Extraordinarily rapid growth in scientific knowledge in the latter part of the twentieth century, coupled with technological innovation and expansion, is having a profound influence on our lives. One manifestation of that influence is the effect of certain scientific and technological trends on American foreign policy, (a) constraining, (b) enabling or (c) forcing new choices in the positions that the U.S. government can take in promoting its global interests.
Science and technology (S&T) affect society at several levels. New technologies and products can ease or burden our individual and collective lives. Technological advances have been a cornerstone in national security planning and military strategy, particularly since World War II. S&T developments are central factors in determining our national economic competitiveness. Beyond these direct influences, scientific and technological development can have a profound effect on the values, institutions and patterns of decision-making of the society as a whole. To understand the influence of S&T on society generally and on American foreign policy in particular, it is necessary to consider the processes of scientific and technological development as well as its products, paying particular attention to the complex interaction of technical, social and cultural factors that affect and are affected by them.
In terms of impact on foreign policy concerns over the next decade, the trends in the following S&T areas appear to be of singular importance: biosciences; materials science; information technologies; "big" science; and large-scale technology.1
Biosciences. In the first half of the twentieth century, physics occupied the most prominent position among the sciences, leading the way in increasing our understanding of nature through the development of atomic theory, quantum theory and particle physics. Its power lay not only in the extraordinary novelty of the ideas it presented, which altered our views on the nature of matter and energy, but also in the applicability of those ideas, which form the basis of most of today's technology.
It now appears that the biosciences have displaced physics in
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