Science Diplomacy

A mathematics major in the Foreign Service

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Science Maganize Calls for Science Diplomacy

From Science Magazine for May 7, 2021:

Achieving broad human progress goals, as articulated in many of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (2), will require that diplomacy and policy-making be informed by science. If the United States follows through with its plans to center science in decision-making, it can provide vital leadership in addressing emerging global challenges. Some of the most effective international agreements were forged through science-based policy crafting. The Antarctic Treaty System of 1959 (3) enables research at the South Pole. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (4) facilitates the work at the International Space Station. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 (5) stymied the depletion of the ozone layer. The success of these treaties demonstrates that international cooperation informed by science is already a model for future progress....


To accomplish this goal, the Biden-Harris administration should create a new position of undersecretary for scientific affairs and reestablish the science affairs officer within the State Department. Scientists and engineers should also be installed in the Foreign Service and at the National Security Council.

Another Call for More Scientists at the State Department

The Scientific American also called for more scientists at the State Department. Nick Pyenson and Alex Dehgan wrote:

"Traditional diplomacy related to territory and place. It was organized by sovereign nation-states with borders and limits that were clearly defined. Those coming into the foreign service, especially in the U.S., came from fields like history, economics and political science, forming the bread and butter of the foreign policy schools. These backgrounds help with the standard set of diplomatic responsibilities for engaging with host country officials, but they are no longer sufficient—nor is it enough to just listen to scientists. Bringing scientists to the front lines of solving our most pressing, complex problems is a necessary step for diversifying and improving the composition of our foreign affairs and foreign assistance institutions."

I came to the Foreign Service with some of what they want. I had a bachelor's degree in mathematics, not exactly a hard science, and I had a law degree, adding to my liberal arts credentials, rather than my scientific credentials. However, I was more interested in science issues than most of my Foreign Service colleagues. The article continues:

"Even with a richness of talent, we still need more opportunities for integrating scientists on the front lines of U.S. embassies and missions abroad. Programs such as the AAAS fellowships already place postdoctoral scientists throughout the State Department and USAID for pressing problems in diplomacy and development. Scaling up this type of program would have a real impact on global diplomacy and development. At USAID, the Partners for Enhanced Engagement for Research have built hundreds of collaborative research programs to date, in conjunction with American scientific agencies, aimed at building long-term engagements and connections across the global scientific community."

When I was the deputy director of the State Department office dealing with environmental conservation issues, we had two AAAS fellows working on biological issues. The director of the office spent about a year in Nairobi negotiating the Biodiversity Convention, which the US then refused to sign. The main opposition came from then Vice President Quayle's office, mainly his chief of staff William Kristol. President George H.W. Bush said he could not sign two environmental agreements, one on climate change and the other on biodiversity, because of pressure from the Republican Party. He felt it was more important to sign the framework climate agreement than the biodiversity convention. So, the work of our office was for naught.

The article points out the advantages of scientific cooperation, especially since many foreign scientists have studied in the US. One of my biggest disappointments was when the US ceased to fund scientific cooperation with Poland shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, and as Poland was transitioning from a Communist government. The US had promised several million dollars a year for science cooperation with Poland for five years. I was sent to oversee that cooperation, but the Gingrich Republican revolution occurred about a year after I arrived, and the Gingrich Republicans refused to fund the remaining years of the agreement. One would have thought that the Republicans would have wanted to encourage Polish scientists and welcome them into a free world with a free economy with a little help, but apparently Republicans didn't care about Communism anymore and had moved on the domestic political issues. Meanwhile the State Department had a little money of its own to supplement the cancelled Congressional appropriation, and it decided that China needed the money more than Poland; so, State gave its remaining science cooperation cash to China. At least we know the Chinese put it to good use, outpacing US scientific activity.

Call for More Scientists at State Department

An op-ed in The Hill newspaper says the State Department needs more scientists. It says:

However, at the country’s senior-most diplomatic ranks, the integration of science and technology lags dangerously behind. The only elements expressly chartered to consider scientific, environmental, technological or energy issues are relegated to second-tier status within the State Department hierarchy. While the integration of temporary science fellows into the State’s junior ranks has yielded benefits to be sure, for the most part, the structure for science and diplomacy within the State Department is fractured, inadequate, and under funded....    

First, the State Department should create a new Foreign Service career track for diplomats with substantial prior formal background in the hard sciences and/or technology.... 

Second, the Department's leadership hierarchy must include a clear focus on integrating science and technology into diplomacy. This almost certainly requires establishing an under secretariat for science and diplomacy supported by career professionals at all levels.

I was one of the first and last career science officers in the Foreign Service in the 1990s in something called the "Science Cone" for Foreign Service officers specializing in science work. The Foreign Service had traditional specialization "cones" for political, economic, administrative, and consular officers. I don't think the science cone lasted, but I am not sure because I retired about a year after becoming a member of the science cone.


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