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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Forum on the Internationalization of Science and Humanities

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Von Humboldt Foundation
Washington, DC
October 11, 2010


Good Morning. Thank you for that very kind introduction, and thank you for the invitation to be here today.

President (Dr.) Schwartz, Dr. Prewitt, colleagues and friends, it is an honor for me to be here at the Fourth Forum on the Internationalization of Science and Humanities. Today, I would like to speak to two of the central questions of this meeting:

· How is it possible to meld science and public policy, and

· What can the role of science diplomacy be in enhancing the capacity to address global challenges?

I am speaking to these issues from an interesting perspective – that of an Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State so I will begin with the second question first.

Science diplomacy has become a very popular term. It is fitting to address this term here – as Alexander Von Humboldt can be considered one of the earliest science diplomats. It is a term that captures the various roles of science in foreign policy with a particular emphasis on the ability of science to build partnerships between countries – partnerships that can be sustained regardless of the political winds. It is the role science can play in basic diplomacy. Diplomacy can be defined simply as the art of and practice of conducting negotiations between nations or the management of international relations by negotiations. And nations conduct these negotiations to achieve their foreign policy goals.

The Obama Administration champions science and technology. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama addressed the National Academies of Science. He was the first president to do that since President Kennedy. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are committed to science diplomacy as an important element in achieving foreign policy goals; foreign policy goals that depend on diplomacy and development; foreign policy goals that include addressing global challenges that confront the U.S. and world community. These global challenges at the national level can threaten peace and stability as well as sustained economic growth and prosperity. We are all very familiar with these challenges – climate change, global health, food security, energy, and water issues are the ones firmly on the world’s agenda.

The role of science diplomacy in enhancing the capacity to address these complex challenges rests fundamentally in the nature of science itself. Science is about understanding the world around us – understanding questions that range from origin of the universe, to earth’s geological formations, to climate patterns, to human social behavior, and to the genetic makeup of viruses. And through that understanding, science seeks to address problems. Science is about generating data during that search for understanding – data that is objective and reproducible – data that can inform policy decisions. While research is conducted by individual researchers, science is also about community – the community that shares values and shares data. The values of science become instinctive to scientists, and they instill unique and strong qualities into the community. These characteristics allow scientific partnerships between individual scientists from different nations and different cultures to flourish.

Beyond recognizing this general relationship between science and diplomacy – how can the elevation and emphasis on science diplomacy make a difference in addressing global challenges? I believe there are three very specific ways that this is happening.

The first way is the most obvious – that is recognizing the importance of research in addressing global challenges and investing in programs that support such research. The Obama Administration is taking many steps to do just that. The Global Health Initiative, an effort to strengthen and coordinate existing health investments and focus on strengthening health systems, recognizes the key role of research. Research is essential for both understanding operational successes and failures, and research is essential for the discovery of new treatments, drug-delivery systems and vaccines.

Another global and development challenge is addressing food security. In 2009 at the G-8 summit in Italy, global leaders decided to take on the challenge of food security and pledged a renewed effort and real actions. The U.S. has developed the Feed the Future Initiative – a comprehensive approach based on country–owned plans, strategic cooperation and leveraging benefits of multilateral institutions. Central to Feed the Future 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, and it will be a significant component of the initiative. Increased funding has been requested to build research partnerships among the U.S. Agency for International Development, the USDA, universities and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. These initiatives I have highlighted involve not only the Department of State but include agencies from across the U.S. Government including, USAID, NIH and USDA.

The second specific way that science diplomacy is contributing to addressing global challenges relates to probably the most important element of all and an element where the Von Humboldt Foundation is a leader – focus on people.

As my colleague Alan Leshner from AAAS has observed, we have moved beyond international science and technology cooperation. We are now functioning in and with the global research community. Researchers expect to work with colleagues around the world – either physically or virtually. Leading scientists now have laboratories in multiple countries, and universities have a growing number of international branches.

The role of science diplomacy is to strengthen the global research community to build on existing partnerships. The combined talent of the world will be needed to address the global challenges we face. Efforts to engage scientists from around the world, broaden participation of women and minorities in science everywhere, and attract more and more young people to scientific and technical careers are essential to building a strong and vibrant global research community.

The fact that the Department of State is championing science diplomacy has brought an increased focus on investments in people. The Fulbright program now offers a science and technology award where support is offered for foreign students to study for PhDs in the U.S. Fulbright has also just started a program in partnership with NIH’s Fogarty International Center. The International Visitor Programs are increasingly addressing technical issues and designing specific U.S. study tours. We are also exploring ways to create additional connections between students and scientific societies around the world and partner with our technical agencies.

In his Cairo speech, President Obama recognized that science and technology play an important role, and he made it a central element of his efforts to build new relationships with the Muslim world. He announced the Science Envoys program, which the Department of State has established. Unfortunately, my friend and colleague Dr. R. Colwell could not be here today. Dr. Colwell is one of the newly announced science envoys. The others are Dr. Alice Gast and Dr. Gebisa Ejecta. The science envoys travel to specific countries – visiting with science and government leaders and speaking with students and researchers. They personally make connections and identify opportunities for new partnerships.

The people aspect of science diplomacy has another dimension – increasing the presence of science and technology in the diplomatic world – notably within ministries of Foreign Affairs, such as the Department of State. Within the Department of State, this is happening as well. We are seeing an increased interest in science and technology – this is happening as a result of Secretary Clinton’s leadership. We are seeing more AAAS Fellows – Ph.D. scientists who come to the Department for a year or two. We are seeing AAAS fellows being put to work across many different offices throughout the Department. We are seeing more Jefferson Fellows – mid-to-later career university professors who come to the Department for a year to work on technical issues.

My final point on the ways science diplomacy addresses global challenges also touches on the other question I mentioned earlier: how is it possible to meld science and public policy?

Science plays a role in public policy by furnishing the objective data that is needed for policy development. International policy is forged through multilateral negotiations. These, too, are dependent on objective scientific data.

The best known example of this interface is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For over twenty years, this panel of scientists and government officials has worked to make the complex science of climate change accessible to policy makers and the public. The recent review by Interacademy Panel has concluded that while some process and management issues need to be reviewed and changed, the IPCC has been successful overall and served society well. It is a difficult task to continually assess the complex science of climate change, but the IPCC provides a successful and much needed model.

Currently, the international community is engaged in discussions on the development of a scientific body that would address biodiversity and ecosystem services. This platform, as it is being called, would serve as the interface between science and policy. The new platform would perform regular and timely assessments of the available knowledge on biodiversity and eco-systems services and their interlinkages. It would maintain a catalogue of relevant assessments and identify the need for regional and subregional assessments. The development of this new effort is in its early stages.

In closing, I would like to make three observations that I believe are very important for our continued progress in science diplomacy and in science based policy development.

The first observation is ensuring that we realistically recognize that science is both national and international. While we are all members of the global research community, we each have a national science and technology enterprise that needs to be strong and vibrant. I do not see this as problematic, but rather complimentary, requiring balance and recognizing that competition and collaboration are compatible.

The second observation is the importance of transparency. The global challenges we face are complex as well as difficult inter-related problems. Building public confidence in the role of science in policy development depends on transparency. Transparency builds trust. Transparency takes time, and it takes working across topics, interests, and cultures – professional cultures and national cultures.

This leads to my final observation which is a simple one but extraordinarily challenging: we cannot underestimate the importance of communication across disciplines, sectors, institutions, professions and nations. Communication is at the heart of diplomacy and increasingly at the heart of science as it reaches far beyond laboratories and universities; and as its role in foreign policy continues to expand and intensify, we all will have much work to do together.

Thank you.

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