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Diplomacy in Action

Science and Foreign Policy

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Address at the American Association for Advancement of Science, Science and Technology Policy Forum
Washington, DC
May 13, 2010


Good afternoon, everyone. It is my pleasure to be here. I would like to thank Vaughn for that introduction and also thank Alan Leshner and Alice Huang for the invitation to speak here today. It is always a treat for me to come to an AAAS meeting, as it always feels like a visit with great friends who I don’t get to see often enough and who always have exciting and important things to say.

My remarks today will attempt to be a snapshot of some important policies and efforts that reside at the intersection of science and foreign policy. The Obama Administration is now 15 months old. Messages regarding our commitment to science and its importance in achieving our national and foreign policy goals have been loud and clear. President Obama provided the clearest statement of his commitment in his speech at the Academies, last spring:

“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.” He also stated that: “… [we] need to work with our friends around the world. Science, technology and innovation proceed more rapidly and more cost-effectively when insights, costs and risks are shared; and so many of the challenges that science and technology will help us meet our global in character.”

Secretary Clinton has stated that achieving our foreign policy goals depends on diplomacy and development. She has repeatedly acknowledged and emphasized the essential role of science and technology in both. Almost every week the Secretary mentions the importance of science and technology in moving forward.

In her speech earlier this year on Development in the 21st Century, she stated that:

“There is no limit to the potential for technology to shrink obstacles to progress. And the United States has a proud tradition of producing game-changers in the struggles of the poor.” She went on to add: “This innovation tradition is even more critical today.”

In her address on World Water Day, Secretary Clinton stressed that we must harness the power of science and technology to improve access to reliable supplies of clean water.

Today, I want to speak to how this recognition of and commitment to science in foreign policy is playing out. How it is more than speeches – how it is present and thriving in policies and actions across the board.

Science in foreign policy is visible in its most obvious form in our bilateral science and technology agreements. These agreements seek to promote and support international collaboration in areas of mutual interest, to facilitate cooperation, to ensure that U.S. researchers are able to engage with their partners. While this has been the traditional starting point of looking at what has emerged as a broad portfolio of science diplomacy, it is not where I want to start today. Rather, I would like to draw your attention to another “diplomacy” term –Global Health Diplomacy.

Global Health Diplomacy recognizes the importance of diplomacy in addressing global health issues. The basic health conditions around the world affect a nation’s ability to maintain economic growth and prosperity. At the level of the individual -- addressing health conditions can obviously make the difference between life and death, between whether a productive life is possible, between whether a family will be centered around a mother or lose her in childbirth.

While global health conditions have improved, we still face many serious problems:

  • More than 3 million children and 100,000 mothers die each year from causes related to under-nutrition, which weakens immune systems, and makes people susceptible to other health problems such as pneumonia, a leading cause of death for children worldwide.
  • In 2008, there were 33 million people living with HIV, most of these in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Malaria cases exceed 240 million every year, with more than 800,000 deaths, most of these children under the age of five living in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Almost one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and twice as many to basic sanitation.

Global Health Initiative

To address health conditions in the world’s developing countries, President Obama announced the Global Health Initiative on May 5, 2009. It is the centerpiece for global health for this Administration. This is a six-year $63 billion initiative – a commitment to address some of the most serious health problems facing the world. The initiative maintains our funding and strong commitment to existing programs, including the fight against HIV/AIDS, but will also address broader health challenges, including child and maternal health, family planning, infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases. In addition, the GHI will provide a specific new focus on strengthening health systems through integration and coordination.

The Global Health Initiative identifies core principles that will guide its actions. These include adopting a women-centered approach; developing country-led programs; strengthening health systems; improving metrics; monitoring and evaluation methods; and ensuring that research, development and innovation are central to GHI efforts.

Research, development and innovation are core activities of the GHI. Basic research to understand how pathogens cause disease is essential. NIH and CDC play key roles in efforts to understand HIV, malaria and TB infection, and how to prevent and treat them. Oftentimes, such research depends on collaborations across borders. U.S. scientists with long-standing collaborations in Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Haiti and Peru, as examples, have contributed immensely to our knowledge of specific infections.

The research agenda of the GHI will also address important questions that are immediately relevant to its objectives, including persistent questions about how to stimulate and maintain quality of service delivery, and how to reach marginalized populations.

Operational or implementation research is therefore critical to the GHI. How can we best scale up a promising intervention on a population basis? How do we know whether an intervention will be accepted or rejected by potential users? How do we know that it will be used effectively to get the best effect? These are operational and implementation questions and they are essential to address in the GHI strategy.

Rigorous monitoring and evaluation, and an emphasis on using the data will help identify critical problems and improvements, including sustainable and cost-effective service delivery approaches, and approaches to reduce obstacles to rapid systems scale up. GHI research and evaluation approaches and findings will be shared within and across countries and with all GHI partners to facilitate wider learning, systems strengthening, and continuous quality improvement through innovation.

Pandemic Preparedness and Response

Global Health Diplomacy also includes the complex challenge of pandemic preparedness and response. We are still experiencing an influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus. Luckily, this pandemic was not caused by the more virulent H5N1 virus. However, the experience has highlighted many of the challenges in addressing pandemic preparedness – not the least of which is working to develop systems and responses with a significant number of unknowns. Research and development capacity and strong scientific and health infrastructure need to be strengthened and coordinated in order to build the necessary preparedness. The science of emerging diseases requires significant research. Basic operational research to develop and implement effective biosecurity measures is needed – for example -- ensuring appropriate handling of poultry in countries where H5N1 persists is a priority.

I have recently returned from Hanoi where ministers of health and agriculture met to discuss pandemic response and preparedness. Representatives from 71 countries, regional bodies, development banks and international organizations gathered to take stock of existing efforts to address avian influenza and the ongoing H1N1 pandemic, and consider how best to strengthen animal and human disease surveillance systems as we prepare for potential future challenges. There was strong commitment at this gathering for continued global cooperation, including working with UN bodies, and through inter-country networks, on increased capacity and cooperation on surveillance systems, epidemiological research, antiviral and vaccine research and development, health and veterinary systems strengthening, as well as safe and resilient systems for food production.

One of the hallmarks of this conference was that pandemic influenza was placed in a broader context. In order to be tackled most effectively, we must view it as not only a human health challenge. Our understanding of animal health and how we manage livestock and poultry are essential parts of the conversation. U.S. support for avian and pandemic influenza preparedness has increased as our understanding of the threats has increased. Over the past five years we have invested over $1.56 billion.

My discussion of Global Health Diplomacy has been to make an important point – science and technology are ubiquitous in efforts to achieve foreign policy objectives. These efforts are also not the work of a single agency – it is a whole of government effort that includes the Department of State, USAID, CDC, USDA, EPA, NHI, NSF and many, many others.

Science Diplomacy in its broadest definition is a topic that overlaps with most of the sectoral topics, as I have pointed out with the Global Health Initiative, and preparation for pandemics. The President’s Feed the Future Initiative also recognizes the importance of science. In the research domain the Feed the Future Initiative will expand global research through the multilateral Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and assist local universities and national research systems which ultimately drive the research agendas of partner countries. We are scaling up our investments in research and development, from new techniques for measuring under-nutrition, to new supplements and agricultural processes.

Science in Bilateral/Regional Partnerships

Science emerges in our bilateral and regional dialogues in numerous ways – as the way to address global problems together, to promote the best research networks possible and to build partnerships. Let me give you a few examples:

  • Example: Yesterday, I co-chaired the Joint Working Group Meeting of the U.S. –China Ten-Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and Environment. There are several elements in this cooperation, including an effort called EcoPartnerships – cooperative partnerships at the subnational level – between, for example, research institutions, private companies, utilities, states, or cities. One of these efforts is a partnership between Tulane University and East China Normal University to develop a wetland research alliance.
  • Through the Arctic Council we are supporting the establishment of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Network which will bring together a number of existing sites and networks. This network of networks will provide important data across the region.
  • U.S. support and leadership in Central Africa has inspired the development of the biennial State of the Forest report, which brings the best of science and research in the region to light. Through the collaborative efforts of more than 100 scientists working in the region through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, this report documents the condition of the Congo Basin forest ecosystems. It serves as a critical tool to support conservation and sustainable management across the region.
  • Science, technology and innovation will be an important part of U.S. Government efforts to accelerate progress toward sustainably meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

The United States has formal science and technology agreements with many nations. As I stated earlier, these agreements are in place to stimulate cooperative research. Last week, an 18-member S&T delegation traveled to Egypt for joint meetings. There were 10 federal agencies on the team, and four NGOs. Under the U.S.-Egypt science fund, the teams decided on support for new, collaborative research projects and 22 junior scientist programs. Topics included water, remote sensing, solar energy, coral reef health, and cyber security. The group also planned and announced a U.S.-Egypt joint science year in 2011.

In the President’s Cairo speech last year, he announced that Science Envoys would travel throughout the Muslim world to build partnerships in S&T. Last November, Secretary Clinton announced the first three envoys. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, former NIH Director, is one such Envoy. As follow up to his visit to Egypt and North Africa this year, we are now working to improve access to science publications in the region. Recognizing that lack of current information is an impediment to progress, we want to help ensure that scientists are connected to each other, and to the global scientific literature base.

Science and technology are an integral part of the rich fabric of our global engagement. It is increasingly an element of foreign policy – both from a development and a diplomatic perspective. All of us in this room are science diplomats and many of your institutions are involved in the efforts I have described today. Every time you engage in an international project you are building important relationships – demonstrating again the values of science and its value to the world. We appreciate your partnership in undertaking tough problems and the creativity and expertise that you bring. We look forward to working together with you on many challenging topics that are important for our nation and the world.

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