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 that leading role. Molecular biology and cellular biology, in particular, but ecology as well, have taken biology beyond its descriptive phase into the development of powerful models and experimental techniques that are helping us to understand the most fundamental of life processes. This, in turn, is allowing us to create and alter life-forms, blurring the distinction between "natural" and "synthetic," and raising important and difficult issues with international implications concerning property rights and the appropriate limits, if any, on "interfering" with nature. The consequences are already manifest in the debate among developed nations about patenting life-forms, a debate that may cast a new light on the question of how a nation's natural resources should be treated in international commerce in comparison with the treatment of materials created through biosynthetic means.2

As physics did at an earlier time, the biosciences emerge as important because of their technological potential. As our basic scientific understanding has increased, we have been able to link the various fields in which biology is applied, from agriculture to medicine, benefiting from the cross-fertilization of research and development between historically distinct disciplines, and making extraordinarily rapid advances in each of them. Our ability to tinker with the machinery of life is allowing us to create disease- and weather-resistant plants, to program bacteria to clean up pollutants or to manufacture rare chemicals and to custom-design drugs to combat disease.

What distinguishes these technological developments from the earlier ones that grew out of physics is their intimate connection to agriculture and health, areas of great political sensitivity and social importance. In this respect, international technology transfer in the biological fields is a matter not simply of sharing the benefits or luxuries of a consumer society, but of sharing the means of survival. As a result, strong humanitarian considerations affect (and sometimes dominate) technology-transfer policy development. Furthermore, as sophisticated technology collides with varying cultural norms in the application of biology, the issues in trade and technology exchange negotiations are made more complicated. Some examples:

-In development aid, the United States has been attempting to shift to programs that stimulate and rely on market mechanisms. However, where the solution to specific Third World health problems involves high-cost, high-technology medical therapies, which developing countries are unlikely to be able to afford, straightforward market approaches will not work and alternative ways will have to be found to make such therapies available if humanitarian goals are to be achieved.

-It is unlikely that a multilateral framework such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade will be suitable for negotiating trade and technology agreements where biotechnology is involved, since noneconomic issues quite specific to each trading partner are likely to be as important as economic ones (limits on genetic alteration of plants and people, standards for drug testing, protection of individuals participating as subjects in clinical investigations).

-The increasing technological sophistication of agricultural research is requiring greater use of American university equipment and facilities in support of international aid programs. This is creating domestic political problems because of the strong tradition of regional "ownership" of these facilities. Indeed, university research to improve Third World food production is already under attack as a misuse of public funds and a threat to domestic farmers.

Materials Science. Materials science is a field linking advances in solid-state physics—research aimed at fundamental understanding of the behavior of condensed matter—to the development of materials with a desired, often unusual, set of properties. It is included here because of its vast array of applications and the many ways in which it can reduce the resource and energy dependence of the United States and thus improve the nation's economic competitiveness. Some examples:

-Advances in information technologies depend on the development of new materials: semiconductors for chips; orientable surfaces for magnetic storage of information; fiber optics for fast communication links.

-The development of new materials ranging from superconductors to high-strength, lightweight construction materials is a key element in improving the efficiency with which the United States uses energy. Increased efficiency is allowing us to control, and may soon allow us to reduce, our total energy consumption without paying a significant domestic political price. Not only would this reduce our energy dependence, but it would strengthen our presently weak negotiating position (as the nation with the highest per capita energy use in the world) in seeking to limit the worldwide growth in energy use that is necessary to deal with the global greenhouse gas problem.

-Much as the development of synthetic rubber altered the course of World War II, our growing ability to design materials with highly specialized properties from readily available raw stock is likely to alter our strategic materials stockpiling needs in ways that should increase our autonomy. Thus, electrically conductive polymers and ceramics may well become a practical replacement for copper wire; new catalyst materials will decrease our dependence on sources of platinum and other noble metals; nonferrous construction materials should reduce our dependence on steel.

Information Technologies. Information technology, which includes the gathering (through sensors, imaging techniques, telephotography), processing and storage (in computers) and transmission (via communications networks, broadcasting) of information, has, since World War II, affected our lives and our society more intimately and more ubiquitously than any other field of science or technology.

While one cannot discount the developments in nuclear technology, materials science and chemistry, information technology has been the bedrock of national defense for the past half-century. Command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), the bases for military strategy and tactics, all now depend on new developments in information technology. In the bipolar world in which we have lived since World War II, U.S. leadership in this area has given this country a military advantage that has more than compensated for the U.S.S.R.'s greater size—as measured in terms of geography, total military personnel and sheer rocket power.

Information technology will obviously continue to play an important role in national security affairs in the next decade, even as U.S. military strategy is altered by declining East-West tensions. However, the nature of its influence appears to be shifting as a consequence of two new trends. First, leadership in some areas of computer-related technology is diffusing to other nations, so the United States cannot expect to retain the same technology-based military advantage in the future that it has had up until now. Indeed, as some Japanese spokesmen have commented, even without a substantial military structure, the Japanese could exercise a significant (though not unchallengeable) influence on the global strategic balance by the export policies they adopt for their electronic components.

Second, as the size and complexity of weapon systems grow, their error-free command and control become ever more demanding and difficult to accomplish. The redundancy (and cost) necessary to assure acceptable performance increases many times over, and, as was manifest in the recent Strategic Defense Initiative debate, it is not even certain that such control will be within our technical capacity in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, the quite different performance requirements of intelligence and information-gathering systems appear much more technically feasible; and, indeed, they are quite likely to continue to improve during this decade. Satellite observation, remote chemical and physical analyses, vibration-sensing equipment and computer processing of information all increase our ability to obtain earlier warnings of attack and to verify arms treaties. Thus, it appears that S&T developments may be a significant stimulus to further arms reduction by the superpowers in the coming decade.

Four other aspects of information technology's influence are also worthy of note. First, our prodigious ability to gather information not only is forcing a review of the legal and practical meaning of the notion of individual privacy, but will require a similar review of the "privacy" of nations. Second, the existence of inexpensive, multiple and worldwide networks for communicating information has shifted power from governments to individuals and given major impetus, at a practical level, to the heretofore rather abstract notion of a "linked" world. Third, the availability of supercomputers—and the likelihood that they will continue to improve in calculational speed—goes beyond merely allowing us to do more of the same in computing; we can now envision a time (probably closer at hand than energy generation by controlled fusion, for example) when any problem that can be conceived of as amenable to calculation will be doable at acceptable cost and in a reasonable period of time. Thus, there has been an enhanced interest in pushing back the limits of what we can conceive to be reducible to calculational terms. Artificial intelligence and the new, popular field known as chaos theory are two manifestations of this phenomenon. Fourth, we are being forced to shift our conceptual framework concerning information. We are now so inundated with information that our problem is dealing with it rather than collecting it: sorting, absorbing, understanding, avoiding.

On the national level, the issue is illustrated in the concern over the influence of polling in elections; in the instabilities caused by computer-initiated stock trading; in the extraordinary power of the electronic media to convey information through visual images in a way that is both effective and distorting. On the international level, we see it in the concern of Canada and European Community nations to control the influx of American television programming at least in part so as to preserve national cultural identity; in the fear of misinformation in media advertising by multinational companies (as in the case of cigarette ads in less developed countries or Nestle's promotion of infant formula); in international instabilities in stock-trading and currency exchange mechanisms; in the assignment and preservation of intellectual property rights.

Big Science. In many scientific research projects, the costs of equipment and its operation and maintenance now far exceed the annual salaries of the scientists involved in the project. It is not unusual for the equipment necessary to support the work of a single scientist to cost in the range of $1 million to $2 million. In some megaprojects—the superconducting supercollider (SSC) and the human genome project are two examples—the total equipment costs are in the $4 billion to $8 billion range.

The effects of this economic reality are profound. First, the need to share equipment (as well as the increasing importance of multidisciplinary efforts—research requiring the joint participation of scientists with several areas of specialization) is causing a shift from research projects conceived and carried out by individual investigators to group activities. This may reduce innovation by narrowing the variety of research approaches and the greater risk-taking associated with individual projects.

Second, since the equipment used in research is now the product of high technology, the sequential nature of research and technology is being importantly altered by a feedback loop (the availability of technology to allow further advances in science). This gives new importance to the quality of a nation's infrastructure for research, making it significantly more difficult to create oases of good research in the technological deserts of underdeveloped countries and, therefore, tending to widen the gap between developed and developing nations.

Third, megascience has now reached a scale that is beyond the capacity of even a nation like the United States to support independently. For example, the annual budget of the National Science Foundation is about $2 billion, a fraction of the cost of the SSC project alone. This means that international, cooperative scientific research is becoming ever more critical and that we must deal with the issues of national security, competitiveness and pride that make such cooperation difficult.

Large-Scale Technology. While the proponents of what is called appropriate technology would argue that technological cleverness (or sophistication) need not be of enormous scale, at least two factors have led inexorably toward larger and larger production in applying technology. First, our level of comfort—our standard of living, our "wealth"—is itself a quantitative concept, most often correlated with measures of productivity such as gross national product, and one that encourages increased production. Second, many technology-based systems are cost-effective only when the scale of production is large, thus justifying the use of capital-intensive, integrated production facilities—that is, large-scale technology.

As technological systems become more integrated, more sophisticated and larger in scale, technological development becomes more complex, dependent on research in a number of disparate areas so that the development process does not follow sequentially and obviously from a well-defined set of research projects. Development of a particular product or technology depends on research in many disciplines, and research in a particular discipline feeds a number of technological developments.3 Not only is the progression from research idea to technological application no longer linear, but it occurs much more rapidly than it has in the past.4

Under these new circumstances, the traditional American separation of basic researchers (usually at universities) from appliers (usually in industry) hurts both scientific and technological development and can be a considerable handicap to the United States in terms of international competitiveness, particularly with respect to a country that has encouraged much closer relationships between university and industrial scientists, like Japan. A closer university-industry association in the United States could ameliorate that situation and would also be valuable in helping to reduce the likelihood and danger of rapid professional obsolescence, which the accelerated rate of S&T evolution can produce.


These significant recent trends in S&T are giving rise to the following four phenomena:

1. Increasing limitations on the exercise of national sovereignty. There are now practical limitations on the ability of a nation to exercise governing authority over its territory and people, as well as strong reasons for limiting the assertion of its autonomy and the exercise of its authority.

The limitations arise in several ways. While information technology vastly increases the power of a government to monitor its people, the government's control over the distribution of information is largely gone. Information may still represent power, but it is now shared. The ease of person-to-person communication also makes it increasingly impractical for nations to try to control the international diffusion of technological information as a means of improving their competitive position. Further, it is counterproductive to attempt such control because of the interdependence of (developed) nations in scientific research and the need for openness within societies for technology to keep competitive in an environment characterized by a very short time scale for development.

Geographic boundaries are becoming less meaningful as improved remote sensing allows any nation to "see" anything going on in the open within another's borders. Moreover, the autonomy to make decisions within those borders—on such issues as trade barriers, energy policy or pollution standards—is seriously reduced by the increasing interdependence of nations brought about by the need for international markets in an S&T-driven economy, as well as by the constraints of a shared global environment.

Also, the increased worldwide distribution of information has led to a heightened awareness in less developed countries of how the "other half lives, and to a heightened desire to share that life-style and standard of living. As a practical matter, developed nations cannot ignore those aspirations. Thus, they do not have as wide a range of options in industrial policy, economic development policy, or technology transfer and developmental aid as their national autonomy once suggested.

2. Approaching limits on the capacity of the earth to sustain civilization. In its more modest rendition, this is basically a question of the finiteness of "spaceship earth." The more radical notion is the comprehensive, ecological, quasi-organic "Gaia hypothesis." The root causes are clear enough: the combination of rapidly increasing populations and intensified technology.

Technology, through the improvements it has brought about in food supply, shelter and the reduction of disease, has made human population growth possible. Since 1800, world population has grown from 1 billion to 5 billion. At the same time, technology has expanded to an even greater extent. Unfortunately, the obverse of technology's salutary influence is its impact on the environment, which is at the very least to temporarily disrupt the ecological balance and, in some circumstances, to damage it "permanently." Since this negative impact is roughly proportional to both the number of people and the level of technology available to each of them, the very factors that facilitate population growth magnify its negative effects.

By the end of the 21st century, world population will probably have doubled from its present 5 billion to 10 billion. The growth will occur almost entirely in developing countries (four percent annually is the present growth rate in Kenya, for example), facilitated by technological advances that have already occurred. But technological adaptation and productivity must continue to increase in these countries if their GNP is to increase and their quality of life is to improve; and that will further challenge the global ecological balance.

There is no way to gauge what the absolute limits to world population are, which makes it too easy to dismiss the issue as a whole. However, the hard evidence—as represented by widespread poverty, resource and energy limitations, global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, deforestation and reductions in biodiversity—provides a sobering indication that we are getting there, wherever "there" may be.

The challenges for multilateral negotiation created by this situation are daunting. First, no nation can find solutions to these problems on its own; indeed, a nation may worsen its negotiating position by taking early, unilateral action. Second, the wide variation in energy use and waste production among and between developed and developing nations makes it difficult to devise an equitable basis for dividing up responsibility for correcting the problems. Third, the cost to different nations of accepting a set of environmentally related limitations (preserving forests, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, eliminating chlorofluorocarbon use, desulfurizing coal) will differ widely depending on their state of development, their sources of energy or their raw material resources. Fourth, the differential production costs from country to country created by unequal (even though equitable) environmental restrictions will affect international market competitiveness, introducing the need to modify free trade agreements in order to achieve fair markets.

While each of these issues presents special difficulties, it is the degree of linkage between them that will place the greatest burden on multilateral negotiating structures. Energy policy cannot be separated from environmental policy; national technological choices will have to be considered appropriate matters for international negotiation; and future trade treaties will have to reflect global pollution agreements.

3. Uncertain control in a technology-based society. This is a question that now extends to many areas beyond the traditional military ones. Technological leverage is a liability as well as a boon. In the nuclear energy field, the nature of the technology magnifies the effect of human error in accidents like those at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl and renders us susceptible to acts of terrorism through the theft of fissionable material. A new term, "computer virus," has been invented to describe software programs that can (by design or by accident) disrupt and destroy whole national networks and data banks. Oil spills have always been a problem, but the advent of huge tankers, such as the Exxon Valdez, has made those spills significantly more damaging.

The complexity of large-scale technological development gives rise to a second aspect of control uncertainty. Where the links between basic research and technological breakthrough are many—and somewhat unpredictable—it is difficult to be overly prescriptive in planning development strategy. In these circumstances, the American approach to federal support of technology—given mission goals such as the development of the liquid metal breeder reactor (Clinch River), the manned space station, or the (proposed) high-definition TV development—appears less attractive than, say, the German strategy of building a flexible technological infrastructure with a strong emphasis on retraining capacity, which makes it possible to incorporate newly available technologies very quickly as they emerge.

Moreover, the difficulty in anticipating the areas in which technological breakthroughs will occur, the end of the American monopoly on technological leadership, and the easy movement of technical information between nations limit the value of strategic industry identification or the COCOM (Coordinating Committee on Export Controls) treaty as a facet of national security policy. It is likely that new approaches to both will be necessary in this decade.

We face additional difficulties in fully assessing and understanding how new advances in technology affect flora, fauna (including people) and the environment. Our ability to manipulate nature provides us with great power in fighting disease and physical disability, but the implementation of technology often takes place so rapidly that we do not have the time to fully understand its effects. In medicine, for example, we encounter problems with drug side effects, coronary bypass procedures, dialysis, artificial hearts. With respect to the environment, our ability to affect our ecological niche, discussed earlier, is accompanied by an inability to assess the consequences of ecological change. In contrast to similar problems experienced in the past, certain situations we now face have negative effects that may be irreversible if we do not act to correct them; thus, we act before we can be sure that we understand the situation prompting the action. This presents us with a major political as well as a scientific challenge. We must negotiate limits that may require nations to curtail their development (and require individuals to pay the price in restricted wealth and standards of living) without having the compelling argument of scientific certainty to justify the action or to give precise guidance on how far we must go.5

4. Popular involvement in S&T decision-making. While the availability of information networks generally strengthens democratic structures, it also diminishes the reliance on elected representatives and technical experts to make decisions on the behalf of the public at large. As people gain more information through the media, and political leaders are forced to react to that reality, it is the forum of public opinion rather than the ministerial negotiating table that often controls the resolution of issues. (It is no accident that the banners carried by demonstrators in Tiananmen Square were written in English.) The problem arises when the information distribution system, instead of reflecting the complexity of real world problems, reduces them to simplistic terms. In so doing, rather than stimulating useful popular participation in a debate concerning important world issues, the system blocks proper consideration of those real issues by either the public or its representatives, forcing instead a different, often trivial, debate.

Information availability and the effects of S&T on everyday life have had a particularly strong influence in increasing public awareness of S&T issues throughout the world. In America, this greater public involvement has produced some positive results: for example, public pressure forced those who propose to undertake developments that might affect the environment to prepare technically based environmental impact statements before proceeding with their projects. However, in other areas the public has become involved in determining the direction of technological change at a level that previously was viewed as the province of experts only.

Thus, while most scientific experts would agree that our space program could be carried out more cost-effectively if we did not try to place a man in space, abandoning that goal would be unacceptable to the public. On the other hand, while scientists agree on the value of fetal tissue research, political pressures have put a halt to it. Similarly, because of domestic political considerations, the United States has of late fallen seriously behind other developed nations in birth control research, limiting this country's effectiveness in aiding international population control efforts. Moreover, our decisions on whether or not (or how fast) to proceed with complicated technologies, like SDI, are now determined—by and large—politically rather than scientifically.

These worrisome trends suggest that, in the future, we will require much greater attention to the quality of the information available to the electorate, so that public judgments achieve a higher level of sophistication. While the media have an obvious role to play in such an effort, the foreign policy and scientific establishments must become increasingly aware of the pressing need for improved public education on these issues.

In any event, the major technological developments arising out of advances in the biological sciences over the next few decades are likely to intensify the effect of public opinion on scientific decision-making because we will be forced to develop regulatory policies concerning research and its application in areas in which people have strong religious and cultural convictions. For example, genetic manipulation carries with it the burden of the history of eugenics; abortion technology (and life-extending technologies) gives people a measure of control over life and death. Fetal screening, the movement of pharmaceuticals across national borders, and the access the wealthy clientele of one country have to the limited pool of transplantable organs in another country are typical examples of the kinds of issues we will have to confront.


Taken together, these four phenomena give added impetus to the shift so obviously occurring from a bipolar to a multipolar world in which North-South tensions are constantly increasing. Information technologies have hampered ideological control by governments, and the need for technological investment has raised the opportunity costs of military budgets; both these factors have led to diminished East-West polarities. Shared technological leadership and interdependence help reinforce the notion of multiple power foci. At the same time, the growing gap between North and South in the rate of technological development, the increasing aspirations of the have-nots, and the additional interdependence created both by global environmental stresses and by national economies oriented to world markets all contribute to escalating North-South frictions.

These frictions are reflected most dramatically in the Third World debt problem and in the issue of global warming. Since environmental problems have arisen largely because of the cumulative effects of development in the North, the assertion made by developing nations that they are owed economic and technological recompense is gaining credibility, leading to a linkage of the debt and global-warming problems. The linkage of debt and environment—to which must be added the larger issues of energy needs and economic competitiveness—as well as the shift from superpower bipolarity to multipolarity, suggests that the practical resolution of these growing international problems will require multilateral approaches and that we will find ourselves pressed to devise orderly ways of coupling issues that have historically been negotiated separately.

The transfer of technological equipment and know-how to Third World countries will clearly play an increasingly important role in relieving some of these North-South tensions, but achieving that transfer is not without problems. For example, through advances in technology, facilities and equipment are now available to produce energy more efficiently and cleanly than ever before. However, the capital cost of replacing less efficient, but still functional, energy-generating plants in the United States or other developed countries would be enormous: far more than the cost of installing those plants in developing countries as their need for energy increases. Since energy conservation and pollution control are global problems, the latter approach is an economically more practical one and would be equally effective in helping to solve our shared problems. The question is whether we have the political resolve to allow and support the transfer to Third World countries of technology even more sophisticated than that in use in our own country.

Beyond the political obstacles, there are grave practical difficulties in transferring technology. The absence of a suitable sociotechnical infrastructure makes it exceedingly hard for a developing country to absorb sophisticated new technology. The physical components of that infrastructure can be provided, at least in principle; the human resources present a knottier problem. Clearly, education and training must be an increasingly prominent part of American foreign aid programs. However, where it was once reasonable to train students from the Third World by having them enroll in American universities, as technical knowledge has expanded, science and engineering curricula at U.S. universities, particularly at the graduate level, have become increasingly sophisticated. Thus students from developing countries are less prepared to undertake studies in the United States and less likely to receive the kind of education that would serve the needs of their own countries. There is no evidence that we have yet begun to address this issue in formulating our Third World development policy.

The need for multilateral cooperation in big science and large-scale technology, and the practical limitations on controlling the flow of information, pose for the United States the difficult challenge of maintaining economic competitiveness without having a strong proprietary position or a commanding lead with respect to scientific knowledge. The solution would appear to lie in learning to take earlier and better advantage of basic knowledge wherever it is developed. As a policy matter, this will require that we press for all nations to maintain total openness in basic scientific research and to provide unrestricted opportunities to each other to license technology. However, these policies will do us little good unless we improve our efficiency in adopting new technology throughout our domestic industries, and also increase the number of American scientists and engineers who can function in foreign cultures, thereby establishing the working-level contacts necessary for successful technology transfer. In other words, we need to focus on the innovative steps that follow research and scientific discovery, while at the government level we promote international cooperation, coordination and funding to ensure that scientific progress continues.

In sum, the effect of scientific and technological trends on American foreign policy is growing and will continue to do so. Moreover, understanding the relationship between the two can no longer be a peripheral activity for U.S. policymakers.

In the shorthand of the field of science, technology and public policy, the approach I have taken is referred to as science for policy—the impact of the former on the latter. The reverse—policy for science—could, in principle, be ignored. The shortcomings of choosing that option are fairly obvious. If S&T will affect our foreign policy options, and can affect them for good or bad, we have a strong motivation to devise policies that orient the development of science and technology in a way that will serve our national interests. I think it is a fair assessment to say that, at this moment, the United States has no meaningful, conscious, or connected set of policies with respect to any of the issues discussed here.

1 The first three are particular fields of S&T in which there has been a remarkable growth in knowledge and influence; the last two describe the significantly changing characteristics of the processes of S&T. They are not listed in order of importance.

2 For example, if life-forms can be patented, is a nation entitled to license and collect royalties on the use of germ plasma removed from its territory by a company in the course of developing a genetically engineered wheat seed?

3 In these circumstances, any attempt to retard one kind of technological development by restraining research runs the risk of hindering development in a number of other areas. Conversely, any attempt to be overly focused in scientific research to give priority and stimulus to a particular development effort runs the risk of neglecting an apparently unrelated area of research that may actually hold the key to a breakthrough.

4 For example, it took about 40 years for the concept of the interconvertibility of mass and energy through fission to move from basic scientific discovery to useful application in the generation of electric power. Today, the infrastructure of technology and the rapidity of the diffusion of information have significantly shortened that time frame, and technological application is often almost contemporaneous with the basic research (as noted earlier, giving impetus to continued progress in the research, thus further accelerating the entire process).

5 We have long dealt with risk and uncertainty in military and political matters. The challenge now is to learn how to deal with scientific uncertainty with the same sophistication. At the moment we are more likely to shape the latter into a convenient political certainty (a tack taken, for example, by those who assert with confidence that there is no evidence that automobile industry emissions are responsible for acidifying Canadian lakes) or to discount scientists as incompetent or useless because they cannot provide definitive answers to certain questions or they modify their answers as further research provides improved understanding (cold fusion, cholesterol, earthquake prediction).

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  • Kenneth H. Keller is Volvo Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations. This article is adapted from the author's essay in Sea-Changes: American Foreign Policy in a World Transformed, published by the Council on Foreign Relations.
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