Krupar on Coletta, 'Courting Science: Securing the Foundation for a Second American Century'

Damon V. Coletta
Jason Krupar

Damon V. Coletta. Courting Science: Securing the Foundation for a Second American Century. Social Security Studies Series. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 248 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-9894-5; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-9893-8.

Reviewed by Jason Krupar (University of Cincinnati) Published on H-FedHist (July, 2017) Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann

Damon V. Coletta offers an ambitious critique of American science policy and international relations. He attempts in his latest book, Courting Science: Securing the Foundation for a Second American Century, to argue that the United States and its global partners would benefit if more resources were directed toward international collaboration on science projects. He maintains throughout his study that America, more specifically its federal government, needs to promote this policy agenda for long-term national security reasons and technological development. Coletta examines the tensions generated from empowering American scientists to act autonomously with their international colleagues and such actions risking the country’s security. Scientists, according to Coletta, tread a narrow path between sharing technological gains and endangering national goals.

Coletta comments on the intertwining relationship between basic scientific research and advanced technology. He claims that nations presently curtail cooperation in chemistry, physics, and other fields due to national security worries. Science assists in differentiating hegemony from imperialism while technology, Coletta claims, does not. This difference Coletta regards as important to understanding science’s role in policy creation. He views science as a means to promote cooperation and mutual benefits. He associates technology with zero-sum competition and the accumulation of political power. Within this framework, Coletta sets out to explain the science policy decision making of the Cold War and the post-Cold War periods.

Coletta tries to provide the historical background in his first three chapters that support his argument. Unfortunately, the broad analysis he offers glosses over items that might unravel his thesis. He treats the rise and potential challenge of German science before and during World War II in a limited fashion. He neglects to adequately acknowledge that the rise of the American scientific state during the Cold War owed its existence partly to the racial policies of the Nazi regime. The intellectual brain drain that took place in 1930s Europe benefited the United States in ways still being explored today. On the other hand, Coletta’s study of the Soviet Union’s science policies complements existing perspectives on that nation’s Cold War decisions. Midway through his work, Coletta shifts from the Cold War to the more immediate past, focusing attention on America’s cooperative efforts with Brazil.

While Coletta includes other case studies in Courting Science, he devotes a great deal of time to what he labels the “unconsummated partnership” of the United States and Brazil (p. 91). He explores the historical components of American-Brazilian relations before investigating the efforts at scientific cooperation after the Cold War. He laments what he sees as missed opportunities between the two countries due to shaky diplomatic relations. Coletta’s emphasis on American-Brazilian scientific exchanges and institutional building limits his examination of other candidate case studies. Likewise, his argument that American scientific collaboration with nations like Brazil might generate international acceptance of the United States’ hegemony in other areas seems too broad. Rather than just focus on Brazil, Coletta needs to provide other case studies, perhaps from South America, to support his assertion. Recent historical examples exist demonstrating the intersection of strategic and diplomatic disagreements with the United States and the influence of these actions on international scientific cooperation.

Courting Science offers challenges for other researchers to consider regarding the intersection of science policy, national security, and global relations. Coletta provides compelling reasons for why the present emphasis on public accountability hinders scientific collaboration and technological development. He argues effectively that economic competition and security fears, originating partly in Cold War paranoia, stymie science exchanges. This accountability dilemma, he claims, must be dismantled. Coletta’s emphasis on America, and Europe in general, overlooks other historical non-Western governmental examples and discussions of how these case studies could address his concerns. China and Japan receive limited mention, while India is not included. These criticisms aside, Courting Science provides an important point for researchers to use in understanding the dynamics of science policy and foreign diplomacy.

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Citation: Jason Krupar. Review of Coletta, Damon V., Courting Science: Securing the Foundation for a Second American Century. H-FedHist, H-Net Reviews. July, 2017. URL:

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