New BOG Chair Reece Smyth brings a diplomatic approach to science
As is fitting for someone who has devoted more than 20 years toward foreign service, Reece Smyth is a man of many languages. He speaks French, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian. He studied Arabic too, but admits, “that was a tough one to get.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if he starts adding Hebrew. That’s because he’s a new member of BSF’s Board of Governors, and he’s already serving as Chair. The pandemic has kept him from going to Israel, and interactions with BSF staff and scientists have so far been by video conference only. But hopefully that will change soon, and he’s excited about the opportunity.
“Israel and the United States are both powerhouses in scientific research and development, and I want to help both nations to continue working together in these fields,” he said.
When it comes to relations between nations, Smyth has plenty of experience. He is currently the director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, which promotes American scientific leadership and fosters scientific and technological collaboration with allies and partners for mutual benefit.
Before that, Smyth served as the Charge d’Affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin from January 2017 to July 2019, where he advanced U.S. relations with Ireland on trade, investment, and cyber security. Previous titles include political/economic counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and deputy director of the State Department’s Office of UN Political Affairs. Smyth also served at the U.S. Mission to NATO as the action officer in the NATO-Russia Council, and as senior economic officer in the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs. Other tours include Skopje, Sarajevo, Islamabad, and the State Department’s Operation Center. Throughout his career, he has worked closely with the Israeli government and the Israeli embassy.
Last year, he was a National Security Affairs Fellow at Stanford University’s prestigious Hoover Institution, which gives representatives of the U.S. Department of State and armed forces the opportunity to conduct independent research on topics relevant to their respective branches of government and to the practice of diplomacy. At Stanford, he gained insights into the growing relationship between science, technology, and foreign policy.
“There is a lot of interplay between the worlds of science and diplomacy, and I believe this will be beneficial in my role with BSF,” Smyth said. “In working with scientists, I hope to use my diplomatic experience to advise the Board in making value judgements that will benefit science for both Israel and the United States, and for the wider world as well.”
Smyth showed his diplomatic side when asked about any differences in morale in the U.S. scientific community with Joe Biden in the White House, as opposed to Donald Trump.
“I enthusiastically support President Biden’s agenda – as I have for every President I’ve worked with in my career,” he said.
Even though President Biden has been in office for just a few months, Smyth said he has already made moves that have brought “a lot of energy” to the U.S. scientific community. Smyth praised the administration’s commitment to combat the climate crisis, his elevation of the role of science adviser to a Cabinet-level position, and his executive orders protecting scientists from political interference and ensuring that government decisions are based on scientific evidence as much as possible.
As Israel and the United States continue monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, these issues – as well as scientific and technological cooperation between nations – are of vital importance, Smyth said. The pandemic prompted scientists around the world not only into making important discoveries, but also into sharing their findings quickly among other nations.
“Sometimes, cooperation and connections need a push,” he said. “The pandemic certainly provided that push. We have a health issue that affects the entire world, and scientists around the world realize the importance of sharing vital information in the hopes of getting the virus under control.”
Smyth is a graduate of Baylor University and holds master’s degrees from Princeton University and the Universite Libre de Bruxelles. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he worked in the private sector as a senior trade consultant in Houston, London, and New York.
Around 1999, however, Smyth got to a point in his life where he wanted to serve his country and to do “more than just make money for Fortune 500 companies.” When the opportunity to join the Foreign Service came, he took it.
“It’s been a great ride for me ever since,” he said.
When he’s not keeping up with the latest science and technology developments, he enjoys hiking, tennis, palling around with his beloved Dalmatian-Greyhound mix Izzy, or reading.
As he gets more involved with BSF, he looks forward to advising BSF staff and scientists, and to helping foster even stronger scientific partnerships between Israel and the United States.
“As we all realized last year, we need the talents of our best and brightest scientists,” Smyth said. “Many of those scientists are in Israel or the United States. It just makes sense to build on that relationship, and I am excited about the opportunity to help bring that about.”