printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Castine Historical Society

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Castine, ME
July 23, 2013


Good evening everyone. It is a pleasure to be here. I thank the Castine Historical Society for the invitation to speak here tonight. It is an honor for me to deliver this lecture – as I remember Deborah Pulliam – I remember seeing her walk around Castine. I did not know her well – but she was very friendly to newcomers. Before and since her death she has contributed so much to this town and state.

And it is a real pleasure to be here. Often when I speak around the world, I mention that the hospitality I receive makes me feel at home. Speaking here tonight – I really am at home and it is so good to see so many familiar faces and friends.

Tonight I would like to speak with you about some elements of foreign policy and the State Department that you probably don’t hear much about – but that affect you directly. The title of my talk was meant to get you thinking about foreign policy, some of the issues that are on our foreign policy agenda, and the increasing role science plays in foreign policy.

Our overall foreign policy seeks to ensure our nation’s prosperity and security and contribute to stability and prosperity across the globe. Typically when one thinks about foreign policy they think about the international headlines that involve obvious security and stability issues – the situation in Egypt; our relationships with Russia and China; and economic ties to the European Union. The traditional view of foreign policy has focused on security, trade and economic issues. That is still very true today – but there are also many other topics that now affect our national security and our ability to continue to grow economically. Many of these topics are related to health – the health of our environment, health of our citizens, health of our economy. The Bureau in the State Department that I lead – the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) – was established by an act of Congress in 1973. Congress recognized that these topics – oceans, environment, and science were going to need special international attention as the world moved forward – becoming more crowded and more connected. The OES Bureau is a functional Bureau – which means we work on specific issues rather than a specific region of the world; we work with challenges that are important to our citizens and important to the world. These challenges are global in nature and require international engagement and international solutions. These challenges include topics like climate change, sustainable fisheries, ocean acidification, and global health.

Typically the nature of these issues require that we look to science to provide a clearer understanding of what is going on and they require that we look to science to describe solutions or develop a ways forward. As Secretary Kerry said during a recent trip to India:

I believe that just as we are living in a changing world, so we cannot, and we must not, forget that we are living on, quite literally, a changing planet. To respond in a way that does justice to science and to facts, what we need actually is a policy that looks forward.[1]

The State Department has an increasing number of scientists in its workforce – but it is not a science agency like NASA or the National Science Foundation. We work very closely with expertise across the United States Government, with U.S. universities and with U.S. industry. But these global issues are more than scientific and technical issues – these have become security, economic and political issues – so the State Department works with our counterparts around the world to engage on these topics and integrate our concerns and interests through our foreign policy priorities. Tonight I want to give you a quick snapshot of some of these issues. We work on these issues bilaterally – with individual nations, regionally – with organizations like the European Union or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and multilaterally with organizations like the UN.

Fundamental to addressing complex global challenges is scientific research and today we live in a global research community. The best research requires the best scientists and these individuals are found around the world. One of the basic agreements that we negotiate with our international partners is a science and technology agreement which promotes joint research on priority areas. These agreements provide an important framework for key terms and considerations – for example the handling of jointly developed intellectual property rights or standards for the treatment of human subjects in research projects.

The United States has science and technology (S&T) agreements with many countries and these are important elements of our relationships with those countries. They allow us to share the values that are basic to research – merit review, transparency and sharing data, and reproducibility. These S&T agreements are also important for other reasons. Promoting international science technology cooperation provides U.S. scientists the opportunity to partner with the best scientists around the world; to be members of the most dynamic teams. It also ensures that they will have access to the best facilities and remote locations, so scientists can work where their research leads them. Through international collaboration students learn how to work in global research settings.

Some examples of specific topics we are pursuing include: 1) joint research in an Ireland R&D Partnership on the role of anaerobic bacteria on function and inflammation in patients with cystic fibrosis; 2) joint research with Germany on neuroscience related to spinal cord injuries; 3) joint research with Turkey on energy, materials, and environmental building design; 4) joint geological research with Pakistan to study tectonic plates to help mitigate the impact of earthquakes.

Beyond direct cooperation to promote collaborative research we see science as a key element in other bilateral discussions. For example, last week we hosted a high-level delegation from China at the State Department to address Illegal Logging and Associated Trade issues. Illegal logging is a global conservation issue and an international trade issue – but it is a very specific topic in our discussions with China as both of our nations are larger traders and large markets for timber and timber products. What our two countries do has a significant impact on conservation and trade. There are international agreements as well as U.S. law that prohibit the movement of endangered or protected trees. The challenge with this issue is how to verify what is being traded. Certification of timber is a key topic in our discussions and increasingly new technologies – such genetic fingerprinting are coming into play in terms of identifying products and their sources.

Likewise we are seeing new science and technology emerging in our conversations on wildlife trafficking. I have traveled to Africa, specifically Tanzania to discuss wildlife trafficking with our partners there. I spent time meeting with officials from the National Park Service and community organizers to discuss the problem. Wildlife trafficking is threatening the survival of some iconic species like elephants, tigers, and rhinos. It is a conservation issue; it is also a health issue as the human-animal interface is associated with emerging diseases. It represents a network of international crime – where the illegal goods trade is estimated to be $7B-$10B annually. Wildlife trafficking is the third largest illegal trade following drugs and arms. We are seeing an increase in wildlife trafficking, with troubling incidents in Africa; in many of these incidents the poachers have had sophisticated weapons and crossed national borders. Again, we are looking to some of the latest forensic tools be able to identify and source confiscated wildlife products.

I now want to touch on a few specific issues where multilateral negotiations and agreements have the potential to or are already directly touching our lives. There are four examples I want to bring to your attention.

First is an issue related to the air that we breathe and the food that we eat –mercury. Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative neurotoxin, and a major global public health concern. Mercury exposure is particularly hazardous for young children and pregnant women. Even in low doses, mercury may affect a child’s development, including by shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities. It is estimated that 300,000 U.S. newborns each year may have an increased risk of learning deficits from in utero exposure to mercury. I am certain you have all read various warnings about eating particular fish that may contain dangerous levels of mercury – the most common way U.S. citizens are exposed to mercury is by eating contaminated fish or shellfish. Indigenous populations such as those in the Arctic who rely heavily on fish and marine mammals as part of their diet are particularly vulnerable.

The sources of mercury exposure include waste incineration, cement production, small–scale gold production, metal production, and fossil fuel combustion (particularly coal). Most countries carry out most of these processes and some nations, including ours have strong domestic regulations (at the state and federal level) to manage mercury pollution.

However, not all nations address this problem. And another characteristic of mercury makes it an international problem – mercury is subject to long-range transport in the air. No matter what national regulations may or may not be –mercury is not only a local problem – it is an international problem. EPA estimates that over 70% of mercury deposited in the United States originates from global sources, particularly China. Because mercury can be transported through the atmosphere, sometimes remaining airborne for up to two years and crossing oceans, a global approach with strong emphasis on addressing air emissions is crucial.

For years a number of countries (including the United States) resisted a global agreement to address mercury pollution. The Obama Administration reversed this position and committed the U.S. to participate in this important effort. Understanding how mercury behaves in the environment has directly informed the structure of the mercury agreement. Research was conducted by several countries, including the United States where EPA supported studies at Florida State University and at the University of Connecticut. For example, data on the global cycling of mercury underscored the importance of a comprehensive approach to mercury pollution. This past January, after four years, the major international negotiation concluded with the adoption of a text that will be officially opened for signatures in October. The agreement contains binding and voluntary provisions to reduce exposure to mercury throughout its lifecycle, including provisions to reduce atmospheric emissions, reduce the supply of mercury, and enhance the environmentally sound storage of mercury.

The second specific topic I will touch on is the extended continental shelf (ECS). As residents of Maine, I am sure many of you know that international law grants to nations that have sea coasts a continental shelf that covers at least the first 200 miles from those coasts. A coastal nation may also have continental shelf beyond 200 miles from shore if the seafloor meets certain criteria set forth in the Law of the Sea Convention. We call this area beyond 200 miles the “extended continental shelf.” It is estimated that the United States might have a very large extended continental shelf, likely to be at least one million square kilometers – nearly 1.5 times the size of Texas.

We are engaged in a complex scientific effort to gather undersea data that the United States will use to define the outer limit of our continental shelf because the United States holds exclusive sovereign rights to the vast resources on and under the seabed of our continental shelf. This includes everything from “sedentary species” such as clams, crabs, and corals to oil and gas and other mineral resources. The U.S. extended continental shelf could provide significant resources to our country and opportunities for industry. The ECS Project is directed by an interagency task force led by my bureau; its work is a challenging blend of science and diplomacy.

There are two types of data we need – bathymetric data –data that provide a three dimensional image of the sea floor, and seismic data – data that provide an image of the layers of sediment beneath the sea floor. The delineation of the outer edge of the continental shelf is determined by a complicated formula found in the Law of the Sea Convention.

The Arctic Ocean is one area where the United States has substantial potential ECS. Last summer, the U.S. ECS Project conducted the fourth and likely final joint mapping mission in the Arctic with Canada. This was a two-ship operation. The U.S. ship broke the ice and collected bathymetric data –while the Canadian ship followed behind collecting seismic data. This collaborative effort required months of planning between U.S. Government agencies such as NOAA, USGS, and the Coast Guard and their respective Canadian counterparts. This collaborative effort has saved both countries millions of dollars and valuable time and enabled more and better data to be collected than could have been done alone.

The U.S. ECS Project is a 10-year effort that began in earnest in 2008. Therefore, we now have before us two very important steps to allow the United States to claim its extended continental shelf – one very technical – to complete our efforts to define our ECS and the second, working with the Senate to get approval to join the Law of the Sea Convention; because only as a Party would we have access to the treaty procedure that maximizes legal certainty and international recognition of the shelf beyond 200 miles.

The next issue I turn to is influenza virus that causes something we all dread – the flu. Several well known facts have put influenza on the foreign policy map – these include the following – first, more and more people are moving around the planet as travel expands rapidly; second, influenza viruses have the potential to mutate and change often; and third there are certain strains of the influenza virus that have the potential to be extremely dangerous.

The world suffered a major deadly influenza pandemic in 1918, also known as the Spanish flu – when an estimated 50 million people died worldwide and nearly 675,000 died in the U.S. In 2009/2010 the world once again experienced an influenza pandemic caused by the strain of virus known as H1N1. Overall 74 countries were affected by the pandemic. It has been estimated that the virus caused between 8,000 and 18,000 related deaths worldwide. Any loss of life is tragic. However, there was not a major loss of life, as the H1N1 pandemic was not caused by a highly fatal virus. However, we do know of some influenza viruses, particularly some that occur in birds, avian influenza viruses that can be very deadly, highly pathogenic, when transmitted to humans.

In 2010, I traveled to 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.

Influenza is not new and the international community, through the World Health Organization (WHO), has developed a system of laboratories around the world, known as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System. This system has been in place and evolving for decades. This network of labs collect, share, and characterize influenza virus samples in order to track what viruses are circulating where and to better understand how the virus may be changing. These laboratories work with vaccine manufacturers to develop the appropriate flu vaccine each year – one that is targeted at the viruses that are circulating. This system that we use for seasonal flu vaccine is essential for the response capability that would be needed in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Two years ago, a significant international negotiation was completed to ensure that the flow of influenza viruses to the international system of labs continued. This negotiation was responding to a key concern of some countries, in particular some developing countries. One country had even refused to share a particularly worrisome influenza virus sample with the lab network. The developing countries felt that while they had been providing influenza virus samples to the lab network – they were not receiving any assistance to strengthen their surveillance capabilities, their vaccine production capacities nor any assurance that vaccines and therapeutics would be available for their citizens in the event of a pandemic. While these concerns were coming from the developing countries it was clear that the world, and our own national public health security, needed a highly functioning system of labs receiving all of the circulating influenza viruses and monitoring changes. There is also a significant humanitarian concern apparent in this issue.

The successful negotiation, led by my bureau, resulted in the Pandemic Preparedness Framework that requires vaccine producers to provide support to maintaining the lab network and to helping build lab capacity worldwide. Also, each manufacturer is currently negotiating with the WHO to define what they can contribute, including the donation of vaccine, should another pandemic occur.

In recent months with the emergence of new avian influenza virus in China which is capable of infecting humans, the H7N9 virus, the Preparedness Framework is working well. China quickly reported the emergence of the disease and has shared samples with the Global Influenza Surveillance and Research System.

My final topic takes us to outer space for a look at an environment that has truly changed over the past few years. The changes in space have led to an international challenge – that was not around earlier – that is the challenge of orbital debris or space junk. As more countries and people benefit from space applications, the demand for satellite use has grown and the orbital environment has become increasingly congested.

Last year, on July 12, 2012, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Telstar satellite. In March 1961, the United States signed agreements with the United Kingdom and France to collaborate on Experimental Communications Satellites. In July 1962, the first communication satellite, Telstar 1, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and tracked by a ground station here in Maine. Space was not a busy place in 1962.

Since the launch of Telstar in 1962, the use of outer space has grown and evolved significantly. Space-based assets and their benefits were originally available only to a few nations, but today, nearly 70 nations, international organizations, and government consortia operate satellites. Countries around the world rely on space for navigation, weather and disaster-monitoring, relief work, city planning, sustainable agriculture, as well as many other areas.

As of May 2012, there are 994 operational satellites in orbit, with approximately half in low earth orbit [300-500 miles above the earth], and the bulk of the remainder in geosynchronous orbit [22,300 miles above the earth]. Unfortunately, there are also tens of thousands of pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) in orbit and there are many more that are too small for us to track.

The risk of a collision is real. Just in the first half of this year alone satellite operators conducted 21 low earth orbit evasive maneuvers and seven geosynchronous orbit evasive maneuvers after receiving collision notifications from U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center. The unintended loss of a critical satellite could significantly impact our security and economic well-being. The inability to utilize data from a meteorological satellite puts our coastline and fishing vessels at risk. The loss of a telecommunication satellite could prevent us from watching the Patriots or the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Sustaining the outer space environment is also important for the safety of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

It is in our individual and collective interest that all space-faring nations work together to preserve the outer space environment. Since its inception in 1958, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) has been strongly supported by the United States. In 2007, COPUOS achieved a major success by adopting its own Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. The Committee is now working to further enhance long-term sustainability of space by developing guidelines for space situational awareness, space operations, space weather, and the use of space for sustainable development. My Bureau represents the United States on this committee.

I will bring my remarks to a close with some final observations that I hope I have highlighted with these examples I have described. First, the world is always changing – and the issues that appear on the foreign policy agenda reflect the complex challenges we face as a nation functioning in a global community. Second, the role of science is fundamental to understanding and developing solutions for the complex problems we face. Third, the role of partners across our nation and across the world is also fundamental. And finally, the interplay being domestic issues and politics and diplomacy and foreign policy is also clearly evident. Thanks for your attention – I look forward to your questions.


[1] Secretary of State, John Kerry, Remarks on the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership (June 23, 2013), New Delhi, India.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.