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About the Author

Robert D. Hormats served as the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment from 2009 to 2013. He currently serves as an International Advisory Board Member at Edelman Global Advisory.

New Perspective

Scientific Preeminence: An American Domestic and Diplomatic Priority

https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf8088

A decade ago, serving as the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, I started my article with the statement: “Science diplomacy is a central component of the United States’ 21st-century statecraft agenda.”1 At the time, I was optimistic about the United States’ future in science diplomacy, encouraged by its bipartisan support, and inspired by the number of countries who wanted to partner with the United States.

As I look back over the last decade, my view that the United States’ scientific advancement remains critical not only to our diplomacy, but to our prosperity and wellbeing is even stronger. I have been awed by the rapid progress developing highly successful COVID-19 vaccines, the progress in 5G, major innovations in quantum computing, and advances in artificial intelligence (AI).

However, I also see a country facing a serious set of challenges that it is not successfully confronting. These center on the sharp decline in popular understanding of the critical importance of science, and the growing number of people in our country who are skeptical of and often hostile to it.

It is time to ask, how we are going to ensure sustained U.S. preeminence in 21st-century technologies and scientific leadership. I see at least three priorities, with the first being education. From first grade on, the basic elements of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology need to be taught with enthusiasm and expertise. The second is remaining open to foreign students, researchers, and entrepreneurs, who have continually strengthened the U.S. scientific enterprise. The third is ensuring that we can look “over the horizon” to detect future threats as well as opportunities, and make certain we have the needed science and technology capabilities to avert the former and enhance the latter.

In many areas of science and technology, issues of public and international trust have arisen, and the growing nationalization of science can be harmful. We need to engage in cooperative endeavors that do not deprive others and ourselves of the benefits of international cooperation in scientific research, but also do no harm to our national interests or undermine our security and wellbeing. To ensure this, global rules, norms, and practices are needed, for which U.S. diplomacy is essential. 

Finally, we need a thorough science and diplomacy national strategy for ensuring our nation’s technological preeminence and its positive outcomes for our own citizens and global humanity. And this strategy should give serious thought to whether the U.S. government is organized in a way that adequately supports scientific enterprise and provides the resources that will be needed to fully advance the United States’ scientific potential and leadership at home—and abroad, as a foreign policy priority. 

The United States’ continued growth in technological and scientific expertise will not only strengthen our economy, the health of our people, and our national security, but also will invigorate friendships and alliances with other countries. I still believe that science diplomacy is a key element of the United States’ statecraft agenda—even more so than a decade ago.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf8088

 

Endnotes

  1. Robert D. Hormats, “Science Diplomacy and Twenty-First Century Statecraft,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 2012), http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2012/science-diplomacy-and-t....