About the Author: Larry Gumbiner is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science, Space & Health in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
On July 22, I had the honor of speaking on “science diplomacy” at a Congressional briefing on Science Engagement for U.S. Diplomacy and Global Development that was organized by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF). The event highlighted the U.S. government's efforts and commitment, both overseas and domestically, to realize President Obama's statement that the United States “will restore science to its rightful place.”
Science and technology are very important tools and vehicles for diplomacy. Science diplomacy opens doors, establishes lasting bonds, solves problems, and promotes democratic values. For these reasons and others, it is being employed by the U.S. government, both from Washington and internationally, through embassies around the world. The emphasis on science diplomacy comes from the top down -- from President Obama, notably in his speech in Cairo in June 2009, and from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose Strategic Dialogues often have a science and technology component. But science diplomacy is driven by demand as well as by supply; there is a push for science and technology collaboration with the United States from all corners of the globe.
The U.S. Department of State uses a number of methods to engage in science diplomacy. We have negotiated some 47 bilateral science and technology cooperation agreements to advance collaboration and find creative ways to develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. The Science Envoy program selects senior scientists, many of them Nobel Laureates, to travel to countries around the globe and report back to the President on ways to deepen our science collaboration. We also have a number of fellowships -- Jefferson, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Franklin, to name a few -- by which young scientists and academics work in offices throughout the State Department and USAID to integrate science into day-to-day foreign policy decisions. The Embassy Science Fellows program uses the expertise of scientists who are already working throughout the Federal government to deploy to our embassies overseas to work directly with foreign counterparts. The State Department continues to expand its corps of Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) officials overseas, guaranteeing that our Ambassadors have key S&T advisors at their sides at all times. With all of these tools at our disposal, the interest in, and commitment to, science in our embassies is at an all time high -- and growing.