NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

National Research Council (US) Institute for Laboratory Animal Research. Animal Research in a Global Environment: Meeting the Challenges: Proceedings of the November 2008 International Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.

Cover of Animal Research in a Global Environment

Animal Research in a Global Environment: Meeting the Challenges: Proceedings of the November 2008 International Workshop.

Show details

Plenary Lecture

Science and Technology and US Foreign Policy


It’s a tremendous thrill to be at this podium. It was 4½ years ago almost to the day that Secretary of State Colin Powell stood here and talked for an hour and brought this packed auditorium to its collective feet in a standing ovation. He talked about the role of science and technology and its importance in the conduct of US foreign policy. It’s really that theme that I want to expand and build on today.

Before I begin, let me just say that I’m reminded of the importance of what you all are doing every morning on my way to work. My office is near Metro Center. As one comes out of the subway, there are two big illuminated advertisements. One of them really stands out. The first time I saw it, I actually stopped and went back to read it. What it says is: “Even if it would find a cure for AIDS, I still would be against the use of laboratory animals in testing.” And there is a picture of a colony of rats compared with a sick child in a hospital. Those are two really catchy images.

So let me tell you, you are doing some very important work in a very, very important field. As you know, in the United Kingdom, this issue has resulted in violent demonstrations against animal testing; the British are very concerned about it. And some of that activism is beginning to occur in the United States.

On one of my trips to the UK while I was at the State Department, I was invited to appear before a committee of the House of Lords on the subject of animal testing, which at the time I knew very little about. They took this issue very seriously and wanted to talk about our experience in the US. They were deeply worried that stopping animal testing would greatly interfere with medical research in the UK.

So I’m delighted to see so many international visitors here today, so many foreign guests. Your presence demonstrates that this is a global issue and something that we should all be working on together.

But let me go ahead to my favorite subject: science and foreign policy. In 1998 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on the National Academy of Sciences to do a study on the relationship between science and technology and foreign policy. The result of that 18-month study, which was privately funded by a wonderful man from New York named William Golden, was this little green book, as I call it. For years, while I was at the State Department, people kept saying, “This is like Norman’s bible—he carries it around like an itinerant preacher.” But if you are interested in the subject of the relationship of science and technology to foreign policy, this is probably one of the best pieces ever written, despite its rather cumbersome title—The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State. The key point is that sixteen of the stated goals of US foreign policy—and at least in the Clinton administration those goals were actually written down— involve significant considerations of science, technology, and health. There are many examples in the book, and it goes through and develops them very effectively.

After receiving the report, Secretary Albright set up a study team to examine its recommendations. Eventually, she decided to proceed with specific actions to strengthen the capacity of the State Department to deal with the technical dimensions of foreign policy issues. The report had concluded that the Department was at the time not adequately equipped do so. A key decision was to appoint a science and technology advisor to the secretary of state to drive this process. I was lucky enough to get that job. I always recommend to aspiring young people to be the first one to have a new job, because there is no one to compare you with. If you are first, you set the bar for your successor.

It was a fascinating time. I loved the job. It was a 3-year appointment. I would have happily stayed on, but that was the agreement. I met with someone later from State and I told him what we had done and that I thought we had been successful and mentioned some accomplishments. He said, “No, Norman. The success was that you had a successor,” because that experiment could so easily have been a one-off experience in the State Department. Not only did I have a successor, but my successor now has a successor.

Interestingly, I visited the AAAS website last night while I was making a few notes for this talk, and came across an item about Nina Fedoroff, who is the present science and technology advisor—she is actually quite a famous scientist, who recently got the National Medal of Science for her work in plant genomics. There was a summary of a big speech that she had given just two days ago on the role of science and technology in foreign policy, and particularly science diplomacy, to which I will come back later.

Jack Gibbons, a former Science Advisor to President Clinton, once called the State Department the most technophobic culture he had ever experienced. What he was saying is that conveying the importance of these issues to a foreign policy culture and to a Foreign Service culture is not so simple. And my office consisted of only three people. So, one thing I decided early on was that we had to get more scientific smarts into the building—more people with scientific backgrounds.

It turned out that AAAS had a fellowship program for PhD scientists who could be placed in federal agencies for one or two years. At the time I started, there were only five of them in the State Department, even though the program had started a few years before. With some splendid help from State’s personnel people, we were able during my tenure to greatly increase the number. In addition, three scientific societies supplied additional fellows. And my immediate successor in the job succeeded in creating the Jefferson Fellows Program, which added each year five to ten tenured professors on leave from their universities. That means that at this time there are 40–45 PhD science-diplomat fellows from multiple scientific disciplines distributed among some 12 different bureaus of the State Department. I believe it is really making a difference. I like to say this program has gone far to raise the overall scientific literacy at State and made people much more aware of the great importance of science and technology in all of our international relationships.

However, we do not now have scientific attachés in embassies overseas as we did 30 or 40 years ago when there were such positions in about 20 embassies. Over time, as the State Department budget decreased, financial and other pressures caused those scientific positions in embassies abroad to disappear. There still are science officers, but for the most part they are Foreign Service officers. They are good people, but they are not scientists, which is a great plus when engaging with the local scientific community. Even if one is a physicist, he or she can talk to a biologist or a chemist, because all have the same kind of experience and confidence in evidence-based science. There is among scientists a kind of common language, which greatly facilitates access to the science community of other countries.

Let me give you an example from my own career. In the late 1960s, in the middle of the Cold War, I was assigned as a scientific attaché to the US embassy in Poland, with responsibility for Czechoslovakia and Hungary as well. The Vietnam War was at its peak. Official relations between the US and Poland were absolutely dreadful. But I had wonderful access to the people in the Polish Academy of Sciences. We had some extra funds at the time that we could use for funding cooperation, which I found is a very effective mechanism for engaging with other countries.

Let me illustrate this with some examples from today. At AAAS we have recently created a Center for Science Diplomacy. The point of the Center is to build relationships in science and technology to use as an active instrument of a constructive foreign policy. You have heard a lot about America’s “hard” power in action—not all of it favorable in recent years. This is America’s “soft” power in action and something in which I believe very strongly. Science cooperation is an instrument that can be very effective in building constructive relationships with other countries.

This means, however, that science is being supported not based purely on peer review but as an instrument of foreign policy. The big problem is finding funds for this kind of activity. The normal peer review mechanisms based purely on merit are not sufficient. We have to find a mechanism in the US through which we can fund these international scientific activities for the benefits that come from building relationships with other countries, and not just for the scientific results.

The first science program ever created for political reasons in the United States was in 1961. A professor from Harvard, Edwin Reischauer, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine called “The Broken Dialogue.” He felt that the university community in Japan was being seduced by the message of the Communist Party and that there was an antagonism to the US and to the US military. He wanted to fix what he called the “broken dialogue” between the intellectual communities of the US and Japan.

President Kennedy appointed him as his ambassador to Japan. Shortly after that, at a White House dinner in honor of visiting Prime Minister Ikeda of Japan, President Kennedy raised his glass in a toast and created a program of cooperation that had three committees: an economic committee at cabinet level; a cultural committee, with some university people; and a joint committee on scientific cooperation—the first time that science cooperation was used by the US to improve relations with another country.

This occurred about the time I decided that I wasn’t the greatest researcher in the world. I was working at a refinery in Baytown, Texas (which, by the way, is now the largest refinery in the United States; although it had to shut down as the hurricane blew through a couple of weeks ago). I found a job with the National Science Foundation, where I felt I could combine my strong interest in international issues with the science. I went to NSF just as this program was getting under way, and I became the first permanent director of that US-Japan program. That was my “baptism” into the business of international science. I have never quite recovered from it. I am still hooked.

It was curious, though, that we even had criticism of that program from the president’s science advisor, Jerry Wiesner, former president of MIT and a very distinguished scientist in his own right. He said, “Look, you’re doing science for political reasons. Maybe it’s bad science.” My response was “No, it is our responsibility as managers of those programs to make sure that the science is good.” But if all of those international programs had to compete with the 15 or 20 percent of R01 proposals that get funded at NIH, or even the 20 percent of proposals that get funded at NSF today, they probably would not succeed, because those funding decisions are made purely on scientific merit and the benefit to US science.

However, while the joint program was producing quality science of interest to both countries, we had to be certain that it also had the potential to build relationships that could grow and expand and eventually find their own funding. However, this was not always so easy, given the scientific state of Japan in 1961 compared to the US, which had emerged fully intact from the war. In addition, the scientists in the two countries were not familiar with each other and there were significant language and cultural issues.

We were successful in working through all of those challenges, and remarkably, this Japan program still exists today at the National Science Foundation, although of course it has changed. There is no more dedicated money for it. Scientists in each country find their own funding, but the program really has continued for all these years.

Another activity along these lines is the Pugwash Conferences. These were not started by governments but by the scientists themselves (largely physicists). It was people like Andrei Sakharov, Richard Garwin, Frank Long, Leo Szilárd, Harrison Brown—people who had been involved in the nuclear program and who were concerned about the US and the Soviet Union building enormous nuclear arsenals. Some say the US built 75,000 nuclear weapons during the war, the Russians 50,000. The biggest Russian weapon was 100 megatons—100 million tons of TNT equivalent in the biggest bomb. When they got ready to set it off, they were afraid it might throw the earth off its axis, so they actually dialed it back to 50 megatons. There is an incredible picture of the mushroom cloud from that explosion.

So these physicists instituted the Pugwash Conferences, which were funded by a man who was excoriated in this country, Cyrus Eaton, named “the red billionaire” because he was friends with Khrushchev. He funded these conferences in the little town of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, where he had an estate. The scientists began a dialogue. Of course, there was a natural empathy between physicists who had developed bombs on both sides. They built up an atmosphere of trust with each other. Eventually, in my view, which may differ from the views of others, this atmosphere of trust percolated up to the governments.

I was asked to be the interpreter for one of the visits of a Pugwash delegate, who was like myself an organic chemist, on a visit to the United States. It was fascinating. We went around to many universities, where he gave his lecture in Russian and I translated it into English. After the lecture was over, we went into a back room and met with some of the university professors to talk about limiting and stopping atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

These conferences eventually led to signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in the Kennedy administration, and this effort eventually grew into more comprehensives treaties for arms control. I personally think these types of dialogues between the scientific communities of the two countries contributed in a major way to avoiding mutual annihilation. (Remember, the strategy at the time was mutual and assured destruction for both sides.)

President Nixon and Henry Kissinger were supportive of the use of science as an instrument of foreign policy. When US presidents traveled around the world, they would typically give a gift, such as money or an aid program. As some of you may remember at the beginning of the 1970s when the oil prices were very high and there was a financial problem in the government, the government began to deliver science cooperation as a gift. The idea was to promote cooperation between the US and other countries.

A big year for this activity was 1972, when President Nixon had the big breakthrough with China. That, of course, resulted in a major geopolitical repositioning of the countries around the world, i.e., between the US and China as well as in their triangular relationship with Russia. This was a breakthrough because there had essentially been no contact between the US and China since 1949 when Mao took over in China. While some countries had diplomatic relations with China, the US had nothing other than some rare, formal discussions at the US embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

As President Nixon’s trip to China was being prepared in complete secrecy in the White House, Mr. Kissinger came to my boss Ed David, the president’s science advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology (OST), where I was the assistant for international affairs. Kissinger indicated that the US would like to present to the Chinese something more than geopolitical repositioning. He wanted to show them that there could also be some concrete, tangible benefit from a new relationship with the US. He wanted us to put together some proposals for science cooperation that would demonstrate to the Chinese what could result if in fact the two countries could come to an agreement. But, of course, he also said this should all be done in complete secrecy.

In a few sleepless days and nights, we worked with people at the Academy as well as in our own organization and put together approximately 40 proposals that were taken to China and were part of the discussions at the diplomatic level. Agreement was reached in the form of the famous Shanghai Communiqué, which resulted in a great change in the foreign policy of the United States.

Until 1979, there was a slow beginning of science cooperation with China managed by the US National Academy of Sciences. However just before formal diplomatic relations were established in 1979 under President Carter, his science advisor Frank Press had taken representatives from some 19 federal technical agencies along with some university people and come back with agreements for cooperation in a wide range of disciplines. Over the next 25 years the resulting programs have collectively grown into the largest bilateral cooperative scientific relationship of the United States with another country. A significant part of it was the fact that between 50,000 and 60,000 Chinese students, graduate students, and researchers came to the US every year and worked in our laboratories. Two-thirds of them studied some aspect of science and technology or science and engineering. At the beginning, about 90 percent of those people stayed in the US—they became college professors, they went into our companies, some of them even started companies themselves. Now, however, a much larger percentage of these scientists, some of whom have been in the US for many years, are returning to China. As we are feeling the squeeze on funding for basic scientific research in this country, the Chinese are experiencing an enormous expansion.

Many people say that was all a mistake; however, I disagree very strongly. I truly believe in it and think it is important—I think we must engage with the world by establishing an atmosphere of transparency. We need to know what’s going on in other countries. We need to work with them. In fact, I believe it is useful to think of it in terms of brain circulation rather than brain drain, resulting in a mutual benefit.

So I believe that this program was worthwhile and that it should continue. In my present job at AAAS, I’m concerned with science as applied to security issues. I will be going to Beijing to meet with people who designed their nuclear weapons and who are still willing to talk to us about their nuclear strategy. One hopes that they tell us the truth. I think the only way we can really make sure that we don’t have some collision with China is to have as much transparency as possible. And if you are in Washington very long, you will find that there are people who think that China is the eventual enemy and that we have to be prepared now. But I disagree and think we must invest time, energy, and commitment in maintaining transparency and maintaining relationships to ensure that a major calamity does not occur.

In 1972, Nixon also went to Moscow and had a summit meeting with Brezhnev right after the China visit. That was fascinating, too. It was at the height of the Vietnam War when we had just mined the harbors at Haiphong and the war had just been escalated. It was quite a suspenseful week and the administration did not know whether the Russians would cancel the summit. Fortunately, they didn’t.

At that summit meeting, seven scientific agreements were signed, one of which I had worked on in the government for a year. That agreement created the first joint committee on science and technology cooperation with the Russians. There was significant opposition to that agreement, but the opposition to the space cooperation agreement, which was signed at the same time in Moscow, was even greater. The space cooperation agreement called for the famous docking experiment, in which our spaceship and theirs actually docked. Many felt that we were going to give them the secrets of our complex docking processes, with difficult maneuvering and complicated software, among other issues. In spite of these concerns, the experiment took place, and today we actually depend on the Russian Soyuz and the Russian space capsule to get our astronauts up and down to the International Space Station because we have lost a couple of shuttles on the way.

So it is remarkable how these things turn out. However, it was very contentious at the time and it remains contentious. Because of the recent Russian actions in Georgia, there is great hesitancy about continuing to buy these Soyuz modules from the Russians. Yet we will have no launch capability to the Space Station after 2010, when we discontinue the shuttle. This is a huge concern that is currently before the Congress. It is not clear whether they will deal with it before this session ends.

There are some other historical examples, which I won’t go through. However, my point is that these issues can be extremely important.

So what are we going to do in our new center for science diplomacy at AAAS? We are going to actively try to solve this funding problem, which I mentioned before. The money cannot be given to a science agency because there it must be expended based purely on peer review. This is a huge problem for NSF; the NIH has a better international profile because disease is everywhere, and if they receive a competitive proposal from India, for example, they can fund it. However, this particular type of NIH grant is not for the purpose of cooperation, it is purely for doing research on a specific problem. If there is cooperation, that is just a collateral benefit.

Money could be given to the State Department. However, the funding process among committees on the Hill is such that it is very difficult to find one that will give research money to the Department of State. It happened once, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. In that situation, there was money for recovery in the Eastern European countries and for employing former weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union. The Eastern European programs and the money are gone. Some of the so-called cooperative threat reduction programs that were meant to keep weapons scientists from going elsewhere (i.e., selling themselves and their knowledge to bad countries) and keep them working on peaceful issues in Russia and in other former Soviet Union countries still go on today. But money for those programs is slowly going away, and we need to find other sources for our science diplomacy.

We are now working with some people on Capitol Hill who support this idea. People like Nina Fedoroff are making speeches about this subject. One possibility is that money could go through USAID. There was an attempt back in the Carter administration to do a similar thing. It passed through three of the four legislative hoops in the Congress, but in the end it failed. We consider this our big challenge and are committed to working on it.

What countries are of particular interest to us? Consider North Korea. Actually, after five or six years, the [George W.] Bush administration changed US policy toward North Korea, which had emerged from the Clinton administration on a very constructive and positive trajectory. Under the Bush administration, this completely stopped and we switched to a regime-change program. Nothing happened for six years and the North Koreans built a bomb. Now we’ve started diplomacy again.

We have been trying to do some science cooperation with North Korea. We have made two proposals to them but they were both turned down. They maintain that they don’t want us to visit and talk to their scientists. They only want to know how much money the US has for the program and what equipment we will give them. This premise is not a great basis for cooperation, but that has been their position so far.

Iran has been different. President Ahmadinejad is at the UN today. We must listen and hear what he says. This Academy started a relationship with Iran eight years ago run by a fellow named Glenn Schweitzer, a remarkable person in his own right. Glenn has maintained those contacts and I have been involved with them for the past four years.

This has been a remarkable process. Some of the text that I am paraphrasing today comes from a seminar in November 2007 in Tehran, the title of which was “Science: A Gateway to Understanding.” It was proposed by an Iranian professor. The former president, Khatami, a reformist, participated in the meeting, along with a very important mullah. In a follow-up dinner, the vice president for research appointed by Ahmadinejad proposed that we do a joint seminar on the subject of “the misuse of science.” That seminar is scheduled to take place in February 2010 in France. In planning the seminar we asked which subjects are off-limits and were told that no subjects are off-limits, even weapons. We shall see what happens.

It is well understood that this seminar will not be a substitute for negotiations on the nuclear issues. In that area there has to date been no progress. However, our aim is to maintain relationships with a very intelligent and very Western- oriented, but diminishing, science community in that country. They are influential people, and we believe that through those contacts, we may have some mediating impact on the relationships between the US and Iran. We shall see what comes from it.

Then there is the whole area of the Muslim world, which I will not expand on at the moment. However, I really think that such science diplomacy programs can be enormously powerful “soft power” instruments of a constructive foreign policy. I am dedicated to trying to get some significant funds into these kinds of activities before I give it all up and retire for the third and last time.

Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK91522


  • PubReader
  • Print View
  • Cite this Page
  • PDF version of this title (2.0M)

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...