APS News

The Back Page

Exploring the Role of Science in Foreign Policy

By Colin L. Powell

The strong partnership between American science and American statecraft is more critical than ever in meeting the challenges of the 21st century, and that our decision-makers and diplomats should work closely with our finest scientists is not a novel idea; it goes back to the earliest days of our republic.

Colin L. Powell
Colin Powell

Indeed, the concept was personified by our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, and our first Minister to France, Benjamin Franklin. Both made vital contributions, as you all know, to scientific study in America and to our young nation's success in the world.

To my knowledge, after Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, there has been only one other Secretary of State with a background in science- moi.

I happen to hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology from The City College of New York, and my great contribution to the field of science is that I never entered it. But you don't have to have a geology degree or to be Secretary of State to survey the 21st-century terrain and see that science and technology must inform and support our foreign policymaking in this challenging world that we live in.

Whether the mission is supporting the President's campaign against terrorism, implementing arms agreements, creating conditions for sustainable development, or stemming the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, the formulation of our foreign policy must proceed from a solid scientific foundation.

Since September 11th, all of us have been acutely aware of the dangers from terrorist threats and anthrax scares, cyber-threats and weapons of mass destruction. But we must not let the perils of our age blind us to the great promise that exists in this 21st century. Despite worrying about the Middle East, despite all of our concerns in places like Kosovo and Bosnia, we can step back and see that there are opportunities to be seized.

There is no major war taking place today between the great powers. Communism is dead, fascism is dead, the Cold War is over. Yes, there are tensions in the world, but the reality is that the major powers are now cooperating in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

A lot of my time is spent on the Middle East, of course, but a lot of time is also spent working with Russia, a new partner that has made a strategic choice to move forward with us in the campaign against terrorism, and beyond that, to cement a strategic relationship with the U.S. that will lower the number of nuclear weapons that both sides will hold.

We are also working with China, still a Communist nation of 1.3 billion people, but its leaders nevertheless understand that wealth and success doesn't come out of the barrel of a gun. It comes out of trade, it comes out of liberalization, it comes out of opening up your society to the wonderful forces related to democratization, liberalization, and market economics.

Forty percent of Chinese products come to the U.S. We press the Chinese on human rights, proliferation activities, and other issues of concern to us, but at the same time, we cooperate with them.

With these two great powers, Russia and China, we are creating a new stable relationship, not moving away from any of the values that we hold dearly, but at the same time recognizing that these former adversaries can be partners and friends as we move forward.

We are doing the same thing with other great nations such as India and Pakistan, creating a new relationship with these two countries so that we can move forward together and defuse tensions in that very tense part of the world and move forward and benefit both nations and both peoples in those nations.

We have seen great progress as a result of our engagement, and in all of these areas, science and technology has played an important role.

Since September 11th, we have cooperated with Russia on the technical aspects of counter-terrorism. We continue our programs that encourage Russian researchers to channel their know-how in a positive direction and keep that know-how out of dangerous hands. And we are reinvigorating our civil science and technology cooperation with Russia in the areas of basic research, health, environmental protection, and resource conservation.

President Bush's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee last November launched a new era in our bilateral relationship, and a new pillar of that partnership is a global issues forum, of which science and technology cooperation will be a major component. Nothing is of greater interest to Delhi than expanding science and technology cooperation.

No discussion of our science and technology cooperation around the world would be complete without mention of our extensive and intensive collaboration with Europe and Japan. Our staunchest allies are also our closest partners in a vast range of science and technology efforts from biotechnology to fusion energy.

I see great potential for enduring peace and stability in this unprecedented level of international cooperation. On economic and political fronts we see a growing number of market economies and democracies around the world. Country after country has embraced private enterprise, and country after country has embraced democracy because they understand that political and economic freedoms are the foundation for lasting prosperity.

To support the efforts of developing countries committed to the domestic reforms that are necessary for sustained growth, President Bush has announced an increase in the U.S. economic development assistance over the next three years that will rise to $5 billion a year every year, on top of all other foreign aid that we have been providing, beginning in Fiscal Year 2006.

In our assistance activities, we will continue to bring computer instruction to young professionals in developing nations; we will continue to provide textbooks and training to students in Islamic and African countries, to apply the power of science and technology to increase harvests where hunger is greatest. And we plan to expand our fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

You also saw our new approach to development at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa this past summer. We stressed that good governance, including solid science and technology policies, is fundamental to sustainable development. We also emphasized that as important as government-to-government cooperation is to development, governments alone cannot do the job. Public-private partnerships will be crucial to find the money needed to help nations address the daunting problems that they face in developing.

One of the public-private initiatives we showcased is the Geographic Information for Sustainable Development Project, which makes satellite imagery available to people around the world via laptops, to policy-makers, to users, to scientists so that they can get instant access to satellite photography.

These pictures will help them map watersheds, plan agricultural crop strategies, and trace urbanization trends. Linking that to GPS technology gives us new avenues to increase productivity and to bring the power of technology to the most distant corner of the world. Poor regions in Africa are the project's initial areas of study for this satellite imagery availability.

The U.S. and the world community have before us unprecedented opportunities we must seize, opportunities to help millions of people on every continent escape misery and build a better future for themselves and for their children. These opportunities have been created by globalization, a process that is largely propelled by science and technology. It is fashionable to talk about the dark side of globalization, just as people have always seen a dark side even to science.

Like scientific knowledge, globalization in and of itself isn't a force for darkness or a force for light; the issue is how we respond to this powerful force, how we use it to create hope for ordinary men, women and children around the world.

We are convinced that with good governance, solid economic policies, and with the responsible application of science and technical knowledge, globalization will be a positive force for the overwhelming majority of people on this planet.

We must work very closely with the scientific community to make sure that we have the best knowledge, that we are at the leading edge of the state of the art. Science and statecraft can and must work together for a safer, healthier, better world in many areas: missile defense, climate change, and energy, among others.

Even as science and technology help us tackle these complicated problems, other developments in science and technology will open up new challenges and opportunities that today we can only dimly imagine. Indeed, new avenues of scientific research may produce technologies as revolutionary in their security, economic and social implications as information technology has been since the mid-1980s.

One area of research alone, nanotechnology, could have enormous implications - some thrilling, others chilling - on terrorism, defense, health, development and the world economy.

In the months and years to come, the Department of State will continue to need the help of the scientific community in bringing your collective knowledge, experience and expert judgment to bear as we seek to understand complex issues and to work within the international community to address them.

Help keep us abreast of breakthroughs like genetically modified foods that can help fulfill the promise of a prosperous, healthy, stable world. Help us also to comprehend, to anticipate, and to guard against the dangers that can befall us should technologies fall into the hands of those who would use them to do harm.

Do all that you can to inspire young scientists to devote themselves to tackling the great challenges of feeding, housing, and educating, and meeting the energy, water and health needs of the 9 billion people expected to be on Earth by the year 2050.

Help us to share know-how and promote science education all around the world. I urge you in particular to volunteer as mentors, set up mentoring programs with math, science and technology.

Get young people turned on to the challenges and opportunities that math, science and technology provide to them. It is often said that science shapes the future, but it is the rising generation of young people who will shape the future of science.

Last but not least, help us build scientific and technological capacity right here in the State Department and across our foreign affairs community. Scientists have graciously put their own research on hold, stopped their own work, their own life, and volunteered to perform tours of duty in many of the State Department's bureaus. They are making a real difference, and we look forward to welcoming more scientists on to our State Department team, either as fellows or as career Foreign Service Officers or Civil Service Officers.

The American people can be proud that the U.S. is the world's leader in science and technology. That does not mean we have a monopoly on brains or wisdom, or that we don't have much to learn from others. Far from it. But I think that we have been enormously successful because our scientists, engineers and medical experts live and work within an open democratic society that values the freest possible flow of ideas, information and people.

As the American scientific community and the U.S. Government work in partnership to safeguard against those who would turn tools of science into instruments of terror, to guard us against those, we in government also want to work with you to preserve the freedoms that make America and American science so great.

Colin Powell is the U.S. Secretary of State. This article is adapted from a speech he gave at the National Academy of Sciences in April.




©1995 - 2016, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette