The question of whether there will be a second American Century is placed in the context of established literatures on balance of power and fleeting hegemony in the history of international relations. One way for the United States to break the Thucydidean cycle of rise and fall for great powers is to work toward Robert Gilpin's ideal of the Scientific State. In an era of globalization, this means not only promoting science for harvesting superior technologies but appreciating all important pathways connecting achievement in science to international influence. Case studies are introduced to illustrate three civilizational pathways. Domestic science and technology policy shows how American democracy tightens the noose on pure science for purposes of state. Similar overemphasis on exclusive technology undermines U.S. diplomacy with rising power Brazil as well as U.S. efforts to foster transnational stewardship in the utilization of outer space.
The problem of how Science relates to world power is part of a more profound reflection on how truth claims in general fare amidst the necessities of state organization. The truth-power dialectic is as old as Western political theory. Indeed, it infuses most canonical treatments of ideal political order from Plato's philosopher-king to the United States Constitution and beyond. Democratic regimes thrive on transparency and accountability while modern scientific truth advances on professionalism, which requires specialization. Democracies, then, face significant hurdles before they can arrive as a Scientific State. Specifically, they must learn to manage a pervasive principal-agent dilemma, permitting scientists autonomy to be productive, even when commercial or military technology might be deferred in the process. For democracy to strike the proper balance between expert discretion and public accountability requires a citizenry educated enough to know how to invest its trust.
A hegemonic turn toward Science makes sense as a strategy for preserving international influence if hegemony involves more than imperial control over nominal states, if power distribution in the system is multipolar rather than unipolar, and if power itself derives from something beyond superior military and economic resources. Acknowledging that power is contextual—that it also depends on the medium through which it influences target states—leads system analysis away from unipolarity and toward the more sensible reading of a multipolar distribution of power. Multipolarity places greater premium on hegemony as a mode of influence, which connotes legitimacy to solve global problems, versus empire as material control. Under present structural conditions of a loose, multipolar system that dissipates much of the energy from a preeminent state's military action, circumstances are ripe for fresh consideration of three civilizational pathways by which Science relates to international influence.
The U.S. Science Establishment has responded more to the demands of a consumer oriented democracy than to solving modern dilemmas involving the professions. The United States' purest engagement with Science may have been shortly after World War II when much of the best scientific work was being supported by a single agency: the Office of Naval Research. As more mission agencies came on line, pressures increased from Congress and ultimately the American people to crowd out basic research in favor of technology development. This shift undermined the value of national science as a kind of elixir, or moderating influence, on the rougher edges of American democracy. Restoring balanced national investment across scientific achievement and pursuit of technology will be more feasible if democracy is mobilized through improvements in general education, building trust between science professions and the American people.
Diplomatic relationships between the U.S. hegemon and rising powers depend on many variables, but U.S. insistence on putting technology first in its scientific diplomacy highlights present power disparities and disdains opportunities for building trust through joint scientific achievement, thereby exacerbating predictable suspicion on the part of candidate strategic partners. The case of Brazil, an emerging power ostensibly within the fold of U.S. regional hegemony, illustrates how competitive or predatory technology policies can poison the well, even for a confident partner with a robust scientific tradition. Concerns attending U.S. science & technology on offer seep into general bilateral relations, complicating cooperation on major economic issues like trade and investment, and political issues like reining in Iran's nuclear program or engaging China. At the international level, between states, neglecting Science makes U.S. hegemony more costly to sustain.
Scientific achievement on the part of a hegemon facilitates cooperation among heterogeneous stakeholders attempting to address transnational challenges. With technological progress and increasing globalization, more economic, environmental, and human security problems are recognized as demanding coordination among states and non-governmental organizations in multiple regions of the world. In such forums, classic accoutrements of power and influence do not function as normal. Indeed, they function better if the United States appears qualified to tackle transnational challenges with high scientific content, and if the hegemon's clear commitment to Science as a human enterprise extends beyond the narrow purpose of leveraging proprietary technology for national power advantage. Governance of the global commons, including economically significant orbits in space, involves both cooperation and competitive impulses. Hard core technological approaches impede consensus and ultimately frustrate the United States, since even the U.S. hegemon cannot protect the commons on its own.
This project draws deeply from schools of thought on international relations and world order, especially realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Liberal institutionalism, in particular, is implicated because a hegemon's venture to embrace Science—like liberal institutions to expand freedom and celebrate the dignity of the individual—is a variant of grand strategy to escape the old Thucydidean cycle, which condemns all great powers and their empires, once they arise, to decline and fall. Scientific excellence, however, thrives in tension with some liberal and communitarian ideals. If American democracy is to remain hegemonic for a second century, U.S. citizens need to open their eyes to certain political responsibilities of a Scientific State. It is for them to elect strategic leaders who balance domestic investment in science apart from technology, bear a system leader's diplomatic sensibility for other states' welfare, and accept a generous share of costs in resolving transnational challenges.