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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession IV: The control of space and power
close this folderToward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
close this folderOsama A. El-Kholy
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. A view of the problem from within
View the documentII. The view from without
View the documentIII. Toward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
View the documentAppendix I.
View the documentAppendix II.
View the documentAppendix III.
View the documentNotes

II. The view from without

I now conclude this quick and selective characterization of the view from within by underscoring certain elements of the science and technology scene in the developed world, since we consider "First," "Second," and "Third" Worlds as components of the same system (p. 4) and since problems in one cannot be discussed in isolation from those in other parts of the world. I will now list briefly those elements thought to be of particular relevance to my next discussion.

First are the conflicting views of S e T as a promise and a threat. I cite here two considerations that have a direct impact on the scientists on the periphery, on their attitude to their own societies, and on the general public itself. First, there is the desperate stand - in the face of the devastating onslaught of social scientists - by some natural scientists who still maintain that theirs is a neutral and dispassionate pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and who disclaim any social responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Next comes the crippling distortion of S e T activities particularly in developing countries - under the pressure of so-called "defence" requirements. The proper order of national priorities is no longer reflected in such activities, and a very unhealthy and self defeating stratification is imposed on the S e T system. An elite now enjoys better working and living conditions, and, imprisoned within false security considerations, is now separated from the bulk of its own community. The latter is deprived of the tools of the trade, the satisfaction of active involvement in an effective manner in national development, and, finally, a reasonably good life. This is but a reflection of the astronomical rise in expenditures in the centre on R e D for military and "security" purposes. This, together with the seemingly endless build-up of more arms of continuously increasing complexity and sophistication, has siphoned hundreds of billions of dollars away from "transforming the world" through the application of available scientific knowledge and technological know-how and from financing further effort where it is most needed.

Next comes the emergence of "big science" and the large-scale, multidisciplinary R e D establishment that is very expensive to establish and to run, but also cost-effective within the organizational framework of industrialized societies. This has resulted in extreme polarization of S e T activity and its concentration in the centre, bringing with it a whole string of critical problems for the periphery.

There also is the rise of the transnational corporation as the most efficient form of integrated techno-economic activity and the main investor and promoter of technological innovation. The serious asymmetries in dealings with TNCs have been analysed extensively. However, the latent contradictions between their interests and those of their mother countries are beginning to emerge and are receiving more attention now.

Next is the emergence of global problems that call for world-wide analysis and treatment. Deterioration of the environment, the threat of drastic changes in climatic conditions, scarcity of resources (ranging from water to energy sources), and space exploration are all problems that transcend national and regional organizational frameworks of S e T and will, in all probability, bring about new forms of international co-operative effort. It is important that such forms do not exclude or discriminate against the periphery.

Two more points are to be made. The first concerns a growing feeling that practically all Third World initiatives to transform the prevailing world order have been thwarted and frustrated. One could almost go as far as saying that they have boomeranged and in the near future are most likely to become the means for entrenching dependence and subordination.

This calls for some elaboration. The Group of 77, as the representative of the Third World in the United Nations system, has come to rally around a number of causes in which they see the way out of the present situation of technological dependence and asymmetric relations with the industrialized world. Prominent among these are the efforts to modify the Paris Convention of 1883 governing the patent system, and the call for an international code of conduct for technology transfer pioneered by Pugwash and now actively negotiated in UNCTAD. Furthermore, it is generally accepted that building a base of heavy industry for example, metallurgical and petrochemical - and the development of engineering industries (the so-called industrializing industries) and national constancy services are recommended courses of action for building up indigenous technological capabilities that would eventually break through the tight grip of technological dependence of the centre.

There is growing concern nowadays10 that revision of the patent system would lead to more subtle ways of protection and avoid unnecessary conflicts. An internationally recognized code of conduct for the transfer of technology would considerably help the TNCs in long-term planning of their world-wide activities without some of the high risk levels involved in their operations nowadays in certain parts of the world. Contrary to original expectations, this would weaken the bargaining position of developing countries. Even the building of indigenous technological capabilities along the lines mentioned above might well lead to further qualitative intensification of technological dependence and subordination by increasingly monopolizing the decisive elements of R e D, engineering, finance, maintenance, and so on, leaving developing countries with control over the relatively low levels of the productive system.

The second and last point in this section stems from a strong temptation, if not a conviction, of the necessity of drawing attention to the rather bleak political prospects the eighties seem to bring with them. The dialogue between "North" and "South's is grinding to a halt and is now replaced by confrontation and open threats to use force to settle global problems. While the West seems incapable, or unwilling due to internal conflicts of interest, to grapple effectively with inflation and energy problems, the socialist camp is divided and at war. Dnte has been degraded, and the price for SALT II seems to be more armaments. Local wars have become daily occurrences in the Third World. Any serious attempt at transforming the world and any prescription for action must analyse these symptoms, take full account of them, and look beyond them to future long-term global prospects.