Ronald E. Doel and
Science did not become a major concern of U.S. foreign policy until the twentieth century. This is not to say that science was unimportant to the young republic. U.S. leaders recognized that, in the Age of Reason, the prestige of science was part of the rivalry between nations. Yet through the nineteenth century science was primarily linked to foreign policy as an adjunct of trade relations or military exploration. By contrast, mechanical ability was central to the identity of Americans, and debates about the proper role of technology in American relations to Britain and Europe raged through the late nineteenth century, as the United States gained worldwide recognition for creating the modern technological nation.
Technology—and enthusiasm for technical solutions to social problems—remained important in American foreign relations through the twentieth century. But its position relative to science changed markedly after 1900. By the start of World War II, science became a new and urgent topic for policymakers, inspiring an uneasy relationship that profoundly challenged both diplomats and scientists. As the Cold War began, the U.S. government funded new institutions and programs that linked science with diplomatic efforts and national security aims. Some were cloaked in secrecy; others were incorporated into major foreign aid efforts such as the Marshall Plan. By the late twentieth century, policymakers viewed science and technology as synergistic twins, significant yet often unpredictable agents of economic, political, and social change on both national and global scales.
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