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Addressing Global Challenges in Congress: The Science Diplomacy Toolkit

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My general belief as a member of Congress in 2012, having served on both the Foreign Affairs and Science Committees, was that there is genuine value in science for the benefit of society and in sharing scientific best practices and discoveries between countries. This creates unique diplomatic openings among friends and foes.1

In this past decade, some did not just fail to use or promote science for problem-solving, but additionally contributed to a cottage industry of science deniers, especially when general scientific consensus did not fit a particular political agenda. But rather than focusing on where we have failed, I would like to instead look at areas where we have succeeded, so that we may learn to do the same in other areas.

There are three areas where I believe Congressional policy makers have most effectively leveraged science and diplomacy in recent years:

  1. Climate science has overcome most detractors and developed a strong global consensus for collective action with the common understanding that no one country or group of countries can make sufficient impact without broad global action.
  2. Scientific collaboration and innovation has been encouraged by the rise of health and pandemic science to address the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Russia’s assault on Ukraine has consolidated European countries and other democracies around the world into a unified bloc nearly unimaginable just a few months ago. Scientific advances will make any transition toward energy alternatives easier, so that economies are not dependent on fossil fuels from petro-dictators like Putin.

All of these are major global challenges that require global solutions, and thus depend on science diplomacy. But for countries to act boldly, they have to consider the impact on everyday citizens and how to enlist their support in these fights. It can be difficult to get people to care about the big global picture when they struggle with the very personal impacts to their lives and wallets from drastic climate swings, health and economic risks from COVID-19, and pain at the gas pump from disrupted energy supplies.

Isolation is not an option and political borders on a map are no protection. Science is a powerful tool in our diplomatic toolkit. It is essential to our national security, economic competitiveness, and social welfare. Congress and our national leaders would do well to keep that tool sharpened and close at hand to work on our continuing challenges.


  1. Russ Carnahan, “Science Diplomacy and Congress: How Better Coordination Benefits the United States and the World,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (September 2012),
National Approaches Science in Diplomacy A Decade of Science & Diplomacy