Science Diplomacy gets a Boost with New Bipartisan Bill

by Cathy Campbell | March 18th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Last Friday, Reps. Howard Berman (D- CA) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Global Science Program for Security, Competitiveness, and Diplomacy Act, which proposes an increase in the application of science and scientific engagement in America’s foreign policy.  This follows the recent appointment of U.S. Science Envoys by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and according to its authors, “formalizes the Obama Administration’s intention to enhance international science cooperation.”

Science and technology (S&T) remain among the most admired aspects of American society, even among nations without a wholly favorable opinion of the U.S.  Science has the power to inform decisions and serve as a core instrument of diplomacy.  Science cooperation is critical to America’s ability to win worldwide respect and support and can help build bridges for peace and prosperity worldwide.

Beyond simply calling for a larger role for science, the bipartisan bill details a variety of applications ranging from advancements in academic science and technology to the nonproliferation of WMD expertise, all of which seem pragmatic and feasible.  On the surface, the bill addresses a sensible and thorough approach to deploying scientific research and technological development to engage foreign counterparts over the long term.

Notably, this bill seems to reflect the “smart power” sentiments of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph S. Nye Jr., whose 2007 editorial challenged readers to, “Stop getting Mad, America. Get Smart.”  ‘Smart power’ (soft power) advocates contend that hard power (military might) alone cannot sustainably secure America’s long-term goals.  Instead, the smart power approach to foreign policy invests in the global good, builds sensible alliances and collaborations by placing America’s strengths forward, and charges the public—nonprofits, academic institutions and individuals who, by the very nature of their work, engage in public diplomacy each day—to identify and pursue real opportunities to achieve peace, stability and prosperity.  Among the most valuable assets of American smart power is science.

The bill further echoes the appeals of former Under Secretary of State Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, who advocated for a larger role for science and technology-based engagement throughout her tenure.  As far back as the early, post-Cold War days, there were those who saw the long-term value of science engagement for building a safer and more prosperous America.  There is also a long history of bipartisanship on science diplomacy that includes the development of scientific exchanges between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the U.S.-Japan S&T cooperation in the 1960s and the U.S.-China Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology in 1979.

For those of us involved in international science engagement—particularly non-governmental organizations, this bill represents a very important first step in realizing the opportunities that lie ahead.   The nascent bill’s journey has only just begun and many hurdles remain as it is reviewed by various Congressional committees, and navigates the greatest obstacles of any new legislation—time and relevance to contemporary concerns. Collectively, however, we hope that given the tremendous opportunities and potential gains for America to restore its global leadership, to effect solutions to WMD proliferation and to vastly expand access to potential collaborators, business partners, academic exchanges and the types of valuable relationships that transcend political borders, that such hurdles will be overcome.  Time will tell.

Cathy A. Campbell is president and CEO of the Arlington, VA-based CRDF—a non-government organization focused on establishing peace and prosperity across the globe through science and technology cooperation.  Ms. Campbell has nearly three decades of international science and technology policy and program management experience.

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