The partial budget plan recently released by the White House will put U.S. leadership in science and technology at serious risk if Congress agrees. In addition to the obvious damage that would be caused by the proposed $5.8 billion cut to the NIH, the $2 billion cut in applied energy research, the $900 million cut to the DOE Office of Science, the elimination of ARPA-E, and the research cuts to NOAA and EPA, a less obvious potential casualty would be U.S. scientific cooperation with many other countries on a wide range of topics.
These international collaborations are actually likely to be the first to go to the chopping block for three reasons: the tendency of departments and agencies under budgetary strain to prioritize protecting purely domestic programs; the presumption among many members of Congress that international collaboration is a one-way street that is to the detriment of the United States; and the Trump administration’s “America First” stance (which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the top line in the title of the March budget document).
I have spent much of my long career in science and technology engaged in international research collaborations with Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, and others. As Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology for the past eight years, I have been responsible for overseeing U.S. participation in six of our most important bilateral science and technology cooperation agreements and for supporting the State Department in its leadership role in implementing bilateral science and technology agreements with forty other countries.
So I know how international science and technology cooperation is structured, how it works, and how it benefits the U.S. scientific and technological capabilities in the national interest, and, as a huge bonus, how it serves the diplomatic goals of this country. I think the implications of the administration’s budget proposal – and the president’s general zero-tolerance stance on international engagement – are deeply frightening.
There are several good reasons why the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, has long seen fit to encourage and support international science and technology cooperation with various partners:
- Science and technology are evolving and advancing around the world. Collaboration with other countries can provide access to valuable complementary expertise, as well as spread costs, allow for complementary lines of effort, and help avoid duplication of effort. The result is faster progress toward shared goals at a lower cost to U.S. funders.
- Accelerating shared progress through collaboration is even more valuable when the goals are global public goods, such as fighting epidemic diseases, curing cancer, reducing oil dependence, mitigating climate change, and improving nuclear reactor safety, where progress anywhere brings benefits everywhere.
- Even when the benefits of S&T cooperation appear to be more one-sided, such as when the United States works with technologically less developed countries to help them build scientific capacity and apply science and technology to development goals, the benefits to the United States are significant: progress reduces the likelihood that partner countries will become sources of large refugee flows and regional political instability, and increases the likelihood that they will advance economically to become significant markets.
- Mutually beneficial S&T cooperation is also beneficial from a diplomatic perspective, as the benefits provide a positive rationale for maintaining good relations even in the face of disagreements on other issues.
- In addition to these widely recognized benefits, international S&T cooperation fosters personal relationships of mutual respect and trust across international borders, which can pay unexpected dividends when the scientists and engineers involved are ultimately positioned to play an active role in international diplomacy on issues of importance to science and technology. content – such as climate change, nuclear arms control, and intellectual property.