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Knowledge & Diplomacy: Science Advice in the United Nations System
civilian and military, or dual, use of space technology. But, in recent years, the promise of true cooperation in space has also expanded as the Cold War opponents have become partners and more nations have attained the technical capability to build and launch satellites and share in both the excitement of discovery and the cost of space-based platforms.
As the world has gained increased experience in international planning of research programs, there has appeared a new form of cooperation explicitly related to policy questions, often described by the term “scientific assessments.” These are surveys and analyses of the status of important global problems, often with recommendations for global cooperative action. Some of today’s international science organizations—intergovernmental and nongovernmental—are the products of scientific assessments and date their origins to the programs started in the post-IGY period. Environment, ocean, and climate assessments that are updated periodically to provide information on trends or changes have been particularly useful to decision makers (IPCC, 2001).
Evolution of Science Advice in the United Nations System
Since the 1950s, the United Nations organizations have steadily increased their interest in scientific and technological issues and their need for science advice, especially for the planning of sustainable agricultural, forestry, and fisheries programs and for capacity building in developing nations. But the trend for use and acceptance of science advice from the 1960s to the present has not always been positive. Indeed, there simultaneously have been advances in the development of science advisory mechanisms and setbacks in the use and application of the resulting advice.
There was an early optimism in the 1970s that “technology transfer” was the key to the solution to underdevelopment and that it could be readily accomplished. It was thought that solutions to developing country problems could be easily taken “off the shelf” from industrial nations, and that the owners of the intellectual property would be happy (or could be forced) to share their knowledge with earnest and deserving colleagues in developing countries. Several UN organizations based on this premise were established in the 1960s, some of which were attached to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), but they were not successful and disappeared or were reorganized and redirected (Sagasti, 1984; 1999).
The UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) in Vienna, 1979, marked a conceptual shift in the views of both industrialized and developing nations (Wilkowski, 1992). The meeting brought into the open many of the key issues, and it forced many in developed countries to confront seriously the valid aspirations of developing country scientists and governments. However, even serious consideration did not in most cases lead to agreement, and many imaginative UNCSTD creations, such as a financing system for science and technology for development, did not endure. UNCSTD sharpened the conviction in industrialized nations and developing nations alike that the building of endogenous scientific and technology capabilities in developing nations was central to their future prosperity. Growing recognition in the industrializing nations of the importance of market forces and the role of the private sector also heightened interest in the contributions of science and technology.