Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 20, December 2008

Dear Reader,

In its January/February 2009 issue, Foreign Affairs magazine published an interesting essay on the state of the US Foreign Service. It is called "Where are the Civilians? How to rebuild US Foreign Service" and was authored by J. Anthony Holmes, previous president of the American Foreign Service Association and currently a fellow in diplomatic studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Holmes states:

    During the Bush Administration's eight years in power, the military has come to dominate US foreign policy, while other arms of the US government operating abroad - such as the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) - have been ignored, underfunded, and gravely weakened. Neglect of these critical civilian national security institutions will haunt the new administration as it tries to resurrect diplomacy and repair the United States' image across the globe.

For the incoming Obama administration, Holmes offers the following advice:

    Invest in the government's traditional diplomatic capacity and build the bureaucratic infrastructure needed to deal with postconflict stabilization, reconstruction, and nation building.... In order to reverse the decline of US influence in the world, the new administration will have to address the profound weaknesses that currently impede US diplomacy. If the United States is to remain a superpower, it must rebuild the once-robust civilian diplomatic and development capacity that has since disappeared.

Diplomacy is a nation's first line of defense, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell once said. During a recent discussion on science, technology, and security policy with the former US Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering, at the Washington, DC-based American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Powell's then-science advisor Norman Neureiter underlined his statement by adding  "when the talking stops, that's when the shooting starts." With US President-elect Barack Obama taking office in only a few weeks, there is hope among many that talks will continue - or will be resumed where they were stopped. Even more, when President-elect Obama announced just a few days ago, on December 15, his nomination of Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as Secretary of the Department of Energy, many - not only in the scientific community - sighed with relief at Obama's clear statement that the dialogue on one of the most pressing matters of our time will not only continue but (finally, again) be based upon facts, not faith or ideology.

Another with great anticipation awaited announcement was whom Obama would pick as his science advisor. Last Saturday, during his weekly radio address, Obama officially announced his choice: John P. Holdren, a Harvard physicist who is a leading authority on global warming. Holdren is also a past president of AAAS, the nation's largest organization of scientists.

So with the incoming US administration slowly but surely assuming its shape, we decided to dedicate our last bridges edition of 2008 to the question: How can science - and scientists - contribute to good policy making, especially in the international context of diplomacy and of foreign affairs?  Several interviews and expert contributions in this issue of bridges will cast light on this question from different angles, and discuss the various forms of diplomacy that exist.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} In the "People in the Spotlight" portrait, bridges spoke with Eugene Skolnikoff, who is considered one of the founding fathers of "Science Diplomacy." Skolnikoff, who turned eighty this year, served on the science advisory staff under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter. He also had a distinguished academic career at MIT, where he is now professor emeritus of political science. Read in the interview what he considers to be the most pressing foreign policy issue for science diplomacy today.

Another interview was conducted with Vaughan Turekian, recently appointed as the first director of AAAS' new Center for Science Diplomacy. The Center was announced on July 15, 2008, during a hearing before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, by Dr. Alan Leshner.
Leshner, who is executive publisher of the journal Science, testified about the role that US non-governmental organizations play in cultivating, promoting, and coordinating international science and technology cooperations. Guided by the overarching goal of using science and scientific cooperation to promote international understanding and prosperity, the Center offers a forum through which scientists, policy analysts, and policy makers can share information and explore collaborative opportunities. Click here to go to the article and to read about Turekian's vision for the new Center.

For their regular columns, Norman Neureiter and Roger A. Pielke, Jr. also chose as their topic the role of science and scientists in a foreign affairs context: While Neureiter (click here to go to his column) advocates for the importance of having science fellows at Congress, the Department of State, and other agencies, Pielke spoke with Jack Marburger, the outgoing science advisor to the US president and still director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), about his tenure and accomplishments (click here to go to Pielke's interview with Marburger).

When Alan Leshner was asked during his testimony before Congress about the reasons that science diplomacy is receiving more and more attention in both the scientific and the international relations communities, the answer was not hard for him to find:

    Science is, by definition, global in scope and application. Science knows no borders, it is not constrained by geography, and no country has a monopoly on it. International scientific cooperation advances both science and the broader relationships among partner countries. Such cooperation serves an important role in initiating relationships, building trust, and expanding understanding between countries and societies.

Regardless of whether science diplomacy is conducted by governments or carried out by non-governmental organizations or individuals - it can have a very powerful positive impact in international affairs if used in a responsible manner. Science is by nature a lingua franca, and scientists not only exchange information but also share values when working together, making them very effective good will ambassadors for a country.  
In a modest but not insignificant way, science and the people involved in it can contribute to what we all should strive for: a peaceful and prosperous life for all.

In this spirit, I wish a peaceful holiday season and a happy 2009 to all of us.

Caroline Adenberger
Editor-in-Chief {/access}