European Commission, and 46 participating organizations of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) met in Cape Town in November 2007 to assess progress.

Other parts of the Department of State are similarly engaged in S&T related cooperation. They focus on redirecting scientists through engagement in new programs, whether in the Middle East, North Africa or Central Asia. In Eurasia, cooperation is focused on post Soviet demilitarization of science infrastructure following the model of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) and the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). Cooperation in Eurasia involves cooperation with the Department of Energy, which since 1994 has funded over 650 projects at over 200 research institutes in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, and Uzbekistan under its Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program to provide meaningful, sustainable, non-weapons-related work for former Soviet weapons of mass destruction scientists, engineers, and technicians through commercially viable market opportunities. Also, the GIPP program provides seed funds for the identification and maturation of technology and facilities interactions between U.S. industry and former Soviet institutes for developing industrial partnerships, joint ventures, and other mutually beneficial peaceful arrangements.

OES works closely with a number of USG technical agencies on the international aspects of climate change policy. Under OSTP leadership, OES has played a key role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since its inception, through official contributions and key leadership positions in IPCC report development, as well as through the contributions of many U.S. scientists and experts. Another example of DOS cooperation on climate issues includes: the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which focuses on acceleration and deployment of clean energy technologies, and includes Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

Oceanographic exploration in the 20th century has completely transformed our view of the deep ocean. Today, scientists know that the deep sea is teeming with life and that its biodiversity is comparable to the world’s richest tropical rainforests. The advent of new exploratory technologies is leading to the discovery of ecosystems which are extraordinary in nature, often hosting species found nowhere else on the planet. For the fishing industry also, the unreachable is now within reach. Advances in bottom fishing technology mean that it is now possible to fish the deep sea’s rugged floors and canyons. This has led to an urgent call for action within the international community to ensure that deep-sea bottom fishing on the high seas is monitored and regulated to protect these unique and fragile areas. The Department of State, in collaboration with NOAA, has facilitated science and technology partnerships enabling more effective fishery regulation to achieve sustainability.

III. Outreach to the Muslim S&T Community

U.S. S&T capability remains one of the most admired aspects of American society around the world, and this is particularly true in predominantly Muslim countries. Public opinion polling indicates that people view American science and technology more favorably than American products, our education system, or even our freedom and democracy. Young people under thirty find American S&T particularly appealing.

Secretary Rice recognizes the promise S&T offers both to advance American national interests and to promote the freedom and dignity of others. S&T empowers everyone to raise themselves up by developing their own human and intellectual capacity. This empowerment gives hope – a natural enemy of extremism.

A wide variety of outcomes have resulted from the implementation of this strategy.

1. We have recently concluded S&T agreements with Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Jordan. We are now finalizing agreements with Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan. We’ve raised our S&T relationship with Pakistan to a higher level. With Pakistan and Egypt we have the only two government-to-government S&T funds still in existence.

2. Under Secretary Dobriansky hosted a “Conference of Women Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” in Kuwait in January 2007. The Conference brought together 270 women scientists and leaders from 18 Arab countries and Turkey, including a 31-member U.S. delegation that included university presidents, CEO’s and an astronaut, to build the capacity of Muslim majority and developing countries by focusing on women scientists as a key human resource.

3. The S&T cooperation agreement with Libya was the culmination of a multi-year, multi-faceted effort to acknowledge Libya’s historic decision to renounce nuclear weapons. By forging a new, positive relationship through science engagement, we hope to enhance our bilateral relationship and to advance peace and stability. Our own Bob Senseney has just returned from Tripoli where he is looking at new cooperation between Libya and the U.S. on civilian nuclear power, alternative energy and desalination.

IV. Establishing Priorities for S&T International Cooperation

The role of the DOS in international S&T collaboration is to advance the objectives of the USG, the academic community, and U.S. commercial interests. The State Department’s power rests in its ability to lay the appropriate ground rules for engagement at the government-to-government and international level, to serve as a catalyst, and to use its convening authority effectively. In its role as “chair” for USG international science engagement, OES convenes USG interagency working groups on S&T cooperation with specific countries. These groups are composed of representatives from over 20 USG agencies that have on-going, past or planned activities in those countries. Most interagency meetings are discretionary and called when S&T policy coordination is necessary. There are several every week over the course of the year.

Each year the DOS reviews its priority objectives with each of the regional bureaus to ensure that science and technology is advancing American national and foreign policy interests and promoting the freedom and dignity of others. This is followed up with detailed discussions at the bureau leadership level. Input from our missions abroad is factored into these deliberations, through the review of mission-specific strategic planning documents.

DOS also participates on various joint subcommittees of the National Science and Technology Council including the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, and attends meetings of the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council’s Studies Boards. DOS finds such mechanisms useful conduits to gather and disseminate information on international S&T policies and collaborative programs.

Interagency S&T coordination is achieved on both a country-by-country and regional basis. For example, the scientific response to the need for a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean basins, the implementation of a U.S. strategy on GPS, or the mobilization of “big science” programs, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor or the International Space Station, require coordination along thematic lines and on a regional basis. Building science collaboration that addresses individual national concerns and aspirations requires a more intensive effort toward coordination of agency programs on a bilateral basis, while concomitantly implementing the strategic vision put forward by the Secretary of State.

V. Conclusions

S&T is universally perceived as apolitical. This inherent characteristic makes S&T an excellent means for engaging societies, such as those in the Middle East, where the United States has become progressively more unpopular. While there has been no definitive study on the topic of what makes science diplomacy effective, we have learned through years of engagement that some of the key elements are:

  • finding areas that break new ground, sometimes in a neglected area of science or development (nanotech regs and 7 neglected tropical diseases)
  • finding areas that are educationally and developmentally transformative, that are highly motivational for the participants (earth observations and solar eclipse for science in the classroom)
  • finding areas that address core developmental issues of poverty and human development
  • finding areas that promote sustainable uses of natural resources
  • finding programs that stimulate job creation and private sector investment
  • finding collaborative projects that bear tangible results

The appeal of American science and technology creates a more favorable atmosphere in which to explain other American policies and interests. S&T allows the United States to engage in mutually beneficial dialogue with foreign nations, and creates a foundation for international exchange of ideas, scientists, data, and students. Science education provides opportunities for upward mobility for youth worldwide. S&T empowers individuals, in America and around the world, to find dignified, independent solutions to pressing social, economic, and environmental problems.

We are proud of the work we are doing to strengthen our S&T ties with other nations. Nonetheless, there is a lot more that could be done to further harness the soft power of S&T. Last month, the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy recommended that the DOS “expand its investment in Science, Engineering, and Technology expertise, presence, and global engagement. This includes expanding the Department’s engagement in global science, engineering, and technology networks through exchanges, assistance, and joint research activities addressing key issues.”

Thank you for this opportunity to speak and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.


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