Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comments on Science, Technology and Development

"Science, Technology, and American Diplomacy: Background and Issues for Congress," Deborah D. Stine, Congressional Research Service CRS Report RL34503, Updated June 20, 2008.

I just read the report identified above, and want to make some comments. It is a useful guide to recent studies of S&T in our foreign policy.

It is interesting that people don't think of the social sciences as science. If one did one would emphasize economics as the science most critical to U.S. international economic policy and political science as critical to U.S. international security policy -- the key elements of U.S. diplomacy.

The author, as do many others, ignores the scientific and technological functions of the State Department's Bureau of International Organizational Affairs, but that Bureau deals with the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO and the UN Development Program -- all with important scientific and technological aspects.

The author also seems to recognize only marginally that every branch of government in involved in international activities with scientific and technological as well as diplomatic elements. The foreign policy agencies -- Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, the Intelligence agencies -- should be obvious to all. Examples from the "domestic agencies" include:
  • The Department of Health and Human Services for example has obvious concerns for the detection and control of communicable diseases abroad. It also has interests in the safety of pharmaceuticals imported into the United States (and exported from the United States), and perhaps surprisingly in the health of the millions of Americans abroad at any time, and of the millions of non-U.S.-citizens in the United States at any time.
  • The Department of Agriculture has a foreign agriculture service due to the importance of its international interests.
  • The Departments of Commerce and Labor have fundamental interests in the promotion of exports and in globalization of the productive sector.
  • The Department of Education is concerned with recognition of U.S. degrees abroad and foreign degrees in the United States, and should be concerned with the globalization of education with improved communications and transportation systems, as well as the domestic needs for skills and knowledge of immigrants.
I could go on to talk about NASA, NOAA, EPA and other agencies.

The United States was in my lifetime the home of most of the world's scientists, the source of most of the worlds economic product, and the most important locus of technological innovation. That dominance is no longer. The United States needs to import scientific knowledge and technology if it is to stay at the forefront in these fields, and cooperation need no longer be between unequals. Indeed, what once was seen as technical assistance can now be seen as collaboration for mutual assistance. Globalization requires more rapid technological innovation and also more rapid response to threats that arise anywhere in the world. Man's footprint is ever increasing, and therefore we need to cooperate more to preserve the environment, a cooperation best served by mutual understanding based on collaborative science.

I think these factors mean that we have to envision science and technology in a new way in our foreign policy.

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