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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Global Connections: Science and Diplomacy

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Delivered at the American Phytopathological Society Annual Meeting
Charlotte, NC
August 10, 2010


Good Afternoon. Thank you for that kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be here at the American Phytopathological Society’s annual meeting – your meeting has such a wonderful theme – Creating Possibilities. I would like to thank Dr. Christ and the officers of the society for their invitation to be here today. I want to speak to you this afternoon about my world at the Department of State and how it intersects with your world in the classroom and the laboratory. Creating the possibility of a peaceful and stable world; in other words achieving our country’s national security and foreign policy goals -- rests on three pillars: diplomacy, development and defense. Science and technology are elements of each of these.

The Obama Administration understands the importance of science and technology and the critical role research plays. The Administration believes in the fundamental importance of science and technology to our country and the world. President Obama provided the clearest statement of his commitment in his speech to the National Academies last spring:

“Science is more essential to 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 are global in character.” (

From the diplomatic and development perspective, Secretary Clinton has identified the strong and essential partnership between diplomacy and development. She has recognized the need to strengthen and invest in U.S. development - elevating and rejuvenating the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID. Secretary Clinton has stated that one of her personal priorities is to, “elevate and integrate development as a core pillar of American power.”  In both diplomacy and development efforts, Secretary Clinton has repeatedly emphasized the importance of science and technology to achieving progress.

But, how do science and technology play a role in both diplomacy and development? Stepping back and looking at the big picture – I believe there are three fundamental ways. First, science and technology provide the objective data for making good policy choices and for implementing policies; second, and the way that many of us first came to link science and world affairs, is that science and technology provide approaches and solutions to challenging development and global problems. The third way, which has been well captured in the term “science diplomacy,” is that science and technology are an important element in building strong international relationships, relationships that can weather good times and difficult times.

Let me give you a few examples of how science and technology play a role in shaping international policy. The most well known and familiar example is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has played a critical role in providing policymakers with comprehensive analyses of the scientific data regarding earth science and the changes occurring.

There are many other examples. Consider the problem of managing fisheries in the oceans, particularly fisheries for stocks that cross boundary lines separating waters under the jurisdiction of different nations. To manage such fisheries, nations have established a series of regional fishery management organizations. The United States participates in more than ten of these international bodies. The success or failure of these organizations depends on a number of factors, but the first and most important factor is the availability and quality of scientific and technological information. What do the latest stock assessments reveal about the status and trends of the target stocks? How many other species are being caught incidentally by the fishing gear deployed in these fisheries? What impact is the fishery having on the marine ecosystem in question? The answers to these questions form the basis of the conservation and management measures that we negotiate and adopt through the regional fishery management organizations.

From the policy implementation perspective, there is the example of illegal logging. The U.S. Government is committed to combating illegal logging. There are prohibitions on trade of endangered species, listed on CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. When suspect timber products arrive in U.S. ports how are they identified? Samples are shipped to various labs around the country and evaluated for specific molecular/genetic markers.

Another important and new example concerns biodiversity and ecosystem services. The international community is now looking at these topics to see how science can better inform related policy choices. It is a challenging issue, as the policy questions often appear at the local level rather than the national level. Under the auspices of the UN Environmental Program there have been discussions regarding an international effort to look at the science of biodiversity and ecosystems services and to develop a mechanism for providing information to policy makers, looking to see how the IPCC model may be adapted. At a recent meeting in Busan, South Korea, in June, it was agreed that there is a need for such an organization – based on principles that include independence, scientific credibility, and peer-review. The new platform would maintain a catalogue of relevant assessments, identify the need for regional and sub-regional assessment and help to catalyze assessment as appropriate. The development of this organization is just beginning.

Now turning to the second role of science and technology – addressing global challenges. For many years we have all talked about the importance of international cooperation in science and technology. I believe there has been a major transition – moving beyond international cooperation and this has been pointed out by my friend Allan Leshner, CEO of the AAAS – we have moved beyond simple international S&T cooperation to a global research community. International collaborations are a necessity to address complex research questions. The scientific community is spread across the globe. Your society here today demonstrates that – with members located in nearly 100 countries and programs that support international partnerships.

The global challenges that confront the global research community are numerous – climate change, food security, health, energy and water. These are challenges that all nations of the world face and we must work together to make progress.

It is the area of food security that connects closely to the work you do and it is clear that the world is facing a significant challenge. More than one billion people – nearly one-sixth of the world’s population - suffer from chronic hunger. Each year more than 3.5 million children die from undernutrition. And globally, food demand is projected to increase by 50% over the next twenty years. In 2009, at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, global leaders decided to take on the challenge of food security and pledged a renewed effort and actions to turn around the decline in investments in agriculture. At that meeting President Obama pledged at least $3.5 billion for agricultural development and food security over three years.

To move forward on this commitment the Administration has developed the Feed the Future Initiative – an initiative based on a comprehensive approach with country-owned plans, strategic coordination, and leveraging the benefits of the multilateral institutions. The Initiative also recognizes the central role of women in agricultural production. We are moving from policy into programs. Central to the Feed the Future Initiative is the recognition that agricultural productivity must be increased, under conditions where resources will be limited and where stressful conditions are likely to expand and intensify. Central to addressing this productivity challenge is research – better understanding of the nature of the crops, and the conditions and pests that they face. The work that is being done now to address the latest wheat rust strain – Ug 99 -- is evidence that plant pathology is front and center in addressing the research questions related to food security.

The research component of the Feed the Future Initiative is still under development but already important steps are being taken. The three priorities of the research effort will be: advancing the productivity frontier, sustainable intensification of production systems (i.e. closing the production gap), and enhancing nutrition and food security

Plant pathology is found in all three. Our work on productivity includes extensive use of phenotyping and genotyping linked marker assisted breeding, with a substantial portion focused on durable resistance. We are investing in transgenic approaches, for example to move late blight resistance genes from a non-crossable wild species into potato. Other critical issues include brown streak virus of cassava in East Africa – many of you may have seen the substantial coverage of that threat to food security recently in the New York Times.

Work to transform production systems involves bringing together key technologies, resource management practices and policies to build both the sustainability and productivity of areas on which hundreds of millions of the poor and food insecure depend: the Indo-Gangetic plains, East Africa’s maize-based systems, and the Sudano-Sahelian maize/sorghum/millet belt are key examples. In considering food safety and nutrition, plant pathology is front and center in the fight to control mycotoxins. The scourge of aflatoxin in maize in humid areas of Africa is difficult to underestimate – its effects are pernicious, but ultimately it is responsible for extensive morbidity and mortality, especially in children. A multi-pronged strategy is needed, but resistance to fungal attack is certainly key to a long-term solution.

At the announcement of this year’s World Food Prize at the Department of State an important step was taken. USAID and USDA announced a new program – the Norman Borlaug Commemorative Research Initiative – which will bring together the research agencies of the USDA and USAID’s research partners, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. USAID has requested an increase in its funding for agricultural research in its fiscal year 2011 budget. If this budget request is supported by Congress, funds would be used to support the research dimensions of the Feed the Future Initiative.

Beyond the Feed the Future Initiative, there are bilateral efforts that support agricultural research. The Department of State oversees many bilateral science and technology agreements. These agreements facilitate and support joint research in areas of mutual interest. Many of these agreements include agricultural efforts.

For example, in Pakistan, jointly funded projects have supported researchers from the U.S. Danforth Plant Science Center and the Pakistani National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering to study Gemini viruses. A collaborative effort between the Washington State University and the Pakistani National University of Science and Technology has also been supported. This effort is investigating the epidemiology of wheat stripe and stem and leaf rusts, searching for germplasm resistance.

In a bilateral effort with China, USDA ARS and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science are working together to understand the enemies of the ash borer in the Far East. In Egypt, a joint project to improve sugarcane production is being supported between USDA and Egypt’s Sugar Crops Research Institute.

Beyond supporting the actual research, bilateral science and technology agreements also help facilitate cooperation between nations by setting forth agreed to approaches to intellectual property rights, material transfer agreements and other important research considerations.

The global research community is also facilitated through international treaties – such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA). This is a comprehensive international agreement which aims to enhance food security through the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources. It also addresses the equitable sharing of the benefits generated by the use of those resources. The United States has many equities in this treaty and a broad cross-section of the U. S. agriculture and the global community would benefit from it, including farmers, the scientific community, and International Agricultural Research Centers. The Administration strongly supports the ratification of this treaty, which is currently before the Senate for advice and consent. I have testified before the Senate regarding this treaty. It is our hope that the Senate will act favorably on this treaty soon.

As I mentioned earlier, from a diplomatic perspective science is an excellent tool for building partnerships. Science, with its value system based on merit review, open and transparent data and reproducibility of experimental results, allows colleagues from across the globe to work together. When scientific and technical communities from two countries are working together – the two nations get to know each other better. It opens a channel of understanding – that can remain in place through ups and downs in the bilateral relationship. It demonstrates ways both countries can work on problems that are important to their citizens.

A year ago in Cairo President Obama delivered his New Beginnings speech. In it he recognized the unique role science and technology can play and he made it one of the core elements of his efforts to build new relationships with the Muslim world. He established the Science Envoys program. This program, funded by the Department of State, sends distinguished scientists around the world to build relationships and strengthen collaborations. The first three envoys are finishing up their travels. Dr. Bruce Alberts, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, and Dr. Ahmed Zewail have traveled to the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia – visiting with science and government leaders and speaking with students and researchers. In addition to the Science Envoys program, we are exploring ways to create more connections between students and scientific societies around the world, and developing more international visitor programs.

In closing, I want to re-emphasize that science and technology is dependent on global connections. Likewise, addressing the global issues that so challenge our world depends on the global research community. Making improvements in food security will have an impact at the local, national, regional and international levels. Secretary Clinton, speaking last year at a UN meeting of world leaders on food security, stated: “This is an issue that affects all of us, because food security is about economic, environmental, and national security for our individual homelands and the world.” (

The nations of the world need to make progress on these very tough problems. These global issues are critical to achieving our foreign policy and national security goals. I believe working together, as nations and as communities within nations, we can create more and better ways of doing that. We in the Department of State, in the diplomatic and development community, will continue to work to support, enable and facilitate the full participation of U.S. scientists in the global research community. And you, in the science and technology community, will continue to work to advance our knowledge and ability to address problems. In doing so, you serve as science diplomats every time you engage in an international effort, showing the world the best of the U.S. I am honored to serve in my position at this important time and I look forward to working with you.

Thank you.

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