Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners

Imperatives for Collaboration with Emerging Science Partners

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

The CISP initiative’s report America and the International Future of Science discussed the critical importance of U.S. engagement in international scientific partnerships. Such engagement is valuable for our nation’s scientific enterprise and for achieving broader goals of national security and economic competitiveness.18 Partnerships with ESPs are an important element of this effort. ESPs represent a critical component of the world’s global S&T community. 

Partnerships with ESPs are imperative for several key reasons, including:

  • promoting scientific advancements, including addressing global challenges;
  • strengthening global S&T capacity and the global science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce;
  • enhancing global understanding and science diplomacy; and
  • contributing to maintaining the U.S. leadership role in the global research community.


  • 18American Academy of Arts and Sciences, America and the International Future of Science.

Scientific Advancement and Global Challenges

Advancements in all scientific fields will enable scientists to unlock groundbreaking discoveries. ESPs are essential partners in these endeavors, from addressing global challenges that span international borders to participation in large-scale science initiatives.

Global Challenges

A comprehensive worldwide effort and increased investment in S&T will be necessary to address global challenges in the years ahead, and ESPs will be important partners with whom the United States should increasingly engage. Two key challenges that we now face are: 1) climate change and overall environmental degradation; and 2) emerging infectious diseases with the potential to cause pandemics.

Climate Change

Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect many aspects of societies across national boundaries. Desertification and deforestation may have increasingly dangerous consequences for food and water security, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem services.19 Extreme weather events, from hurricanes to droughts to wildfires, will decimate communities and impact resource availability, potentially leading to forced displacement and implications for already tense border spaces, such as the U.S.-Mexico border.20 Indeed, some scientists suggest climate change and the worsening drought in the Middle East are in some part responsible for the ongoing devastating Syrian war and refugee crisis in Europe.21 The many cascading impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly by the least-developed countries and the world’s most vulnerable groups, including women and girls.22

In August 2021, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth assessment report, which concludes that many of the climate changes we are witnessing today are irreversible in the next hundreds to thousands of years and that significant action will be required to limit further warming and extreme outcomes.23 The developed nations are disproportionately responsible for the levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted annually and for historical emissions. The top three emitters of GHGs (China, the United States, and the collective countries of the European Union) accounted for approximately 41.5 percent of emissions annually in 2018, whereas the bottom one hundred emitters, primarily LMICs and LDCs, accounted for only 3.6 percent.24

China, currently the largest national emitter of GHGs in the world, has a noticeable influence on green energy investment. Declining investment in green technology in China in 2019 was among the factors that discouraged further investment in other parts of the world.25 The growing influence of China’s massive global development initiatives could contribute to increasing emissions and escalating climate change. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in particular, has raised concern for its associated environmental risks, especially with its transportation projects.26 Notably, China recently announced that it would stop construction of coal-burning power plants abroad.27

The developing nations of the world, including many ESPs, contribute far less to GHG emissions, but they often face the brunt of the environmental and societal consequences of a changing climate.28 In many ways, this vulnerability has forced them to be at the helm of finding ways to continue industrializing while maintaining low emissions. Guided by the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), many ESPs are actively working to invest in greener technologies and strategies to build their economies.29 In particular, leapfrog technologies could enable sustainable development and solutions as ESPs industrialize and develop.30 As one example, computer scientist Abdou Maman Kané founded Tech Innov in Niger in 2018.31 This company’s mobile apps enable farmers to regulate irrigation systems remotely and more effectively and efficiently while simultaneously collecting relevant meteorological and hydrological data. Since its launch, Tech Innov has attracted investment from several arenas, including the private funder Synergi and a USAID/Investisseurs & Partenaires joint program that funds promising tech companies in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Senegal.32

Building stronger relationships with international partners is essential if the United States is to play an effective leadership role in facing climate change, a major threat to national and global security.33 LMICs, including ESPs, play a critical role in climate change as they are on the forefront of experiencing climate impacts and exploring ways to address them (see Climate Adaptation in the Pacific). Collaborations between U.S. researchers and ESPs can enhance the latter’s ability to do this while also enabling both partners to exchange not only innovations and processes, but also strategies related to the human and social dimensions of adaptation and mitigation to climate change.


Pacific Island nations are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate.34 Some small islands in the Solomon Islands archipelago have been fully submerged; on others, full villages have been lost.35 Rising sea levels and environmental degradation resulting from overpopulation, pollution, and unsustainable development demand swift and strategic action.36 As a result, many Pacific Island nations have become hubs of climate innovation and are paving the way for implementing smart development plans.37

Beniamina Island
Beniamina Island, in the Solomon Islands Archipelago, in 2016. Source: Simon Albert, “Uneasy Waters,” University of Queensland, Australia.

Palau established a national climate adaptation plan in 2015 that would enhance adaptation and resilience to changing global factors, improve the ability to respond to and minimize disaster risks, and promote sustainable development practices.38 The framework outlines strategic investments to support R&D endeavors that will promote the nation’s development and climate-resiliency goals. One of these projects, funded by USAID, seeks to merge traditional farming techniques with modern practices to increase food security and coastal ecosystem resiliency, thereby mitigating disaster risk.39

The United States already faces—and will continue to face—many similar challenges to those that the islands in the Pacific now face, including sea-level rise, increased storm and disaster risk, and threats to ecosystem integrity. Climate adaptation strategies that have already been successfully implemented elsewhere could be useful for the United States to study and adapt to meet the challenges and risks of environmental change here. Many countries have begun to design and implement plans that seek community input and buy-in and merge strategies from both traditional Indigenous knowledge, especially from women, and proven sustainable modern practices.40 Initiatives and programs that are designed and led by local communities and account for traditional knowledge and cultural norms often have better results.41

Some scientists working to address environmental concerns have taken this approach in working with Indigenous and First Nations communities in Alaska and British Columbia, respectively. In efforts to recover sea otter populations to restore ecosystem integrity on the Alaska-Canada coastline, scientists quickly realized that, without working collaboratively with local Indigenous and First Nations communities, restoration efforts could fail because an increase in sea otter populations could threaten the abundance of shellfish, a dietary staple for many of the communities.42 In codeveloping adaptation and land management strategies with traditional environmental management practices, restoration efforts and ecosystem management are progressing in a more mutually beneficial manner.43


Preparing for and Responding to Pandemics: Emerging Infectious Diseases

Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are communicable diseases that are newly introduced in a population or are known but are showing increasing incidence or geographic range.44 Along with climate change, the increasing demand for livestock and animal husbandry and encroachment into wildlife habitat by human beings raise the potential for more “spillover events” where animal pathogens cross over into the human population.45 Such events are often responsible for driving the spread of EIDs and occur when viruses leap from wildlife to human beings.46 These diseases can spread in various ways through air, food, or water or through vectors such as mosquitos and ticks; 60–80 percent of new diseases in human beings originate in animals.47

Surveillance of EIDs will be vital to the world’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently to dangerous pathogens. These efforts require global collaboration, as pathogens can move quickly around the globe. ESPs are key partners in this work, as many identified hot spots of possible spillover events are in the Global South.48 Developing the broad capabilities to identify, characterize, treat, and prevent the spread of resulting infections in all locations of possible spillover will allow the world to respond more quickly to outbreaks and pandemics in the future.

For example, while many ESPs may not have had the same level of access to the scientific technologies available in wealthier nations, several were initially comparatively successful at containing the spread of COVID-19 when it first emerged, likely due in part to prior experience mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.49 Following outbreaks of other EIDs, including the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and the H1N1 epidemic in 2009, countries in East and Southeast Asia increasingly invested in research to prepare for the possible emergence of zoonotic coronaviruses and influenzas.50 In Africa, scientists have drawn attention for their research and management of outbreaks of the highly contagious Ebola virus in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2018 to 2020.51 Building a strong, science-driven and -informed public health infrastructure to respond to pandemics in all countries of the world is important for containing and mitigating the spread of contagious pathogens like SARS-CoV-2.

As the world seeks to bring about the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, nations must remain vigilant. By collaborating internationally and supporting capacity-building initiatives, the United States and its global partners will be better positioned to respond to the next pandemic threat. The United States must support and fund such endeavors as an important investment for both national security and global health (see Stopping COVID-19 and Preventing the Next Pandemic).


The world first learned the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on January 12, 2020, upon the open publication of the viral genome by scientists in China.52 Although the disclosure of scientific information may have been delayed for weeks by political leaders, the viral sequence and other research findings from Chinese scientists were key resources for international scientists, governments, and public health organizations, including for scientists at the NIH who would go on to develop an efficacious vaccine in collaboration with Moderna.53

Researchers with the American and Asian Centers for Arboviral Research and Enhanced Surveillance traveling by canoe in a river in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, to rural remote communities that are part of A2CARES field sites. Photo courtesy of Maurico Ayovi and A2CARES Research Center.

Simultaneously, researchers in Thailand, working closely with CDC researchers based outside Bangkok, used information from Chinese researchers to design a PCR test for the novel coronavirus and were able to confirm the first case outside China.54 They accomplished this feat before the World Health Organization (WHO) released its test, and John R. MacArthur, who leads the CDC’s Thailand operations, contacted his agency’s leadership in Atlanta to share the Thai-developed resource.55 In what would prove to be an unfortunate decision, the CDC did not use either the Thai-developed PCR test or the WHO-approved test, choosing instead to develop its own test. The CDC-developed test received emergency authorization on February 4, but rollout was delayed when investigators discovered issues with the reagents. This left the United States without a rapid, accurate test in the early days of the pandemic, a period when detection and containment were essential components of preventing widespread infection. Ultimately, the United States was unable to develop its own test until forty-seven days after the Thai researchers had shared their protocol directly with MacArthur and his CDC colleagues in Bangkok.56

These two moments highlight the fact that international connectedness, including with ESPs, provides major opportunities for U.S. scientists to move quickly and effectively to address threats. Researchers, including those with the WHO’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, have concluded that the lack of a strong, coordinated, global response resulted in difficulty containing and mitigating the impact of SARS-CoV-2, causing an immense, devastating loss of life.57

To meet the need for improved international connections, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) established the Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID) network in August 2020. It is coordinated by RTI International and Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute.58 Over the next five years, NIAID intends to provide $82 million to support the network’s research.

Research centers hosted at U.S.-based institutions, as well as one in the United Kingdom, will collaborate with affiliated research sites in twenty-nine countries, primarily in the Global South, each focused on studying existing pathogens and surveilling potential new pathogens in one or more regions of the world.59 In addition, the CREID network launched a pilot research program in 2021 to mentor and train the next generation of emerging infectious disease researchers and in-country scientists to enhance emerging disease research capacity.60 The 2021 awards supported research on transmission dynamics, surveillance, and immunity for a variety of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, Yellow Fever, Hantavirus, and Arboviruses, among others. Awardees included scientists from Jordan, Brazil, Vietnam, Kenya, and Cambodia.

After the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, the world will remain vulnerable to future threats. New infectious diseases will emerge. Full pandemic preparedness depends on all countries of the world. The cost of investing in pandemic prevention pales in comparison to the cost of pandemics to the world economy; for example, the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to the United States alone is estimated to be as high as $16 trillion, whereas the cost for global pandemic prevention and preparedness is measured in the billions.61

Viruses are not deterred by national borders. Finding solutions to mitigate their spread and impact will require cooperation at bilateral, regional, and international levels.62


Enabling Scientific Breakthroughs

Many scientific endeavors require global collaboration, especially when projects are too expensive for one nation to fund alone, when global data collection is paramount for scientific goals, and when the key scientific talent is internationally based.

One example of the key role ESPs can play in such efforts is the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an international collaboration whose goal is to build the world’s largest radio telescope. When completed, the array will have the capacity to survey the entire southern sky and the ability to detect millions of radio sources faster than ever before, allowing enhanced detection of transient events.63

The telescope array will be located in South Africa and Australia, with nearly two hundred mid-frequency dishes located in the Karoo region of South Africa (and likely extending farther north into the continent) as well as approximately 130,000 low-frequency antennas across Western Australia.64 With the vast surveying capabilities the SKA will provide, astronomers hope to gain insight into some of the biggest questions about the universe, including how galaxies evolve, the origins and evolution of cosmic magnetism, and, by searching for extraterrestrial signals in space, whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.65

In South Africa, the SKA project will integrate instruments constructed for the MeerKAT radio telescope, which launched as a precursor to the SKA in 2018.66 MeerKAT has attracted scientific talent from around the world and has helped to make South Africa a leader in astronomical sciences. In 2019, scientists using MeerKAT discovered a unique flare of radio emission from a binary star—just the first of many transient events scientists hope to discover using MeerKAT and, eventually, the SKA.67


Global S&T Capacity and the Global S&T Workforce

To maximize the benefits from U.S.-ESP collaborations over the long term, capacity building is a key challenge to address.

The next generation of scientific talent and leadership may be increasingly likely to be concentrated in ESPs: as of 2019, nineteen of the twenty countries with the youngest inhabitants are in Africa, where the population is projected to increase by 237 million from 2019 to 2050. At the same time, nearly all countries with established scientific enterprises and significant R&D investments are home to aging populations.68 Collaborations between the United States and ESPs would build strong ties and relationships, allowing for further exchanges of ideas, samples, and data to prompt transformative innovation and discovery for years to come. A focus on the potential of Africa’s young population led to the development of the Next Einstein Forum, an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and Robert Bosch Stiftung, which was founded on the belief that the next Einstein will be from Africa.69 The program supports research fellowships that develop technology and innovation to build a robust network and increase the capacity of Africa’s tech workforce.70 Greater participation of these youth in U.S. graduate education programs could also increase that capacity.

Next Einstein Forum
Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, addresses the audience at the Next Einstein Forum, March 26, 2018. Photo © by Paul Kagame.


Increasing Scientific Capacity in ESPs

Much of the world’s scientific productivity is concentrated in countries with historic and robust investments in science, technology, and innovation, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.71 Many LMICs are following their lead and working to expand and strengthen their own scientific enterprises.72 These national investments in science are pathways to improved development, including enhanced economic growth, improved health, and the reduction of poverty and food insecurity.73 Many global organizations also work toward these goals, including the Global Research Council and the United Nations, especially the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The UN’s SDGs provide a framework for many LMIC development and strategic investments. However, since the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 2017, other nations, primarily China, have stepped in to wield greater influence over UNESCO’s goals.74

Today’s ESPs hold the potential to break into the global scientific ecosystem with top scientific publications and talent. As more countries become globally competitive and the share of top-cited publications is distributed across countries and regions, top-tier science will be performed around the world and will push innovators to new frontiers. Sustained investment from the United States and others in long-term capacity building will help to accelerate progress toward this goal. In particular, encouraging the participation of women and marginalized groups in STEM, both in ESPs and in the United States, is a major opportunity for expanding science capacity in the United States and internationally (see Women in Science & Technology).

While applied research can address specific problems and lead to significant economic development in ESPs, investment in fundamental science should also be expanded. ESPs are often encouraged to pursue applied R&D solutions in the short term, leaving less funding available for fundamental research.75 Understanding the foundations of physical, life, and chemical sciences can lead to productive innovation and technology and is needed to inform productive applied science studies.76


Increasing women’s participation and leadership in S&T careers is a key opportunity for raising S&T capacity worldwide: women represent approximately half of the global population but less than 30 percent of researchers.77

Women’s participation in S&T varies by country and region, but 103 out of 143 countries report women researcher levels below parity, including both high-income countries and LMICs alike. Regional averages are all below 50 percent, although Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean lead the world and are approaching parity at 48.5 percent and 45.8 percent women researcher participation, respectively. South and West Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa have some of the lowest rates of women researcher participation at 23.1 percent, 25.0 percent, and 31.1 percent, respectively.78

In the United States, implicit and explicit biases alongside structural and interpersonal impediments continue to obstruct women’s ability to participate fully in scientific research across disciplines.79 These barriers can be even more severe for women researchers of color, as the impacts of racism and sexism intersect.80 Leading scientific institutions and national policy-makers have identified this underrepresentation as a major threat to U.S. global competitiveness in R&D and are working to expand the STEM workforce accordingly.81

Global networks of scientists are also working to address gender disparities. As one example, the international initiative GenderInSITE is actively working to promote the inclusion of women in STEM fields and to demonstrate the important benefits that gender parity can bring to science and to development in general.82 In coordination with the InterAcademy Partnership and International Science Council, GenderInSITE collects and analyzes relevant data, conducts global surveys of science academies, and tracks progress on gender equality made by these influential bodies. Their most recent report finds that women’s representation in global scientific academies is increasing on average but still far from parity, noting an increase from 13 percent in 2015 to 17 percent in 2020. Currently, academies of young scientists report the largest shares of women’s membership. Overall, female representation is significantly lagging in some scientific disciplines compared to others; for example, women on average comprise only 8 percent of members in mathematical science disciplines.83

These statistics have important implications for policy-making; science academies play a major role in informing decisions related to development. Without an application of a gender lens to these decisions, women and girls will be less likely to benefit from such interventions and may suffer adverse consequences.84

To build an effective and robust global S&T workforce, the United States must increase participation of women, both in the United States and in its collaborations internationally. In consultations with women scientists in ESPs around the globe, the CISP initiative repeatedly heard that women face specific barriers in science. The mechanisms endorsed by this report include considerations of these barriers and, if implemented, would work toward overcoming them.


Increasing Scientific Capacity in the United States

Ultimately, increasing scientific capacity in ESPs will significantly benefit U.S. scientists and the United States more broadly. The United States needs to continue to foster these relationships, working to develop emerging scientific enterprises so that the next generation of innovation can benefit all.

U.S.-based scientists collaborate with international colleagues, including with researchers in ESPs, in the pursuit of the highest-quality science.85 Countries that have significantly expanded their scientific enterprises in recent decades, such as India and South Korea, saw corresponding growth in collaborations with the United States.86 As they build their scientific enterprises, ESP scientists are likely to follow these patterns.

The United States has also long benefited from the international researchers who have been attracted to U.S. universities and scientific institutions, especially at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and early career research stages. Some of these scientists remain in the United States after completing their training; others return to their home countries and advance international institutions. Both paths provide significant benefits to the U.S. R&D enterprise, as U.S. scientific centers are well-connected to the world’s top talent, both domestic and international. ESP researchers are a key component of this “brain circulation,” and their participation in the U.S. scientific enterprise should be encouraged (See Figure: International Science and Engineering Graduate Students in the United States below). Indeed, researchers from ESPs have earned substantial fractions of U.S. STEM degrees granted to international students: nearly half of bachelor’s degrees, nearly one-third of master’s degrees, and approximately one-quarter of doctorates.87

International Science and Engineering (S&E) Graduate Students in the United States

Note: The figure shows the twenty countries with the greatest number of students pursuing S&E graduate degrees (master’s and Ph.D.s) in the United States. ESPs are shown in magenta. Source: National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2020, Table S2-14.

International Science and Engineering (S&E) Undergraduates in the United States

Note: The figure shows the twenty countries with the greatest number of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in all S&E disciplines in the United States. ESPs are shown in magenta. Source: National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2020, Table S2-13.

In addition to welcoming ESP talent, support for connections between U.S. and ESP researchers is an important component of building a robust U.S. R&D enterprise that pursues the best science, no matter where a collaborator or experiment is based. The H3Africa collaboration, as one example, substantially adds to the capacity of U.S. researchers’ ability to uncover the genetic bases of disease. Without African collaborators, including those based in ESPs, the genetic diversity in sequenced datasets would be less complete for U.S. biologists’ analyses.88 H3Africa has worked closely with its collaborators to define clearly ethical principles for this research and to clarify ownership of samples, data, and other intellectual property (IP). Long-term, sustained investment in ESP institutions can provide the United States with an expanded pool of global research collaborators that indirectly boosts the U.S. S&T enterprise.

South Korea is a prominent example of such success. At the end of the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world.89 With seed funding from the U.S. government to aid in establishing institutions such as the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, founded in 1966) and KAIST (initially the Korean Advanced Institute for Science, KAIS, founded in 1971), as well as a long-term domestic commitment to invest in R&D, the country began a remarkable trajectory. Today it is one of the most innovative nations in the world, home to immensely successful technology companies such as Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia.90 South Korea is now sought out as a collaborator by international partners, including the United States, and is a magnet for attracting global talent to conduct research at its scientific institutions.91

Today, KIST is committed to promoting prosperity abroad by providing international aid and grant funding for R&D to ESPs around the world, with the aim of inspiring similar transformations in other nations.92 In 2013, the presidents of Vietnam and South Korea made a joint declaration to establish the Vietnam-Korea Institute of Science and Technology (V-KIST) as a public science agency under the Vietnamese Ministry for Science and Technology.93


Large-Scale Facilities for Capacity Building

As discussed in CISP’s report Bold Ambition: International Large-Scale Science, large-scale science facilities enable scientists to answer questions that range from the minuscule to the gargantuan—from the structures of subatomic particles, atoms, and complex biomolecules to the origin of the universe. These facilities also create opportunities for increased collaboration among scientists.94 In ESPs, construction of such facilities is important for building scientific capacity and for creating opportunities for increased collaboration with international scientists. Synchrotron light sources and the SKA are two such examples of the capacity-building potential of large-scale facilities for ESPs.

Synchrotron Light Sources

Synchrotron light sources are major facilities that address many physical anthropology, biology, chemistry, engineering, medicine, and physics research questions.95 The need for such a resource in the Middle East drove the construction of the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME). In seeking to build SESAME, Jordan hoped not only to build an advanced facility to promote scientific progress in the region but also to provide a platform for strengthening peaceful diplomatic relations in a fraught political landscape.96

Efforts to bring light sources to other regions of the world are underway with similar goals. is a collaboration seeking to enhance the connections between the more than fifty finished or under construction light sources distributed across the globe.97 The International Science Council, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and the International Union of Crystallography have partnered to form Lightsources for Africa, the Americas, Asia, Middle East, and the Pacific (LAAAMP), a project that seeks to enhance access to light source facilities in regions interested in boosting scientific capacity.98

LAAAMP supports the African Light Source Foundation in its effort to establish the first African light source. Recognizing the potential scientific and economic benefits such a facility could provide, African scientists and policy-makers are working to develop a road map to obtain the government support necessary to construct a light source.99 At the second African Lightsource Conference, held in 2019, Ghana emerged as the primary champion of the project and is working to establish the light source as a formal project of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.100

Efforts to increase international access to facilities could be a key pathway to advancing and expanding scientific capacity in ESPs. For example, the only light source facility in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Laboratório Nacional de Luz Síncrotron in Campinas, Brazil, has partnered with the American Physical Society to foster connections between young scientists in the United States and Brazil and advance physical research in both nations.101 Efforts to expand user access within the region, including to scientists from ESPs in the Caribbean, could prompt the development of a regional scientific enterprise as well.102

In Southeast Asia, LAAAMP’s strategic plan includes making the Synchrotron Light Research Institute located in Thailand the main light source facility in the region. LAAAMP also works to encourage other Southeast Asian countries to invest in training programs that would grow a scientific workforce versed in the operation and scientific applications of light sources.103

The Square Kilometer Array

The SKA also provides significant infrastructure and capacity-building opportunities for African science. The project will produce enormous volumes of data and requires new technology to run it, including the world’s fastest supercomputer.104 The infrastructure needed to store, manage, and analyze this data will require significant capacity development in science, engineering, and technological innovation, opening opportunities for collaboration across scientific disciplines and between the public and private sectors, creating huge opportunities for African tech.

To meet the scientific demands of the instrument, the SKA established the Human Capital Development Programme to provide funding for master’s and Ph.D. students in radio astronomy.105 From the program’s launch in 2005 through 2018, it has provided 455 million rand (approximately $30 million) in grant funding to 1,054 students, including 802 students from South Africa, 176 from other African countries, and 76 students from non-African countries.106 Additionally, the program will invest in developing a skilled maintenance workforce and create significant construction jobs and opportunities for the community.107 Still, many in the local community opposed the construction of the telescope, with many of the poorest residents concerned that they would not be able to partake in the benefits of these investments.108 The leadership of the project initially promised significant returns to the farmers, largely people of color, who provided their land. The SKA has struggled to meet expectations, however.109 To address farmers’ concerns, the SKA partnered with the community organization Agri SA to negotiate the purchase of land from landowners and ensure that the community will benefit from the project.110

Construction for the SKA was originally intended to begin in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction was postponed. In addition, SKA had not collected sufficient funding to begin.111 In June 2021, seven countries, including China, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Portugal, ratified the Convention Establishing the SKA Observatory, providing the necessary boost in funding support needed to approve the start of its construction that same year.112 The United States participates through the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a National Science Foundation (NSF) facility that operates telescopes in the United States and South America. The SKA and the NRAO signed an MOU in 2017 to collaborate on development of common software for data reduction in radio astronomy that is scalable to the future needs of the SKA.113

SKA MPI prototype dish
The almost fully assembled SKA-MPI prototype dish of the SKA project on the South African site. Photo © by SARAO/Angus Flowers.



Global Understanding, Science, and Diplomacy

Global scientific collaboration has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the broader goal of promoting international understanding across cultures. Engagement with ESPs, and the Global South in general, which represents a substantial portion of the world’s population, is a key component of this strategy that will only grow in importance as ESPs expand their S&T enterprises.

Diplomacy for Science

Diplomatic engagement is a key mechanism for building international scientific collaborations in established scientific relationships and ESPs alike, both for initiatives that become flagship projects and for partnerships at the grassroots level (see Science Envoys).114 In large-scale ventures, the United States must take care to meet commitments for scientific cooperation made in these diplomatic exchanges. In the past, joint initiatives have often led partner countries to hold expectations that went unmet.115

Global bodies and their regional branches, such as the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), International Science Council (ISC), and International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), are important entry points for interacting with scientists who have international and diplomatic experience. Building relationships with regional ESP branches and leadership at these levels can strengthen efforts in science diplomacy and present key opportunities for sharing knowledge between U.S. and ESP leaders.


In 2009, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), then the ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee, proposed the creation of a U.S. Science Envoy Program as a means of science diplomacy outreach to foster international scientific collaboration.116 To date, twenty-two esteemed scientists and engineers have served as U.S. science envoys.

Science envoys serve one-year terms and work to build international scientific networks and promote American scientific values, including public support for merit-based scientific institutions and respect for science in society.117 They contribute to science diplomacy and work at multiple levels of scientific ecosystems, building peer-to-peer connections between researchers and advising U.S. government representatives on opportunities for scientific collaboration abroad.

This type of international outreach and engagement is valuable for the United States and for ESPs where scientific capacities are increasing and may particularly benefit from the ideas, networks, and models for effective government support of science that U.S. science envoys can bring. The U.S. Science Envoy Program also can help elevate and expand the visibility of a country’s national discussion about the role of S&T. Looking to the future, especially in an increasingly virtual scientific world, the program could be profitably expanded to include a more diverse assembly of scientists and engineers and could also align its goals and activities with programs that involve early career scientists. Because it can take a year for an envoy to get well-engaged, two-year terms should be considered.

Although the envoys are unpaid, their effectiveness depends on strong connections with in-country embassies. Effectiveness is further enhanced when envoys are allocated modest resources to fund workshops and other activities. Such engagement must be supported by the U.S. government more broadly, must be supported with funds that allow envoys to bring other U.S. scientists to engage with ESPs, and must be sustained over time.118 By doing so, the United States can foster mutually beneficial collaborations with ESP scientists and governments, while helping to build respect for and friendships with the United States.

Charles Bolden
Former astronaut and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator Major General Charles Bolden visited South Africa as the Department of State’s U.S. science envoy for space. During his week-long trip, Bolden engaged with high schoolers, university students and faculty, aerospace professionals, and the general public. Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy South Africa, November 15, 2018.


Science for Diplomacy

Scientific collaborations can also contribute to positive relations with other countries, including potential or actual adversaries. By building a foundation for discussion based on shared goals, collaboration can potentially prevent military interventions and conflict, as some scholars argue was the case with the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.119 In addition, shared scientific interests provide an additional channel for diplomatic relations, as science diplomacy can create trusted relationships. In the best cases, science is a common language based on shared values and goals that can connect countries otherwise at a great distance from each other.120

The United States is not alone in leveraging scientific collaboration to advance diplomatic goals. China’s BRI, a major infrastructure construction program launched in 2013, has signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with more than one hundred countries, many of which are ESPs (see Figure: One Belt, One Road below).121

One Belt, One Road

A visualization of China’s Belt & Road Initiative, which seeks to develop infrastructure connections between Asia, Europe, and Africa. More recently, the initiative has expanded significantly into many countries in Africa and includes infrastructure projects in South and Central America. Source: Road.

The BRI has significantly expanded China’s sphere of influence in the world, not only by growing its trading markets but also through infrastructure investments that promote enhanced partnerships and collaborations. The total cost of projects thus far completed, in progress, or planned amounts to more than $1 trillion, although estimates of the true cost vary immensely.122 Scientific partnerships have been a core component of China’s BRI involvement in Africa, which has included the construction of scientific laboratories and research centers and the creation of grant opportunities and scholarships for African students. As of 2014, China had surpassed the United States and the United Kingdom in the number of African students educated at its universities.123 Although China’s BRI has been relatively well received by countries that have signed MOUs, many in the United States are concerned that the initiative’s commitment to spreading digital access may be a method to increase Chinese surveillance and authoritarianism in participating countries.124

International scientific relations can be improved by engagement at all levels, ranging from peer-to-peer collaborations that build trust between individual researchers to investments in large-scale facilities that provide infrastructure that can drive innovation and advancement regionally (see Collaboration in Conflict Zones: Resource Conservation in Afghanistan). The United States must continue to recognize, value, and expand its engagement with ESPs, as other countries, both U.S. allies and competitors, continue to strengthen their own networks of relationships with ESPs.


Afghanistan is home to an abundance of biodiversity, with thriving populations of animals as varied as flamingos and snow leopards and containing within its borders a wide range of ecological biomes, including immense canyons, deserts, meadows, forests, and the western range of the Himalayan Mountains.

Decades of violent conflict beginning in the 1970s and carrying through to today have left Afghanistan a war-torn nation, leading to significant conflict within its human populations and indirectly impacting the country’s biodiversity and natural resources.125 Wildlife conservation seems an unusual priority in a war-torn, politically unstable context; however, with 74 percent of the country’s population residing in rural areas and 80 percent of the population dependent on agriculture, the conservation of natural resources must be made a priority.126 Severe droughts impact the majority of provinces in the country, and the nation’s primary source of water, glacial melt in the Hindu Kush mountain range, is disappearing.127 Preventing conflict driven by food and water insecurity demands conservation and preservation of natural resources. Thus it is essential to develop natural resources conservation policies and practices.

In 2006, the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo in New York, launched a new Afghanistan program with funding from USAID. The aim of the program was to conduct the first baseline assessment in thirty years of the country’s biodiversity and natural resources, develop community-driven conservation priorities and policies, and build the technical and scientific capacity necessary for Afghans to continue the work through locally driven initiatives at all levels of governance.128 Following the successful outcome of this first project, USAID funded a subsequent project from 2010 to 2014 that sought to understand how conservation of natural resources could directly improve livelihoods and resource governance in the country.129

Several partners based in Afghanistan and in the United States collaborated on the extensive biodiversity and demographic survey. The work engaged more than fifty-five rural communities in Afghanistan and helped to link them to the central government agencies, trained more than ten thousand Afghans at local and national levels in sustainable resource management, and led to the strategic protection of over 1.2 million hectares of watersheds.130 Additionally, the information gathered was used by the government of Afghanistan to establish a network of national protected areas and to help determine what infrastructure would be needed to successfully operate and maintain these areas. As a result, the country’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, was established in 2009.131 It is hoped that this park will continue to be a positive example and force in Afghanistan as that country faces more turmoil and another change in government.


U.S. Leadership

For the United States to maintain its position as a global leader in science, including as a top collaborator with ESPs, it must continue to support and invest in international partnerships. ESPs represent an enormous opportunity for collaboration and partnership. As pointed out in the earlier CISP reports, if the United States removes itself from the influential position it has held in the science ecosystem, other nations, such as the United Kingdom, countries of the European Union, South Korea, Japan, and China, could fill this vacuum.

This trend is already apparent when observing the United States’ status as a global leader in R&D expenditures. In 2000, the United States had the largest share of worldwide R&D expenditures at 37.1 percent. In comparison, the European Union, China, and other East-Southeast and South Asian countries had shares of 21.8 percent, 4.5 percent, and 20.7 percent, respectively. By 2019, the United States held just 27.3 percent of the share of global R&D, while the European Union held 18.2 percent, China held 21.9 percent, and other East-Southeast and South Asian countries held 17.9 percent.132 From 2000 to 2019, the United States contributed 23 percent of the worldwide growth in international R&D spending. Meanwhile, East, Southeast, and South Asian countries contributed 46 percent (China: 29 percent; South Korea and Japan: 9 percent; other East-Southeast and South Asian countries: 7 percent).133

Notable trends also emerge when looking at R&D intensity (i.e., R&D as a percentage of GDP) over time. From 2000 to 2019, the United States increased its R&D intensity from 2.63 percent to 3.07 percent. Over the same time frame, China increased from 0.89 percent to 2.23 percent, South Korea increased from 2.13 percent to 4.64 percent, and Germany increased from 2.41 percent to 3.18 percent.134 This trend underscores the reality that S&T is a growing national priority for many countries, especially those in the East. Meanwhile, U.S. federal R&D expenditures have been declining across all research types and sectors between 2010 and 2019.135 Should countries like China and South Korea continue to increase their R&D intensities, they will likely continue to have increasing shares of global R&D expenditures moving forward.

Diminishing our leadership role could have enormous influence in shaping future science innovation and technology.136 The engagement that develops through research partnerships also has a significant impact on questions of national and economic security. These observations hold true for partnerships with the ESPs as well as partnerships with nations with established S&T enterprises.

As the United States navigates this increasingly complex landscape of global research, it must balance the need for cooperation and competition. Nations of the world are interdependent. We must cooperate as we face shared global challenges. At the same time, the United States must be fully engaged as a nation to maintain our leadership role in the face of the growing global competition for partners, talent, and markets. Through international science collaboration, balancing these two needs is both a possibility and can lead to a more interconnected and more prepared global research community.