Sustainable Development and Preventive Diplomacy

Sustainable Development and Preventive Diplomacy

This report reflects the deliberations of the drafting panel on Sustainable Development and Preventive Diplomacy that met on March 29, 1995 during the Forum on the Role of Science and Technology in Promoting National Security and Global Stability. The report was compiled by the session drafter and is a summary of the issues raised during the discussion. All points do not necessarily represent the views of all of the participants.

E. Jeffrey Stann, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Government Co-chair: Frances E. Carr, U.S. Agency for International Development
Nongovernment Co-chair: Thomas J. Malone, Sigma Xi

John Perry, National Academy of Sciences

M. J. Finley Austin, U.S. Agency for International Development
Nicole Ball, Overseas Development Council
Robert O. Blake, World Resources Institute
John Bullard, NOAA
Thomas Eisner, Cornell University
John Gage, Sun Microsystems
Jean-Peirre Habicht, Cornell University
David Hamburg, Carnegie Corporation
Jodi Jacobson, Health and Development Policy Project
Beth Lachman, Critical Technologies Institute
Michael McElroy, Harvard University
M. Faith Mitchell, National Research Council
Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden
Richard L. Sawyer, Fundacion Peru
Grace H. Wever, Eastman Kodak Company

Sustainable Development and Preventive Diplomacy
--Summary of Drafting Panel Discussion--

The White Paper presents a succinct discussion of global threats affecting the post- Cold-War world, then premises a form of preventive diplomacy in which the United States would maintain ready four responses -- ranging from support for democracy to military strength -- to respond to conflicts or potential conflicts across the world. The role of science and technology (S&T) in responding to global problems is sketched out, followed by a longer listing of agency activities targeted at the threats.

The drafting group focused on the critical role of science and technology in providing organizing principles for developing the global knowledge strategy upon which sustainable development will depend. This strategy will involve unprecedented collaboration among all of the sciences, engineering, and the humanities. It will demand especially effective modes of communication and cooperation among industry, government, educational institutions, and other private organizations. These patterns of interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation among major sectors of society must transcend national boundaries. S&T is used in this paper in its broader definition that includes both the social and the natural sciences.


The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro allowed the nations of the world to assess their prospects for sustainable development and to begin the discussions that could, if pursued adequately, lead to important international collaboration on meeting basic human needs and protecting the global environment of the future. Meeting these needs would mean changing levels of consumption in the industrialized world to maintainable patterns, using our considerable intellectual capital to formulate technologies less destructive than the ones we now use, and building the scientific and technical bases in developing countries so that they would be able to manage their own natural capital in a sustainable way.

The vision of sustainable human development entails a society in which basic needs and an equitable share of life's amenities can be met by successive generations while maintaining in perpetuity a healthy, physically attractive, and biologically productive environment. Sustainable human development emphasizes the quality of economic growth rather than the annual percentages of that growth. It emphasizes regeneration and enrichment of the human environment, rather than its degradation. Sustainable human development will depend upon political and religious freedom and personal security for all. Authenticating this vision begins with leadership and requires the participation of all sectors to arrive at a consensus on a sustainable future.

The United States is challenged to marshal our nation's substantial intellectual and material resources to provide world leadership to engage the pressing problems of national security and global stability now before us. Threats to sustainable development are among the most significant long-term threats to our security.


Among the threats affecting world society, five can be singled out as global in nature and highly relevant to U.S. national security and global stability: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, emerging diseases, overpopulation, and political unrest and its consequences.

Loss of biodiversity is undeniably the most urgent threat, because it is the fastest moving of all environmental problems and is irreversible, thus hampering future prospects of achieving stability. The significance of this threat was insufficiently stressed in the White Paper in the opinion of the drafting group. At the current estimated rate of biodiversity loss, twenty percent of all living species on Earth may be lost by the year 2020 -- an estimated total loss of two million organisms. Such loss means the destruction of the machinery that makes our planetary home function. We will no longer have these organisms as sources of medicine, oils, fibers, food, chemicals, and other commodities of interest to both industrial and developing societies. The loss of biodiversity forecloses opportunities to construct sustainable systems for our own people and all people across the globe.

Environmental degradation is a related threat driven by production and consumption of goods and services in a manner that is not environmentally benign. Degradation results from industrial, agricultural, and other activities that by their nature or magnitude exceed the capacity of physical and biological systems or that produce nonassimilable pollution or undesirable human impacts. During the last fifty years, the world has experienced the loss of nearly 25 percent of its topsoil, an increase by 25 percent of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the depletion by 8 percent of ozone in the atmosphere, and the cutting of about a third of then-existing forests without replacement. While these problems are well known, they are not sufficiently addressed in national and international research agendas, agreements, and practices.

Infectious diseases affecting humans, plants, and animals are spreading rapidly as a result of trade and travel, and -- amplified by malnutrition -- threaten public health and productivity on a broad and intensive scale. The rapidly growing human population, widespread pollution and the deterioration of other environmental factors that may contribute to the maintenance of good health, as well as the lack of dependable supplies of clean drinking water for fully a fifth of the world's people, contribute together to the acceleration and spread of such diseases. Our capacity to prevent or treat known and future diseases at an adequate level is unknown.

Population growth is putting excessive demand on human and physical capacity to meet human needs for food, housing, health, employment, and education. Population growth in industrialized countries exerts a disproportionately negative effect on the global environment and must be brought under control if global stability is to be achieved. (If the U.S. had the same population as in 1943, even continuing to use more energy per capita than any other country, we would not need to import any oil, burn any coal, build any nuclear plants, or drill along the shores of California and Florida.) The population policies adopted by most developing countries during the past twenty years should be encouraged and strengthened through global action so that resources might be utilized sustainability. Only part of world population growth is attributable to unwanted fertility and thus susceptible to family planning. Population momentum and large desired family size in some countries are also principal factors in population growth. Therefore, S&T narrowly conceived cannot entirely solve this threat, although it can contribute to the solution. A more comprehensive response will require an integrative policy addressing gender issues and barriers to productive resources, labor markets, and political power.

Warfare and ethnic and social clashes set back efforts to meet critical human and environmental needs. Political unrest tends to be a regional problem, but one with global impact as a consequence of forced migrations and other disruptive effects. The potential use of chemical and biological agents of warfare in the service of terrorism and nuclear proliferation further increase the gravity of this threat.

Without social justice and the kind of equality that would produce stability throughout the world, these problems will only get worse. Countries and stakeholder groups perceive the issues and threats to success differently. Recognizing and integrating their diverse views is a critical part of leadership in forming policy goals to address those issues.


Six public policy goals for achieving sustainable development were identified. These goals apply equally to domestic programs as well as to U.S. leadership in a stable and secure world. It may seem an insurmountable challenge to set societal goals that integrate the issues identified above. However, dealing with them as freestanding issues is not an option, since sustainability cannot be achieved through isolated policy- and decision-making. Because the goals are interconnected, they will require input from many sectors of society.

Promote Knowledge for Long-term Development. In view of the central role of individual choices in addressing the issues, there is an overarching need to foster knowledge concerning the nature and interaction of matter, energy, living organisms, information, and human behavior. Knowledge is here construed broadly to encompass fundamental research, its dissemination through formal and informal education, and its application to convert natural resources into goods and services to meet human needs.

There are an estimated one billion illiterate people in the world; high levels of illiteracy undermine long-term development goals. Economic development requires the synergistic application of technology and the ability to assume higher risk to achieve higher returns. Yet these two requirements alone are insufficient to reach poorer populations who can afford neither technology nor risk. Long-term development comes only to countries that target the well-being of their people in more than merely quantitative terms. Education has been linked to productivity and population stabilization and is the principal component of societal well-being and stability. Even so, education is effective only when supported by health and nutrition and by appropriate infrastructure. This is true as much in the United States as in the developing world.

Promote Institution Building. The integration of education, infrastructure, health systems, and sustainable productivity requires the re-creation and linking of organizations and programs representing many sectors of society. Institution building for sustainable development calls for better definition of goals and management procedures, incentives, and training. It is a difficult process, but one for which the United States has a great deal of expertise to offer developing countries. One good example is the work of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) in Costa Rica, which brings representatives from industry, the educational community, scientific community, conservationists, media, government, and others together to work on the biodiversity of the country as national patrimony. Because INBio can demonstrate profit from biodiversity, the matter of the nation's dependence upon it becomes a reality rather than a slogan, and the nation develops a will to add to it out of its own self interest.

Modify Consumption. The consumption habits of the industrialized nations and, increasingly, of the newly industrializing countries are devouring the world, polluting its waters, and unbalancing the global climate system. The solutions lie in reforms in energy consumption, land use, tax policy, and subsidy and investment policies in our own country and abroad. Achieving these reforms will depend upon an educated and informed public that understands the need for fundamental change in patterns of life and alternate ways of achieving fulfillment and well-being. The role of national leaders is critical in creating the climate for reform.

Shape New Market Strategies and Trade Policies. Our international trading policies will need adjustment to achieve the ambitious vision of these goals, to open markets equitably, make capital broadly available, maintain a strong business and industrial base, provide for sustainable resource throughput, counter unstable tax and regulatory climates, shape equitable and effective intellectual property rights structures, and train workforces. A sustainable environment needs to be more than a sidebar to discussions of market incentives: Sustainable development requires more accurate accounting for the value of natural resources and intact ecosystems. As long as their cost is valued without considering replaceability, pollution consequences, or effect of biodiversity loss, changes in patterns of consumption and more equitable distribution of wealth cannot occur.

Forge Cooperative Partnerships for Development. Many Third World problems are ones for which the United States has little relevant experience. Taking our experience as a model for transportation and health systems, for example, may prove disastrous in cost, land use, and social services. Cooperative partnerships are needed to seek solutions through the application of appropriate technology. Such technology can be effective in promoting new markets for the United States and lessening the need for other forms of assistance to less developed countries.

Involve Stakeholders. Sustainable development depends upon involving the stakeholders in identifying goals, forging workable institutions, and promoting vigorous economic growth in a healthy environment. The socialist totalitarian approach to development has proven a failure; free-market democratic societies are generally believed to promote world stability. But these require discipline to promote development in which all have a stake, development that only comes from consensus and involvement. Democratic societies also require equity of involvement between the classes and the genders; the reality and perception of present inequality threatens basic stability and even the ability to absorb the advantages of scientific and technological advances.

Solutions and Recommendations

There is a need to develop highly integrated but practicable solutions to complex, cross-boundary issues and threats. These solutions should be considered not as expenditures, but as investments in sustainability. But before examining the recommendations, it is appropriate to address the issue of preventive diplomacy that forms the core of the White Paper.

Preventive Diplomacy. The White Paper expands the concept of preventive diplomacy to include, along with "traditional diplomacy and military strength," support for democracy and sustainable development, with the argument that environmental degradation, overpopulation, and inequitable distribution of resources contribute to and even cause social unrest, internal strife, and regional conflicts. However, it is arguable whether the conflicts that have occurred since the end of the Cold War have arisen out of environmental stress or population growth, or even primarily out of the inequitable distribution of economic resources, rather than from the struggle for control over political and economic resources. Did environment, population, and resource distribution problems lead rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq to take the positions they currently take, or will sustainable development alter those policies? Did the destabilization of Algeria, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Haiti result from these problems, or from the unwillingness of one group to share power and resources with another?

Clearly, environmental degradation and overpopulation can create conditions that threaten national security or weaken central state power, and can lead dominant groups to make political decisions about resource distribution. But if conflicts facing the world today are essentially political in derivation, then the leverage for S&T narrowly conceived to prevent or manage them is little, or at least constrained. Moreover, there may be as much need for the commitment to use existing information about identifying potential conflict, as for extensive new research. This disagreement about preventive diplomacy may be due in part to disagreement whether the unequal distribution of resources is an environmental rather than political problem, but members of the drafting group were concerned that such an approach not dilute efforts to advance both preventive diplomacy and sustainable development in appropriate terms.

Science and Technology Vehicles. Worldwide development of the discovery, integration, dissemination, and application of knowledge calls for a global knowledge strategy. As stated in the opening of this paper, this strategy will require unprecedented collaboration among the physical, biological, medical, and social sciences, mathematics, engineering, and the humanities. It will demand especially effective modes of communication and cooperation among industry, government, educational institutions, and other private organizations. These patterns of interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation among disciplines and among major sectors of society must transcend national boundaries.

The material resources to implement a global knowledge strategy are potentially available, without new money, by elevating knowledge and education to higher priority on national and international agendas. At present, annual international expenditures for official development assistance total about $60 billion and for military expenditures in developing and industrialized countries about $760 billion. Although this argument has been made in a similar way before, it is worth repeating that allocating an amount equal to three per cent of this $820 billion would provide annually some $25 billion to develop a global knowledge strategy. In addition, private investment in the global information infrastructure could greatly expand the creation of and access to knowledge.

The United States has superb national intellectual resources in our universities and colleges, and in federal, industrial, and private research laboratories and centers. The U.S. higher education system is one of our main international advantages and a principal element of our world leadership. This capacity is more than adequate to meet the demands of a strategy that attempted to develop the human resource infrastructure worldwide for sustainability. We will need to invest appropriately in our institutions of higher learning and will need to open these institutions in appropriate ways to aspiring scientists of all nations. Existing high-quality human capacity in U.S. universities could also be placed in developing countries to establish training programs and other facilities.

S&T has a major role to play in global stability but only as scientific capabilities are developed in all countries and integrated with the other domains of knowledge. It is clearly in our interest to strengthen the scientific and technical infrastructure particularly of the developing nations. The application of technology requires the development of institutions in these countries with the capability of organizing the knowledge necessary for national development and to expedite the transfer of additional knowledge from other nations. Education should be an international effort, and other industrialized countries could assist in making all educational establishments accessible to students from the developing world.

The science and technology community, both public and private, has many roles to play in moving us toward sustainable development. By informing the vision-making process with a reality-based image of the future, S&T can help to identify current issues and threats and predict future ones. By recognizing gaps in knowledge about such threats, S&T can play a role in expanding the knowledge base and in informing and educating the public. S&T can also play a clear role in developing solutions. For example, it can compare, through scenario building, different management options such as legislative and regulatory approaches versus voluntary programs, plans, and initiatives. S&T contributes in the area of R&D, identifying, developing, and refining technology options. It contributes data on impacts and threats from alternative paths, including estimating costs, risks, benefits, and potential impacts on social, economic, natural resource base, and environmental factors. The S&T community also contributes by developing measurement tools to track the impact of policies, plans, technology options, and so forth. Again, its role is to inform and educate the public and private sectors of potential outcomes, examining cross-boundary impacts. And lastly, perhaps its most critical role is to educate all sectors on the need for behavior change.

Further research is needed in many areas. An important research task needing attention and funding is to identify appropriate indicators for sustainability, in order to set parameters for policy and action. Another area concerns the effectiveness of different approaches to human capital development and the relative trade-offs between development targeted at the poor versus those most likely to make use of new information and capital investments. Another area concerns the relationships between population growth and the empowerment of women. Still another question (connecting to issues about power associated with preventive diplomacy) concerns the best way of achieving more equitable distribution of wealth in free-market democratic societies; while it is commonly accepted that democratic societies are the best vehicles for sustained development, the processes of achieving it are less clear.

A facility or mechanism for developing and disseminating information about technologies suitable for sustained development in the Third World is needed. The clearinghouse mechanism in the Convention on Biological Diversity, once established, might fulfill part of this need. An idea with many adherents is the creation of an "institute for sustainability" that would accelerate exchange at the national level. Existing efforts -- such as the U.N. Development Programme -- might be modified to promote a global knowledge strategy. The regional technology-based economic development activities promoted and facilitated by many state governments might be able to play a role. Such a facility should promote the application of existing technology and, where that is insufficient, the discovery and development of new technology. The United States itself could benefit from such cooperative partnerships, which could be established on a reciprocal and cost-sharing basis. Mutual economic benefit can be based on international science and technology cooperation.

Government agencies clearly have key roles to play in promoting a global knowledge strategy. For example, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)'s initiative Technology for a Sustainable Future holds promise for long-term economic growth to create jobs while improving and sustaining the environment. It has a global dimension and addresses the issue of intergenerational equity. The partnership it seeks among business and industry, federal, state, and local agencies, schools and universities, and other private organizations is consistent with the goals expressed in this document.

Barriers to Sustainable Development. The barriers to sustainability are many:

On the last point, technology transfer and the development of locally appropriate solutions cannot take place if countries with nearly eighty percent of the world's population continue to have only six percent of the world's scientists. Training foreign students who do not return to their own countries, training them in disciplines with little present or potential application in their own countries, and organizing training without adequate concern for promoting adequate infrastructure for them at home all serve to undermine the role of the American education sector as a tool for global sustainable development. Further, recent speculation suggests that "brain drain" to the United States may foreclose employment for our own trained scientists.


Neutralizing or eliminating these barriers cannot be accomplished through U.S. efforts alone, but can be through international partnerships that systematically shape market and trade strategies, work to reduce consumption, promote more effective institutions, and involve all stakeholders in a long-term global knowledge strategy. The White Paper rightly stresses the ineluctable link between our own national security and global stability, and the need for continued U.S. leadership in the world. Failure to address the major threats to security and stability identified in this paper jeopardizes the ability both of the United States and of world society to achieve a healthy, sustainable future for humankind.

Science and technology have clear and important role to play in this process. Investment in research and in education (which is perhaps the best "preventive diplomacy") is the foundation of the global knowledge strategy needed for achieving sustainable development. Once made, this investment must be evaluated rigorously in a continual process of issue re-definition, policy making, and implementation. Scientists must deal with misunderstandings about the scientific process that arise with the public media and that make the arguments for sustainable development more difficult to comprehend. The science and technology community has an obligation to educate both public and policy makers about the nature of the threats to stability and possible solutions to them.

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Draft Reports

Sustainable Development and Preventive Diplomacy

Cooperative Threat Reduction

Technology Leadership to Strengthen Economic and National Security

Global Information Infrastructure

Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

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