National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Office of News and Public Information
National Academy of Engineering
Back | Home
News from the National Academies
Date: Oct. 7, 1999
Contacts: Susan Turner-Lowe, Director
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 11 A.M. EDT THURSDAY, OCT. 7

State Department Urged to Take Bold Action to Infuse Science, Technology, and Health Expertise into Foreign Policy Agenda

WASHINGTON -- The secretary of state should take decisive action to ensure that science, technology, and health considerations are continuously integrated into the nation's foreign policy agenda, concludes a new report by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

"From specific incidences of emerging infectious diseases to the broad concerns about global industrial competitiveness, we know that science, technology, and health considerations permeate a vast array of issues that the Department of State grapples with every day," said Robert Frosch, chair of the Research Council committee that prepared the report, and senior research fellow at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. "Yet ironically, as the world becomes more technologically interdependent, the trend at the State Department has been to downplay science and technical expertise. It's time to reverse that trend."

At a minimum, the committee said, all foreign service officers and other diplomatic officials should achieve basic competence in scientific, technological, and health matters. Recruitment, training, and promotion should recognize the importance of these skills. In addition, assignments in science, technology, and health should be considered an important asset for all officials on career tracks to ambassadorships.

The report also urges the secretary of state to appoint a highly qualified senior adviser on science, technology, and health. And it calls on the department to assign at least 25 technically trained science counselors with foreign policy expertise to serve at a comparable number of embassies in countries where issues of science, technology, and health are most critical to the United States. The department also should establish promotion and career incentives for service in positions related to these areas. At present, with occasional exceptions, the report says, the most highly talented foreign service officers are ill-equipped for and have little incentive to seek those jobs. In fact, science, technology, and health-related assignments may be a career handicap, rather than an asset, for foreign service officers who are encouraged to develop other essential skills, and serve in political and economic positions. The committee urged the department to reward - not penalize - foreign service officers for their technical experience and competence.

The report builds on interim recommendations the committee made to the department in the fall of 1998. In this final report, the committee notes that as yet there has been relatively little action on its earlier set of recommendations.

The committee was assembled at the behest of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and comes in response to widespread concern among U.S. scientists and foreign policy experts that, although science, technology, and health developments increasingly impact foreign policy, the department has reduced its capabilities in critical technical areas. As environmental concerns have grown in importance, for example, the department has redirected resources to environmental diplomacy from other important areas that now receive little attention. Moreover, the number of science counselors at U.S. embassies has dropped precipitously, with most positions being filled by foreign service officers having little relevant background. Thus, the embassy reporting mechanism by which the U.S. government keeps abreast of important emerging issues around the globe has seriously eroded.

The report points to a number of thorny diplomatic situations where science, technology, and health expertise has been essential - from nuclear nonproliferation to population growth, the safety of the world's food supply, and the future of the world's energy resources (see list that follows).

Given that reality, the committee recommended 13 ways the State Department could go about integrating science, technology, and health awareness into the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Along with urging the secretary to appoint a senior adviser and to assign science counselors to embassies worldwide, recommendations include:

> explicitly delegating to an undersecretary the responsibility for ensuring consideration of science, technology, and health factors in policy formulation, particularly during meetings and consultations involving the secretary or the secretary's senior advisers. The title of the undersecretary should include the phrase "for scientific affairs," reflecting this new authority and responsibilities.

> establishing a science and technology advisory committee to provide expertise to the secretary and other officials on emerging and complex issues.

> transferring responsibility for international science, technology, and health activities to other federal agencies when appropriate. The department is overloaded with its ever-expanding portfolio of responsibilities; greater oversight for international programs should be dispersed to agencies capable of handling them.

> allocating sufficient resources to support the recommendations in the report. Important initial steps can be undertaken within the current organizational structure and personnel constraints, and with modest resource allocations.

The study was sponsored by the Golden Family Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of Statesfor free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Office of International Affairs

Committee on the Science, Technology, and Health Aspects of the Foreign Policy Agenda of the United States

Robert A. Frosch(1) (chair)
Associate
Robert and Renee Belfer Center for Science
and International Affairs
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

John D. Axtell (2)
Lynn Distinguished Professor of Agronomy
Department of Agronomy
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.

Harry Barnes
Director
Conflict Resolution Program
The Carter Center
Atlanta

Gail H. Cassell (3)
Vice President of Infectious Diseases Research
Eli Lilly and Co.
Lilly Research Laboratories
Indianapolis

Sue E. Eckert
Senior Fellow
Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies
Brown University
Providence, R.I.

Robert W. Fri
Director
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

David Hamburg (2, 3)
President Emeritus
Carnegie Corporation of New York
New York City

Ronald F. Lehman II
Director
Center for Global Security Research
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Livermore, Calif.

Thomas E. Lovejoy
Chief Biodiversity Adviser, and
Lead Specialist for Environment
Latin America and the Carribean
The World Bank
Washington, D.C.

David D. Newsom
Cumming Professor of International Studies
and Diplomacy (Retired)
Department of Government and Foreign Affairs
University of Virginia
Charlottesville

Roland W. Schmitt (1)
President Emeritus
Rensselaer Poytechnic Institute
Rexford, N.Y.

Eugene B. Skolnikoff
Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Philip M. Smith
Partner
McGeary and Smith
Washington, D.C.

Robert M. White (1)
Principal
Washington Advisory Group, and
Senior Fellow
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and
H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and Environment
Washington, D.C.

Research Council Staff

Glenn E. Schweitzer
Study Director

(1)Member, National Academy of Engineering
(2)Member, National Academy of Sciences
(3)Member, Institute of Medicine


Excerpted from The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State

Examples of Issues with Significant Science, Technology, and Health (STH) Content and Foreign Policy Relevance in Selected Countries and Regions

Russia
  • Exports of missile and nuclear technologies
  • Brain drain of former weaponeers and computer scientists
  • Emergence of small innovative private firms
  • Infectious diseases: AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis
  • Participation in International Space Station
  • Protection of nuclear materials and safety of nuclear reactors
  • Y2K computer retrofits: military, aviation, and financial systems

    China
  • Energy mix and energy systems: coal, nuclear, hydropower; small stand-alone electrical grids
  • Exports of military and dual-use technologies
  • Population growth
  • Development of space program
  • Brain drain of students studying in United States
  • Respect for intellectual property rights
  • Adequate and safe food supply

    Nigeria
  • Oil exploration and exploitation
  • Detection of drug trafficking
  • Diseases: AIDS, river blindness, malaria
  • Water and sewage treatment
  • Population growth
  • Nutrition deficiencies
  • Brain drain of well-educated specialists

    Mexico
  • Breeding of wheat and corn varieties
  • Sharing with United States of water resources
  • Cultivation and trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic drugs
  • Compliance with pollution reduction requirements of the North American Free Trade Agreement
  • Food safety and contamination of food exports
  • Sewage discharges along Pacific coast
  • Labor standards in high-tech industries

    India
  • Computer software capabilities
  • Potential for nuclear weapons testing
  • Population growth
  • Biotechnology for agriculture and pharmaceuticals
  • Adequate and safe food supply
  • Trade with Russia in dual-use technologies
  • $10 million program of U.S.-Indian S&T cooperation

    Japan
  • Foreign access to research facilities
  • Emergence of high-tech terrorist groups such as Aum Shinrikyo
  • Earthquake engineering
  • Development of dual-use aerospace technologies
  • Expansion of nuclear power industry, including use of plutonium
  • Fishing activities: southern, northeastern, and northwestern Pacific Ocean
  • Industrial competitiveness

    European Union (regional)
  • Genetically-modified agricultural products
  • Regulation of toxic chemicals
  • Foreign access to research funds
  • Export controls on computers
  • Harmonization of laws on intellectual property rights
  • Reconstruction of infrastructure in Balkans
  • STH cooperation with nations of former USSR

    Middle East (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, West Bank, and Gaza Strip)
  • Use of water resources: efficiency, desalination, recycling
  • Biodiversity: flora and fauna
  • Malnutrition: micronutrients, ciliac disease
  • Communicable diseases: hepatitis
  • Terrorism: transportation security, forensic investigations
  • Population growth
  • Waste disposal: water and sewage treatment and burial of hazardous wastes