Saturday, July 14, 2012

Still More On Engineering Diplomacy

There is a report titled "Science, Technology, and American Diplomacy: Background and Issues for Congress" by Deborah D. Stine. The report of the Congressional Research Service, published in June 2009, provides a useful overview of the role of science, technology and engineering in U.S. foreign policy as seen from the Congress. The date of publication suggests that the document was intended as a review of policy for those assuming office in 2009, and thus could not fully represent the policies of the Obama administration.

Of course, the Congress has an important role in setting policy for engineering diplomacy and in appropriating funds to implement that policy. Of course, members of Congress are politicians and few have engineering skills or background. Engineers do serve on Congressional staffs, and importantly there are fellowships available to allow engineers to serve for a year or two on such a staff. Perhaps more important, engineers can provide advice to Congress through scheduled hearings. Even more important, engineers acting either in their private capacity or as representatives of the organizations in which they work can take the initiative to recommend foreign policy positions to their Representatives and Senators.

Stine's report is also useful pointing out that there are many agencies of the executive branch involved in engineering diplomacy. While I tend to focus on the State Department and USAID, I recall an important role for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. It is also the case that virtually all of the "domestic" agencies have international interests. This is certainly true of the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and even Interior. In an increasingly globalized world, diplomatic approaches can be used to advance the mission of virtually every part of government. I would note especially that the mission agencies of the U.S. government are often best able to deal with the specialized agencies of the United Nations system (e.g. Department of Energy with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Department of Health and Human Services with the World Health Organization) and with the related departments of the International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank.

One might even mention that the judiciary branch of government may have a role in engineering diplomacy. Cases may be brought to federal courts with strong technical components, indeed with a mixture of economic and technical concerns for which engineers have special competence. There are mechanisms by which the courts can call upon the engineering profession for technical advice on the issues involved in such cases.

We think of foreign policy as a concern of the federal government, but state and even local governments organize international travel seeking to promote foreign investment in their territories or foreign sales of their industries. Here too, engineers can play an important diplomatic role as members of delegations and advising on priorities for international activities. Indeed, they can help finance these efforts.

Note too that engineers engage in international professional work both as agents of the organizations that employ them and as volunteers. I would suggest that it is useful for them to be conscious that in these roles they are also citizen diplomats. Their behavior reflects not only on the profession but on the nation.
A fundamental question is why the United States should invest in international S&T diplomacy instead of domestic research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM) activities, which are facing budget constraints. Deborah Stine
 At the end of World War II, the United States GDP was about half of the world GDP. The United States had a historic role in engineering innovation (think of Edison and Ford, or even earlier, the American system of manufacturing). During the war, America had pioneered in big technology development efforts (radar, atomic bombs, etc.). Moreover, the United States obtained very important engineering and technological capabilities from Europe before, during and after the war. This was a very anomalous situation. One can not expect a country with five percent of the world's population to produce half or more of the world's inventions and technological innovations permanently.

Today Europe has comparable engineering and technological capacity with the United States and Asian nations are fast advancing to comparable strength. As a result, it is important that we actively scan the world for inventions and innovations that would strengthen American engineering and take appropriate steps to transfer technology from abroad to the United States. This function is more important than is generally recognized, and it is likely to become still more important in the future. It should be seen as an important and increasing function of STEM diplomacy, one in which engineers must play a key role.

Here are two recent posts on engineering diplomacy:

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