• IDRA Newsletter • March 2002 • 

The scale and nature of the ongoing revolution in science and technology, and what this implies for the quality of human capital in the 21st century, pose critical national security challenges for the United States. Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to manage properly science, technology, and education for the common good over the next quarter century.

Current institutional arrangements have served the nation well over the past five decades, but the world is changing. Today, private proprietary expenditure on technology development far outdistances public spending. The internationalization of both scientific research and its commercial development is having a significant effect on the capacity of the U.S. government to harness science in the service of national security and to attract qualified scientific and technical personnel. These changes are transforming most facets of the American economy, from health care to banking to retail business, as well as the defense industrial base.

The harsh fact is that the U.S. need for the highest quality human capital in science, mathematics, and engineering is not being met. One reason for this is clear: American students know that professional careers in basic science and mathematics require considerable preparation and effort, while salaries are often more lucrative in areas requiring less demanding training.

Non-U.S. nationals, however, do find these professions attractive and, thanks to science, math, and technical preparation superior to that of many Americans, they increasingly fill American university graduate studies seats and job slots in these areas. Another reason for the growing deficit in high-quality human capital is that the American kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education system is not performing as well as it should. As a result too few American students are qualified to take these slots, even if they are so inclined.

This is an ironic predicament, since America’s strength has always been tied to the spirit and entrepreneurial energies of its people. America remains today the model of creativity and experimentation, and its success has inspired other nations to recognize the true sources of power and wealth in science, technology, and higher education. America’s international reputation, and therefore a significant aspect of its global influence, depends on its reputation for excellence in these areas. U.S. performance is not keeping up with its reputation. Other countries are striving hard, and with discipline they will outstrip us.

This is not a matter merely of national pride or international image. It is an issue of the utmost importance to national security. In a knowledge-based future, only an America that remains at the cutting edge of science and technology will sustain its current world leadership. In such a future, only a well-trained and educated population can thrive economically, and from national prosperity provide the foundation for national cohesion. Complacency with our current achievement of national wealth and international power will put all of this at risk.

The full report, “Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change,” by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century can be viewed online at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/nssg/PhaseIIIFR.pdf.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]