The Role of Science & Technology in Sustainable Development


A White Paper

Prepared for the White House Forum on the Role of Science and Technology in Promoting
National Security and Global Stability

March 29 - 30, 1995
National Academy of Sciences

Since the end of the Second World War, national security concerns have greatly influenced federal support for science and technology. During the 1980's, for example, defense-related R&D accounted for 65% of the federal research budget. In the post-Cold War era, the new tenets of U.S. foreign policy - building democracy, maintaining peace, promoting economic growth and sustainable development, addressing global problems, and providing humanitarian assistance - reflect a new, broader definition of national security. This document provides a brief overview of global threats that affect the nation's security, such as environmental degradation, explosive population growth, new and re-emerging diseases, drug trafficking and crime. Further, it describes the critical role of science and technology in understanding and overcoming these threats. Finally, it offers examples of the U.S. Government's science and technology priorities, policies, and programs that respond to these new national security concerns.

The Nature and Importance of Global Threats

The importance of global threats is reflected in the Clinton Administration's 1995 National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement: "The more clearly we understand the complex interrelationships between the different parts of our world's environment, the better we can understand the regional and even global effects of local changes to the environment. Increasing competition for the dwindling reserves of uncontaminated air, arable land, fisheries and other food sources, and water, once considered "free" goods, is already a very real risk to regional stability around the world. The range of environmental risks serious enough to jeopardize international stability extends to massive population flight from man-made or natural catastrophes, such as Chernobyl or the East African drought, and to large-scale ecosystem damage caused by industrial pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, ozone depletion, desertification, ocean pollution and ultimately climate change.

Rapid population growth in the developing world and unsustainable consumption patterns in industrialized nations are the root of both present and potentially even greater forms of environmental degradation and resource depletion. A conservative estimate of the globe's population projects 8.5 billion people on the planet by the year 2025. Even when making the most generous allowances for advances in science and technology, one cannot help but conclude that population growth and environmental pressures will feed into immense social unrest and make the world substantially more vulnerable to serious international frictions."

America is not isolated from the consequences of harmful transnational phenomena. Even a small change in the Earth's climate, for instance, would disrupt the life and livelihood of our nation through changing sea levels and major perturbations in temperature and precipitation patterns. Similarly, increases in ultraviolet solar radiation, or outbreaks of new infectious diseases, could endanger the health of Americans, even if the root causes of the problems lay in distant parts of the world. The tragedy of HIV/AIDS has already made this clear.

The international drug trade ruins the lives of people throughout the world, and disrupts civil society in our cities as well as cities and villages in South Asia and Latin America.

Terrorism, which can strike in New York as well as in Bombay, destroys not just human lives, but the foundations of the rule of law.

The threats of global warming, ozone depletion, ocean pollution and coastal degradation are just some of the phenomena that have made concern for the environment into a global issue.

The explosive growth of the world's population is of primary importance. Recent history has shown that, in some developing countries, even the most impressive gains in total economic output can be offset by rapid population growth. Population pressures already contribute to violent disorder and mass dislocations in resource-poor societies. Some of the resulting refugees come from nearby countries, while others - refugees-in-waiting - pose a long-term threat to the integrity of nations and to global stability.

Individually or collectively, threats such as these can lead to the destabilization of countries in the developing world, or the emergence of rogue states, posing a direct threat to U.S. security through terrorist acts, the drug trade, or the disruption of access to vital economic resources. Regional or civil conflicts, caused in part by environmental stress, could involve the U.S. in costly and hazardous military interventions or peacekeeping exercises. A prudent investment in preventing such conflicts could be cost-effective, while addressing humanitarian needs. Recent events illustrate this point: in Rwanda, ethnic conflict exploded into horrifying massacres in a country that was experiencing soaring population growth, environmental degradation, and inequalities in the distribution of resources. The donor community spent a billion dollars in 1994 responding to the Rwanda crisis, an expense that exceeded the yearly outlay in U.S. development assistance for the entire African Continent.

Preventive Diplomacy

The Clinton Administration emphasizes support for democracy, sustainable development, traditional diplomacy and military strength to prevent conflicts from escalating into violence, and to contain conflicts that do occur. This strategy defines the practice of preventive diplomacy. When combined with timely early warning systems, and a commitment to use the warning information, preventive diplomacy is a wise investment in national security, offering the prospect of resolving problems with the least human and material cost. The tools of social science will be required to identify the most significant variables involved in producing conflicts, and information technologies will be needed to detect changes in these variables and to provide early warning. Such a strategy inherently embraces the notion of preventing global threats before they occur, and thus requires discipline in its implementation, since its successes will often have to be measured in terms of undesirable events that do not happen.

As part of its prevention strategy, the Administration is responding to the challenge of global security threats through vigorous promotion of sustainable development, both at home and abroad. Sustainable development requires that the economies of the world, including our own, try to meet contemporary needs without compromising the resources available to future generations.

The Role of Science and Technology

Science helps us to understand the origins, characteristics and consequences of global problems. Finding solutions to these problems, and elucidating the complex chains of cause and effect through which they may be linked, requires a coordinated effort by natural and social scientists, engineers, and policy-makers. American leadership in science and technology, which responds to this challenge, is therefore an important element of our national security. As science plays an ever-increasing role, however, scientists must remain true to the fundamental principles of objectivity and impartiality.

In some cases, research and monitoring programs offer the only substantial warning to government officials and to the public of an emerging problem. For example, through the use of remote sensing, we continue to accumulate an invaluable record of the state and evolution of the basic components of our biosphere. Such observations and measurements, coupled with the development of predictive quantitative models, are essential tools for policy- making in the post-Cold War security environment.

Transforming scientific breakthroughs into new technologies can have a profound impact on development, but wise stewardship of these technologies is essential. One challenge of sustainable development is to use technology in such a way that it balances advances in productivity with long-term resource viability. For example, technology helped bring about the Green Revolution, which resulted in increased agricultural productivity worldwide. But at the same time, poorly designed irrigation systems led to soil degradation in some areas. In the decades ahead, technology will be called upon to feed a growing world population, with minimum impact on the integrity of soil, water, forests, and other resources.

American scientific and technological leadership can be strengthened through international cooperation. Some of today's most difficult challenges cannot be solved by the United States (or any country) acting alone. During a time of severe budgetary constraints, some projects are too costly for any one nation. Sometimes the work must be done in situ, for example in assessing and preserving biodiversity, or monitoring disease outbreaks. Other issues naturally invite collaboration because of unique foreign expertise or facilities. Cooperation builds bridges among nations, sometimes even when no other avenues are available. An effective way to promote sustainable practices globally is through partnership in research among developed and developing countries. A global community of scholars, united by a shared understanding of scientific methodology and responsibility, and linked via modern telecommunication networks, can be a positive force for promoting international stability, democracy and economic development.

A National Response to Global Threats

In November 1993, President Clinton established a cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate S&T policies throughout the federal government. To prepare coordinated R&D strategies and budget recommendations for accomplishing national goals, the NSTC established nine R&D coordinating committees, including committees on: International Science, Engineering, and Technology; Health, Safety and Food R&D; and Environment and Natural Resources Research.

An example of the coordinating role of these NSTC committees is provided by the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET). One of CISET s goals is to use American leadership in science and technology to address global issues, and to support the post-Cold War tenets of U.S. foreign policy. To this end, CISET is addressing the following subjects: (1) International R&D for population stabilization; (2) R&D for international food security and nutrition; and (3) Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. For example, CISET is considering ways to strengthen the international surveillance capacity for detecting and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR) is coordinating interagency programs and is focusing environmental and natural resources R&D on those problems that directly impact our economy and health. CENR has called for enhanced emphasis on evaluating the socioeconomic driving forces of environmental change, understanding its consequences, developing adaptation and mitigation options, and conducting integrated assessments. Important ongoing activities include research on climate variability and change, stratospheric ozone and ultraviolet radiation, sustainable ecosystem productivity, and environmental technologies for pollution avoidance and remediation.

A number of government agencies engage in international S&T collaborations, many of which are designed to address foreign policy and security issues while simultaneously contributing to individual agencies domestic missions. Below is a brief description of a selection of agency programs that are relevant to achieving global stability:

The Department of State has a broad policy role, acting as the coordinator of U.S. Government positions on international environmental and S&T policy, and ensuring that the United States is working with other governments to address global threats. The most important vehicle for this is through the negotiation of agreements dealing with threats such as stratospheric ozone layer depletion, climate change, transboundary air and water pollution, and natural resource degradation. For example, one of the most important agreements of recent years was the conclusion of the Montreal Protocol on Depletion of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer in the late 1980's. Under this agreement, the countries of the world have agreed to take steps to stop producing chemicals which damage the ozone layer.

The Department is also active in international efforts to develop new technologies that can address threats facing the globe. The Department oversees over 600 international S&T cooperative agreements which provide U.S. researchers with access to foreign technologies in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, health, and environmental clean-up. The Department also helps coordinate U.S. participation in major international S&T programs, such as the International Space Station and the global effort to monitor and understand the earth's climate, and to determine the effect of human activities.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has developed five Strategies for Sustainable Development. All use S&T to varying degrees to address destabilizing factors in developing countries. Stabilizing world population growth and protecting human health: To address these complex problems a variety of programs have been designed to improve family planning options; enhance the reproductive health of women; promote maternal and child health; and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Research and development efforts supportive of these programs have led to the development of new and improved family planning products and methods such as oral contraceptives, IUDs, and NORPLANT ; development of oral rehydration solutions, vitamin A therapies, HIV dipsticks, vaccine heatmarkers, single-dose syringes, and ground-breaking understanding of acute respiratory infections in children. Protecting the environment: This involves reducing long-term threats to the global environment while addressing current environmental and economic practices that are unsustainable and impede development. R&D activities include improving carbon sequestration analysis, evaluating the environmental impacts of various trade and macroeconomic policies, biodiversity prospecting, reclamation of degraded lands, and improved management of coastal environments. Encouraging broad-based economic growth: Efforts are concentrated in three areas - strengthening markets, expanding economic opportunities for the less-advantaged, and investing in people by building human skills and capacities. Understanding the constraints to economic growth in developing and transitional countries is sought through research on labor markets, pension reform and relevant policies. In the many developing countries with agrarian economies, agricultural R&D plays a significant role, offering new and better crop varieties as well as more sustainable means of production. Building democracy: To achieve the objectives of promoting the transition to, and consolidation of, democratic regimes throughout the world, R&D seeks to identify locally relevant ways of ensuring that the populace is informed, and that civic societies are able to flourish. Providing effective humanitarian assistance: This clearly depends on technological systems that alert to impending natural disasters, and on S&T to provide methods for mitigating and recovering from natural and man-made crises.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to build a successful S&T base, and to pursue technology transfer and commercialization. To achieve international food security and enhanced nutrition, agricultural transformation is essential worldwide. ARS s portfolio reflects the mounting public interest in green consumerism - safe, healthful, products that are benign to the environment, such as biological control agents (to replace chemical pesticides), bioplastics, natural food additives, paints and cosmetics. The potential for non-food agriproducts to contribute to international food security is an important part of the ARS agenda, since agriculture provides many raw materials for food processing and other industries. Value-added activities, especially when linked with productivity gains, can provide important sources of income and employment, on- and off-farm. Post-harvest processing, prevention of losses and many other income- generating activities can contribute to food security. The USDA, together with U.S. universities and international institutions collaborate actively in these areas. An example of ARS technologies that are appropriate to rural economies is the development of a safe natural rubber latex for biomedical and other consumer product applications. Rubber allergies affect millions of people, but ARS has developed a nonallergenic rubber using a domestic plant species that is well-adapted to desert areas. Licensing of this technology is already under way.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is a major science and technology agency which continues to encourage the development and application of state-of-the-art approaches to energy utilization both domestically and worldwide. These approaches include the more efficient utilization of conventional energy sources, along with greater reliance on renewables. In the international arena, DOE has been successful in establishing relationships with major developing countries such as China and India that provide for technology transfer to promote sustainable development and to help slow the rate of carbon emissions. Focusing on the developing countries is critical since they have accounted for most of the growth in worldwide energy consumption and carbon emissions over the past two decades. DOE is also a significant force behind the United States Initiative on Joint Implementation (USIJI). USIJI is a pilot program under which efforts are undertaken between American organizations and their counterparts in a host country, leading to cooperative development projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such efforts not only offer the potential for expanded markets for domestic technologies, but they provide for a more cost-effective approach to addressing climate change and promoting sustainable development. Joint implementation could further spur technology cooperation, thereby increasing developing countries' access to energy- efficient and renewable energy technologies, including providing countries with additional operational capability, while stimulating export markets for industrialized countries.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the agencies of the Public Health Service (PHS) (Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, Indian Health Service, National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) address a wide range of health protection and promotion problems that require scientifically-based solutions. The PHS agencies also address global health issues, both as an integral part of their domestic programs, and in cooperation with other countries (bilaterally and in multilateral organizations).

The PHS agencies are engaged in basic and applied research in key areas that are relevant to national security and global stability. These include, but are not limited to, HIV/AIDS and other emerging and re-emerging diseases; women's health and family planning; maternal and child health; environmental health; nutrition; substance abuse and demand reduction; and consumer security related to food, drugs and medical devices.

The CDC, in collaboration with health agencies and infectious disease experts at community, national and international levels, have developed a prevention strategy to address threats to health from emerging infectious diseases. The plan has four areas of focus--capacity for detection and control of new, re-emerging, and drug-resistant infectious diseases; integrated laboratory and epidemiological applied research; enhanced communication of health information; and strengthening public health infrastructures.

NIH s Fogarty International Center (FIC) is committed to mobilizing international research efforts against global health threats. FIC currently sponsors the AIDS International Research and Training Program which ensures that a highly-trained cohort of investigators is available in key parts of the world to work with U.S. scientists on HIV/AIDS and related infectious diseases. In FY95, FIC initiated two new programs: one supporting population-related sciences, the other advancing environmental and occupational health sciences. These programs, combined with the activities of other federal agencies, are intended to improve national and regional capabilities which will, ultimately, reduce the need for U.S. assistance.

The Food and Drug Administration plays an often unrecognized role in strengthening capacities of countries to ensure the security of food and medical supplies. Assessment of risks, regulatory review and approval of products, investigative and monitoring activities, and applied research are some of the routine FDA functions. To accomplish its consumer protection mission domestically, FDA shares its expertise, principles, policies, methods and regulations with other governments and with multilateral organizations. A good example of international FDA cooperation with broader security implications is assistance to Russia to help improve that country s infrastructure for quality control and regulation of drugs and vaccines.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aims to describe and predict changes in the Earth's environment, and to conserve and manage wisely the nation's coastal and marine resources to ensure sustainable economic opportunities. The U.S. has made important strides in understanding and predicting the behavior of natural systems, managing resources more effectively, and in improving environmental quality. NOAA's role is to predict environmental changes in time and space, protect life and property, provide decision- makers with reliable scientific information, and foster global environmental stewardship. International cooperation is essential to achieving NOAA's mission. The very nature of the oceans and the atmosphere requires international cooperation: sharing the responsibility for observations and data gathering, working together to understand and address challenges such as global change, climate variability, natural disasters, ozone depletion, the increasing pressures on oceans, and marine and coastal resources. An example of this process is the success of international efforts to identify, understand and predict climatic variations such as El Nino. Throughout the world, periodic drought, flooding, and unanticipated severe storms have major implications in terms of lost lives, devastating environmental emergencies, and the social and economic impacts associated with agricultural production, water management, energy supplies, and migration of affected populations.

No one nation has the resources to supply all the observations to address its own needs, not to mention the needs of the world community. With its international partners, NOAA is working to overcome observational deficiencies, correlate satellite and in situ data sets, and establish common data formats and network interconnectivity to benefit not only the United States but all of the world s countries.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts research into problems of flight within and outside the Earth's atmosphere, and pursues activities in space that serve peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humankind. Using the unique vantage point of space, NASA scientists and their colleagues around the world are engaging in long-term monitoring of the planet Earth, studying it as a single, global environment. Data from the Mission to Planet Earth program will help determine how this environment changes and how human beings contribute to those changes.

The International Space Station, the largest international scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken, is being built in the factories and laboratories of thirteen nations. With the Space Station, a permanent laboratory will be established in a realm where gravity, temperature and pressure can be manipulated for a wide variety of scientific and engineering pursuits which are impossible to conduct in ground-based laboratories. The Space Station will be a testbed for the technologies of the future, and a laboratory for research on advanced industrial materials, communications technology, and medical products and procedures.

NASA's life sciences research focuses on the role of gravity in shaping living systems. The results are being used to ensure the health and safety of space crews and to improve the health and quality of life of people on Earth. NASA's microgravity research program reveals important physical, chemical, and biological processes that are obscured by gravity on Earth, and that provide insights on biotechnology, combustion science, gravitational physics, fluid physics, and materials science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports fundamental science and engineering research by U.S. investigators on natural and human phenomena that are closely linked to sustainable development and other issues relating to global stability. Examples of NSF- supported research include: atmospheric and ocean science research on global and regional climate phenomena; life sciences research on ecology and biodiversity; environmental chemistry and biotechnology; research in plant biology and plant biotechnology with agricultural applications; fundamental biological research on the nature of diseases and on reproductive health; social science research on the anthropogenic dimensions of global climate change; geosciences and structural engineering research on earthquakes and other natural and man-made disasters; economic research on transitions to market-based economies; political science research on the process of democratization; research on population growth and migration; engineering research on environmentally conscious manufacturing; polar research on atmospheric, environmental and biological phenomena; and policy-related work in such areas as risk analysis, decision-making, and the impact of science and technology on society.

The NSF is also actively involved in the maintenance of the international infrastructure for cooperation in science and engineering research, ranging from bilateral research programs with science and engineering agencies in other countries, to providing support for multilateral programs and organizations such as the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the Human Frontier Science Program, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Most of these multilateral arrangements include significant participation of developing countries.

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