Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
The Secretary of State's Open Forum Conversation Series
June 22, 2000
Good afternoon. Thank you for including me in the program today. I am delighted to be here sharing the platform with Assistant Secretary David Sandalow and my esteemed colleague and predecessor, Jack Gibbons, who did such an outstanding job as President Clinton's Science Advisor. And I am pleased to have an opportunity to share some thoughts on new developments in twenty-first century science (which I know a little about) and twentieth century diplomacy (which I know nothing about). Although this is a timely discussion, I feel that perhaps I should be jogging as I speak, as an indication of how fast science and technology are changing our lives and how our government must accelerate its pace simply to keep up with the tempo of that change.
David Sandalow has just made clear the strong commitment on the part of Secretary Albright and Department of State for Science and Technology. Secretary Albright declared that, “The United States must maintain its ability to "lead effectively" on a range of global science-related issues.” I wish to focus my remarks on what the U.S. can do to lead more effectively by making three main points. First, the U.S. needs to maintain its lead by continuing to invest, indeed, I believe increasing its investment in science and technology, because they are the driving force in our knowledge-based economy. Second, the pace of discovery and innovation demands higher level science and technology skills from all Americans – including those who work in the US Government and in particular, at the State Department. In order to lead effectively, the U.S. must know the main issues of science and technology as we know economics, trade or any other major policy area. Third, America's goal of sustaining world leadership in science and technology can only be achieved in cooperation with other nations.
NEED TO INVEST IN S&T
Let me start with the first point, which is the need for significant, I would say, growing science and technology investment. To thrive in the knowledge-based world economy, I think no one questions that we simply have no alternative. The fruits of the new economy we are enjoying today are based largely on innovation made possible by investments made in fundamental research years earlier. One hears that view expressed again and again by economists, entrepreneurs, even leading business schools.
This is the eighth year in a row that President Clinton has proposed increased investments in the civilian R&D budget. This year the 2001 civilian R&D request is $43.3 billion, a 6% increase over FY 2000; an amount which is 51% of the overall R&D budget of $85.3 billion. In addition, the President has proposed a $2.9 billion Science and Technology Initiative. This budget would fund key programs to maintain our leadership in science and technology, supporting innovation to ensure continued prosperity in the 21st century. And it is carefully structured to begin to restore the balance between biomedical research and the rest of our R&D portfolio – a balance that underlies progress toward our national goals of promoting long-term economic growth that creates high-wage jobs; sustaining a healthy, educated citizenry; enhancing national security and global stability; and improving environmental quality. The President has taken major steps to strengthen America's position in science and technology leadership. It is particularly disappointing to see the congressional response in the form of appropriations bills that shortchange this nation's investment priorities. I'm still hopeful that we can accelerate the pace of discovery and innovation by greatly increasing our investments in R&D, but it's an uphill struggle.
ALL AMERICANS NEED S&T SKILLS IN THE 21st CENTURY
But research must be coupled with education to get the biggest payoffs from
our investments. We must educate and nurture a highly skilled workforce of
both private and public sector people who can manage the new frontiers of
Now I know that some of you probably remain skeptical of the importance of strong S&T skills in diplomacy. But I believe scientific and technological breakthroughs are among the United States' greatest gifts to the world. The U.S. can make even more significant contributions to worldwide societal needs in food production, health, communications, clean energy and clean water. Let's talk about food for the moment, looking at the role of international diplomacy. Through agricultural biotechnology, we can battle hunger by developing high-yielding varieties of crops while building capacity in developing countries to help advance
their own scientific knowledge base. International collaboration can
help to ensure that advances are safe and productive. The debate over
genetically modified foods often overlooks the pressing need for this new
technology in most of the world. International diplomacy, couched in the
sciences, can help guide relations with other countries around the barriers of
emotionalism which can accompany debates about new technologies, often fueled by
those who would use fear to advance their agendas.
Good U.S. science leadership also implies that we have highly skilled science and technology professionals to help manage the potential downside of new technology. What are the potential negative implications? Bill Joy, cofounder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, and inventor of the Unix operating system and Java, shared some scary thoughts of the future in a Wired Magazine article, where he questioned whether our S&T inventions might overtake humans' ability to manage them. He wrote that:
“The 21st century technologies – genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups.”
Whether or not one shares his view, Joy is right to raise the question of how to control the power of the future technological developments. Certainly the self-replication of robots seems beyond the realm of possibility to our eyes and ears. But then we remember that Albert Einstein, in 1932, was known to have said,
“There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” Certainly, at a minimum, we must nurture an awareness of the new compelling possibilities in the frontiers of science and technology.
The new science requires new ways of looking at the world and consequently new approaches to conducting the business of diplomacy. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has said, “Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” The U.S. Government is perhaps used to negotiating from a position of superiority, holding an unparalleled position of power, in a world where “big is beautiful,” which inescapably shapes our attitudes. In the science and technology world, however, the U.S. does not have the monopoly on knowledge. We come to the table with a lot to offer and a lot to learn. The U.S. cannot claim to be able to live without the knowledge and discovery of others. The smallest, least important country in the world in traditional power terms, may make a key technological discovery. And even more unpredictable is the distribution around the countries of the world of the most creative, brilliant scientists and engineers. With the Internet, smart people everywhere can make their mark.
The USG diplomatic community must be prepared to deal with knowledge-based
advances, no matter where in the world they arise. A Love-Bug virus
originated in the Philippines, certainly not on anyone's list of threatening
countries. In terms of science, and perhaps more generally, it is not
always the country which needs to be classified as “good” or “bad” or "of
concern", but the way in which technology is
Few would argue with the statement that developments on the new frontiers of
science would impact the balance of power in the world. Technological
advances can almost always be used to help as well as to harm. Yet when
scientific achievements are under development, there is often no immediate
connection to the implications for international diplomacy. Worse, there
is sometimes a denial of the international importance of scientific
results. Marchal Ferdinand Foch, a professor of strategy at the French
School of War, once commented, “Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no
military value.” We need a scientifically strong and well-qualified State
Department to avoid the pitfalls of such limited thinking. In fact,
restoring the older science and technology cone function was specifically not
recommended in the NAS report on State reforms because a basic awareness of
scientific and technological advances must become part of the common knowledge
pool of all educated public servants. With basic science and technology competence at all levels, in all departments, in all functions, the new frontiers of science and technology can be considered in conjunction with disciplines and issues as varied as political balances of power, arms, trade, economics, peacemaking and international partnerships.
NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION
This brings me to my third point, that America's leadership in science and technology can only be sustained in cooperation with other countries. The country which will lead in the knowledge-based economy is the one that knows that it has some, but not all, of the answers and that has cultivated the ability to work together with other nations and to listen and learn from others' explorations and discoveries. The U.S. cannot “go-it-alone” in S&T. We must lead in a web of partnerships. The strategic importance to the U.S. of international science and technology collaboration cannot be understated.
Just recently, the President proclaimed May 7-13 as our nation's first “Global Science and Technology Week.” At its core, science is an international undertaking. The fundamental workings of nature – the function of a gene, the quantum behavior of matter and energy, the chemistry of the atmosphere – are not the sole province of any one nation. By putting our minds together, we speed the advance of new discoveries. Similarly, the challenges to our health from disease, to our environment, to our safety can be better addressed if we work together. We continue to count on the State Department's support in pursuing our international cooperative initiatives in clean energy, in water, in green chemistry, in the human genome project, in emerging infectious diseases and in many other areas.
But it is important not to underestimate the challenges inherent in
international collaboration as opposed to the old ways of mostly
“going-it-alone.” The unique nature of the collaborative form can be seen
in a story from the world of music. Pianist Joseph Kalichstein was trying
to cooperate with a page-turner during a performance at Carnegie Hall many
years ago. As Kalichstein told it, “I assumed the page turner had had some
experience, and I was hoping for the best. The page turner, perhaps not
wishing to distract, didn't rise from his seat and reach for the top of the page
to be turned, as he should have. Instead, he stayed glued to the chair and
turned each page from the bottom of the manuscript, blocking the music with each
motion. Finally, I hissed at him, ‘At the top! At the top!' – whereupon
the page turner stood up indignantly and flipped all the music back to the
The piano anecdote illustrates the main challenges of international scientific collaboration: the need to work with some ‘other' party. The U.S. collaborates while it holds firmly to the principles of merit-based peer review and openness to the public on science policy decision making. As the United States engages in developing shared knowledge and shared solutions, we will be depending on the cooperative efforts of ‘other' countries, and – no matter how tightly we would word a legal agreement – without definitive control. I am certain that the pianist, Joseph Kalichstein, would have preferred to turn his own pages if he could. It will be a perpetual challenge to adapt to the unaccustomed taste of mutual interdependence. It is a taste that we must cultivate as it is the way of the future. The pianist and the page-turner both ended up indignant with each other, and we must take care to prevent our cooperative endeavors from ending on the same discordant note. This is especially true in a cross-cultural context, where suspicions can surface quickly, and participants can sense insults when none were intended. Building and managing relationships with key science partner countries will continue to be a major role for international diplomacy. We cannot afford to have bad relations in one area spill into good relations in science and technology. The State Department is uniquely positioned to build, guard and nurture the quality of the overall relationship of which science collaboration is a part.
As the need has grown, support for international science and technology
cooperation continues to be difficult to obtain. In the U.S. there is a
suspicion of an American give-away. The environment for international
science and technology has been somewhat clouded by charges of espionage,
sanctions and a tightening of access to information and facilities. Of
course, I fully support the need to appropriately limit access to sensitive
information and technologies. But we look for support from the State
Department in reinforcing our message that our strength as a nation depends on
the quality of science and technology, which, in turn, requires engagement with
– not isolation from – the international science and technology community.
We need State to actively facilitate international scientific exchange and
discussion; to allow scientific dialogue to carry on unimpeded even with
Recently I led a delegation of scientists to India to hold an
Inaugural High Level Dialogue as part of the President's historic visit.
Although sanctions remain in place, the scientists at the table found common
ground and a wealth of opportunities for sharing their extensive knowledge base
for mutual benefit in areas totally unrelated to weapons of mass
destruction. We continue to look forward to developing and catalyzing
scientific cooperation with India through the S&T Forum and bilateral
In conclusion, let me again compliment the State Department on their efforts to strengthen their science base. Looking to the future, we see that we have a busy agenda ahead of us. We must use our worldwide contacts to keep each other apprised of scientific breakthroughs, spotting important trends and worrying uses of technology, as well as identifying promising new contributions to society; we must learn as we go as each new technology yields implications for our international diplomatic relations; and we must work together to rise to the challenges of leadership in a world based on international collaborative science partnerships; holding firmly to the principles of peer review, and openness to the public on science policy decision making, yet listening and exploring and working with other countries to perpetually generate knowledge. In a very real way, the success of this State Department initiative will determine the future of science and technology in America – and our ability as a Nation to work with all our international partners to form a better world.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to listening to my esteemed predecessor's remarks.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502
To comment on this service, send feedback to the Web Development Team.
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore