The Secretary of State’s Open Forum Conversation Series
Dr. Neal Lane
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

The Secretary of State’s Open Forum Conversation Series
U.S. Department of State

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.


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.


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 science.
This brings me to my second point.  For the U.S. to lead effectively, everyone needs to be better prepared for science and technology, understanding their uses, and the implications of those uses.  Compelling new scientific and technological
possibilities are being pursued whether we are exploring the Internet at our fingertips, or examining the far reaches of space and oceans, or furthering exploration in robotics and other smart machine technologies.  But a recent workforce report produced by the National Science and Technology Council shows cause for concern over whether the U.S. educational system will produce enough qualified workers to meet the challenges of our high tech society.  While the U.S. has relied on the contributions of foreign-born scientists and engineers, this pool of trained individuals may decline as other nations develop economies that make it more attractive for their scientists and engineers to stay, or return, home.

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 diplomacy can make or break the situation when a technology is used across borders.  One of the promising new initiatives we are pursuing is the use of geographic information systems to reduce the impact of natural disasters.  Together with international partners, we are applying this advanced form of mapping to improve our understanding of the geology in disaster prone areas, which helps countries prepare for threats and plan an effective response when disasters strike.  The U.S. Government’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program is one success story.  Due to the U.S. Geological Survey’s use of this technology, in collaboration with their Philippine partners, they were able to predict and safely evacuate seventy-five thousand people living on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo before it erupted.  In some disaster situations in some other countries, it was not always clear that the U.S. mission understood the value of the scientific equipment and expertise, and how they could best facilitate a happy outcome when technologies have problems crossing a border.  The mission agencies would welcome the opportunity to work with State to boost scientific know-how across all key missions in all countries, as a mission’s support can either facilitate or, at times, impede benefits for both the U.S. and our international partners.

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
put to use for good or bad by groups or individuals.  The Science and Diplomacy communities must build a stronger working relationship to assess and manage the implications of new science on our interconnected world.

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.


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 starting measure.”

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
scientists from “countries of concern” in appropriate areas.  We have learned that international scientific collaboration proved to be an extremely valuable tool for engaging with former Warsaw Pact countries even during the chilliest periods of the Cold War.  It remains important today.

   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 intergovernmental meetings.

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.

Office of Science and Technology Policy
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