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FYI Number 131: October 23, 2001

State Department Science Adviser on S&T in Foreign Policy

Instead of a new world order, we have "a new world of inordinate disorder," Norman Neureiter told an audience at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Neureiter, the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that "whether we want it or not," the United States carries "the mantle of world leadership."

Speaking at the October 6 Loewy Memorial Lecture in Science, Technology and International Affairs, Neureiter said the U.S. Department of State has a crucial role in the nation's security. National security has three elements - intelligence, diplomacy, and military preparedness - he said, and science and technology underlie all three. "I feel very, very strongly about the role of diplomacy," he stated. "When you stop talking, that's when you start shooting."

Neureiter warned that diplomacy in the 21st century will need "much greater literacy in science and technology," but State Department budget cuts of almost 20 percent since the mid-1990s have left the department "inadequately equipped" to handle such issues. Neureiter views his role as "trying to make sure that the people who have to make policy decisions have the best science and technology counsel and advice possible." Decisions may ultimately be based on political considerations, he said, but should not be "made in ignorance."

Neureiter cited the AIP State Department Science Fellowship as one example of bringing S&T expertise into the department through "limited-term assignments of professionals." (Information on the Fellowship can be found at http://www.aip.org/mgr/sdf.html). The State Department needs advice from "dedicated scientists with a little bit more than bench smarts," he commented. Such scientists must be able to communicate effectively with experts in foreign policy, he said, and bear a responsibility for explaining the scientific basis behind their opinions and interpretations. Neureiter is also working to get more S&T training available for foreign service officers and more science- related questions included on foreign service exams. A big part of his job, he said, is to "penetrate the barriers" to the department's regional bureaus, which he called "the heart of the traditional foreign service."

In the area of counter-terrorism, Neureiter reported that a working group within the State Department has identified at least 88 different technologies of interest to the federal counter-terrorism community to protect against threats or detect them ahead of time. Cybersecurity is "a huge issue," he said. Other priority areas he mentioned include sustainable development and bioethics, HIV/AIDS, global warming, conflict diamonds, and export controls. He acknowledged concerns that current export control regulations could result in "wiping out the space research capabilities" at U.S. universities, and that the issue had not yet been resolved. Another priority is space policy; at least 11 bureaus within the department have interests in the protection of satellites, the use and militarization of space, or related issues, and Neureiter chairs the department's space policy committee. He is also directly involved in a new effort to build science and technology relationships with India, and is working on an S&T agreement with Vietnam. He works regularly with S&T officials in other federal agencies, and has already contacted the OSTP director nominee, John Marburger, about instituting regular meetings.

Neureiter's varied career in science and foreign policy spans many decades of public and private sector experience. Originally an organic chemist, he served in NSF, the State Department, and then OSTP in the 1960s and early 1970s, and retired in 1996 from the position of vice president of Texas Instruments Asia. Of his return to government service last year as Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary, he commented, "I still go into the State Department every day with a certain sense of childish thrill." He called it a "fascinating institution," and still finds it remarkable that the department has experts who are familiar with "every geographic niche in the world."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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