Introduction to the Science and Technology Diplomacy of America in Central Asia

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

1 Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yazd University

2 Assistant Professor of Political Science, Shiraz University

Abstract

The adventurous nature of US foreign policy under George W. Bush and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have inflicted grave damage on the US international standing, especially in the Islamic world. Accordingly, to deal with the situation, the Americans have used various political, economic, and socio-cultural means to restore US international standing, particularly in the Islamic world. One of such tool has been the use of the capacity of science and technology diplomacy. In this regard, special attention was given to the appointment of science envoys from the United States to different parts of the world. Furthermore, Muslim-majority countries were the main focus of US scientific missions. Scientific delegations have played a compelling role in collaboration and communication between the two sides. Efforts to solve the existing problems of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries through scientific cooperation set the stage to make use of science and technology capacities in the abovementioned model of American diplomacy. This article attempts to answer the following question: What are the most important priorities and institutions shaping American science and technology diplomacy in Central Asia? Most of the science and technology cooperation between the United States and Central Asia seems to be focused on weapons of mass destruction, water and education. The most important institutions involved in the aforementioned issues have been the government-affiliated, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture, while the private sector has had a limited role to play in this. In regards to methodology, the research method of this paper is a descriptive-analytical one, using the second-hand data.
The Soviet record and its emphasis on science and technology to advance its plans in Central Asia cannot be ignored. Central Asia at the time had a significant level of science and technology capacity; therefore, these countries today enjoy a high level of science and technology infrastructure deemed necessary for economic development. However, such infrastructure is mainly operated at government expense and due to several factors such as low funding, lack of innovation in their use, and the inefficiency of the education system in training scientists and engineers, it has not been effective. However, engineers and specialists at the community level are of great importance. Also, all Central Asian societies believe that the solution to their problems is a scientific and technical one. Recognizing the importance of this issue, the US government is using science and technology capabilities to advance its foreign policy goals around the world, including Central Asia. To accomplish this goal, various plans have been put in place in the post-Soviet region. This raises the question of what the key areas of interest are in US science and technology diplomacy in Central Asia, and which private and public institutions are involved.
The research hypothesis is that much of the science and technology cooperation between the United States of America and Central Asian countries appear to be focused on the discussion of weapons of mass destruction, i.e. WMD, water,and education. The most important institutions involved are mainly government-affiliated, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce,and the Ministry of Agriculture, while the private sector has a limited role to play. Results show that the adventurous nature of US foreign policy under George W. Bush and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have damaged the US international image and reputation, especially in the Muslim world. To counter this, Americans have used various political, economic, and socio-cultural tools to improve the international image of the United States, especially in the Muslim world. One of such tools has been the use of science and technology diplomacy. In this regard, the US appointment of science envoys to various parts of the world has received special attention. The main focus was to send faculty members to Muslim-majority countries. Trying to solve the problems of the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia through scientific cooperation was one of the main areas of utilization of science and technology capacities in the abovementioned US diplomacy. The science envoys provided an encouraging role in cooperating and communicating between the parties. At that time, much of the science and technology cooperation between the United States of America and Central Asia focused on the discussion of WMD, water and education. At the government level, five ministries are currently operating in Central Asia: the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; other lower-level agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture and at the lowest level the US Geological Survey is placed. Several government agencies have been defined in the field of science and technology, though they are not active as of today such as the Ministry of Transport.
In addition to the ministries listed above, the National Science Foundation has a dedicated international cooperation program within the framework of the International Bureau of Science and Engineering in which Islamic countries participate. The Foundation’s activities include scholarships, travel grants, summer institutes, workshops and research projects. The US Agency for International Development has sent technology consultants around the world. Catherine Hammes has been sent to Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 2013 to further her goals.
The Agency’s regional headquarters in Central Asia comprises four countries: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The International Development Organization's water strategy is divided into three parts: local-based water management organization programs, a local research program, and the development of regional water policy in collaboration with other parties involved. To enhance the technical and professional capacity in this regard, the US Agency for International Development is working directly with academic and government researchers on the ground.
Meanwhile, American companies and organizations have recognized the growing importance of working closely with local science and technology communities. They have a positive view of the science and technology infrastructures in countries. American science and technology institutions and corporations view Central Asia as a profitable destination for business. As a result, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM,and other entities are keen to accelerate their work in Kazakhstan. American Design Company Adrienne Smith + Gordon Gill also won the International Competition for Atomic Design at the 2017 International Exhibition on Energy Future. These bilateral programs include spending $10 million on the behalf of the United States along with the participation of thousands of Central Asian experts. Some have been used to prevent the spread of nuclear and biological materials. In addition, US consultancy programs include support for energy cooperation, health, water management, and environmental protection. It should be noted that America’s scientific and technological achievements are highly respected in Central Asia, and American universities are the first choice of many students traveling abroad for science and technology education. It should be noted, however, that American organizations have little interest in strengthening the capabilities of Central Asian science and technology, particularly in cases involving military implications. Thousands of Kazakhstani students were sent abroad annually under the Bolakash program, which was announced by Kazakhstan’s president in 1994. Within the framework of the Full Bright program since 2000, many American students have been studying in Kazakhstan. Besides, many Kazakh students are provided with a full scholarship, covering the living expenses, at American and European top universities and are required to return to Kazakhstan within five years. According to Kazakh officials, there are currently 815 students, who are granted a full scholarship, at 42 US universities, enrolled in undergraduate (42%), master (26%), and PhD. (1%) programs. However, the major focus of US science and technology in Central Asia is on nuclear energy.

Keywords


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