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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation 3 Emergence of the New Russia: High Expectations, Harsh Realities, and the Path Ahead We are losing an entire generation of young scientists. We do not support them, and they think only about money. Russian Minister of Science and Technology, 1998 The year 1991 was a tumultuous one in Moscow and throughout the former Soviet Union as the country, facing irreversible political cleavages and difficult financial problems, splintered into 15 independent states. The budgetary resources and the financial obligations of remnants of the former Soviet state immediately became the subject of disputes at the intergovernmental level, among commercial and noncommercial organizations, and between individuals who thought they had first rights to assets that suddenly belonged to everyone or to no one. Not surprisingly, in a country suddenly bereft of affordable consumer goods, thousands of newly installed government officials and holdover enterprise managers in all regions of Russia directed their energies to acquiring personal control over resources of questionable ownership, thereby buttressing their own well-being. Amid the scramble for rapidly evaporating assets, continued financial support for researchers and for other scientists was not a priority within the new governments or among the general populations of the 15 states. Most Soviet scientists resided in the Russian republic, where they faced the challenge of competing with far more financially savvy elements of society for their share of the remnants of the Soviet state. The industrial base was eroding rapidly, and many Russian organizations found it difficult even to meet
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation payroll obligations. In particular, the leaders of hundreds of enterprises that had traditionally supported substantial research and development activities, both within the enterprises and through outsourcing with other organizations, quickly lost interest in financing research projects that did not have an immediate payoff. The average salaries of Russian researchers sank to the equivalent of $25 a month, and growing numbers found gardening at their dachas more challenging and profitable than toiling in their laboratories without access to electricity, supplies, or scientific publications. Historically, each of the 15 Soviet republics, with the exception of the Russian republic, had had its own academy of sciences which received “scientific guidance” from the ASUSSR—guidance usually extended to control of budgets and personnel appointments. Meanwhile, the ASUSSR had served as the de facto academy for the Russian republic as well as the parent academy for the entire Soviet Union. Thus, for decades the ASUSSR was able to concentrate large efforts at geographically dispersed research centers on centrally determined priority programs. Many scientists in the outlying republics considered the entire academy structure to be simply a mechanism to ensure Russian control over scientific activities throughout the Soviet Union, while giving the appearance that Moscow recognized the importance of local autonomy in addressing problems of special interest to the republics. Within this context of long-standing centrally controlled research, rampant financial chaos, and regional suspicions over the motivation of Moscow’s science administrators, the future role and structure of all elements of the ASUSSR became a highly politicized issue. In Russia, most academicians rallied together to preserve the professional and financial benefits of the monthly honorarium that had accompanied their membership in the ASUSSR. A small band of other scientists, and particularly a group of highly vocal younger scientists based in Moscow, urged the new Russian government to “reform” the academy structure. They advocated replacing the elderly leadership—who, they argued, was committed to Soviet-style central control over scientific research—with a new generation of scientific leaders who would promote decentralization of authority to the more than 400 academy research institutions located in Russia. However, their scheme for breaking up the academy was not well developed, and it commanded little support within the government or among the vast majority of scientists themselves. In late 1991, before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin, who was then president of the Russian republic, decided to establish a new Russian Academy of Sciences for the Russian republic; it would operate in
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation parallel with the Soviet Academy. Eighty well-known Russian scientists became its first members. About a month later, however, the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin became president of the Russian Federation. The task that followed was to sort out the relationship between the new academy and the Soviet academy, which had a much larger Russian membership and a heritage that dated back to Peter the Great. The regional problem was quickly addressed, with each new state outside Russia simply taking responsibility for the local academy that had been affiliated with the Soviet academy and then having to find the resources to keep its functioning. But to this day, the financial problems faced by the new states continue, largely immune to resolution. In Russia, after several weeks of acrimonious debate reported continually in the press and of street protests in Moscow by the advocates of reform of science, Yeltsin decreed that the new Russian Academy of Sciences would be folded into the ASUSSR to form the permanent Russian Academy of Sciences. The outcries for reform, including calls for transforming whatever academy emerged into another type of institution, were quickly muted. Within a few days, the signs on the academy doors were modified, a new academy president with close ties to President Yeltsin was installed, and research activities in Russia continued largely as in the past except that financial support from the government decreased precipitously.1 Meanwhile, some scientists from within and outside the ranks of the Russian Academy of Sciences, based primarily in Moscow, were not satisfied with the direction the permanent Russian Academy of Sciences was taking. They decided to establish new academies that would promote their personal interests more effectively (e.g., academies of engineering, aviation, informatics, natural sciences). In time, more than 30 such academies were established, at least on paper. To add to the confusion for foreigners, many old and new educational institutions also include in their names the word academy. But the Russian government strongly backed the Russian Academy of Sciences as the scientific leader of the country. Together with the long-standing Academy of Medical Sciences and Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and their dozens of research institutes, the three academies were far and away the scientific academies with the most stature within the country. Even though the ASUSSR had employed only about 10 percent of the nation’s researchers, the academy system was widely considered to be the 1 Author interview in September 2003 with an academician who was serving as one of the vice presidents of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1991.
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation centerpiece of the nation’s scientific effort. And especially for civilian science, the academies had always received priority for personnel, facilities, and equipment. As the economic crisis made itself felt throughout the new Russia, the financial and physical conditions of the RAS and its institutes declined rapidly, although they were in better shape than most university laboratories and research institutes of the ministries. Many prominent American scientists with close ties to Russian investigators within the academy system began calling for dramatic actions by the U.S. government and by U.S. private sector organizations to “save Russian science.” They saw a widening stream of excellent scientists emigrating to the United States and other Western countries from Russia. They noted a dramatic decline in research publications from Russian institutions and the dwindling number of Russian participants in international scientific conferences. And they received a barrage of pleas from Russia for humanitarian assistance simply to keep the families of scientists fed and clothed. As for research within other organizations, many of the institutes of the RAS had ties to higher education institutions. Some of these higher education institutions were important as independent and collaborating research centers.2 As for the hundreds of applied research institutes of the former Soviet ministries, the most impressive research centers were associated with the Ministry of Atomic Energy, the Space Agency, and the Ministry of Defense, while almost all of the traditionally “civilian-oriented” centers were on the decline. In the United States, the National Academy of Sciences now found itself with a new partner—the Russian Academy of Sciences—which had inherited the international responsibilities as well as the financial liabilities and physical assets within Russia of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In late 1991, pleas for Western assistance began to be heard increasingly from leading members of the newly minted academy. The NAS, in close consultation with those U.S. government departments and agencies interested in main- 2 Every year the Ministry of Education rank orders by quality the 700 higher education institutions, using criteria that have not been made public. At the top of the list are universities that have strong ties with RAS institutes and are well known in the West: Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University, Moscow Physical Technical Institute, Tomsk State University, Kazan State University, Moscow State Technical University (Bauman), St. Petersburg State Technical University, Russian State Oil and Gas Academy (Gubkin), and Tomsk Polytechnical University (see RAS, 2002:86). A detailed discussion of linkages between academy and educational institutions is set forth in Integration of Science and Higher Education in Russia (2001).
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation taining a strong Russian civilian technical base while preventing the proliferation of weapons from Russia, quickly mobilized resources to begin to develop practical measures for responding to Russia’s financial crisis. The response had two thrusts: first, steps to help alleviate the country’s general economic crisis and, second, programs to address the calls for immediate help to preserve the country’s scientific capabilities. WEATHERING THE ECONOMIC CRISIS Although the NAS and the ASUSSR had initiated a series of dialogues in the 1980s on Soviet problems in moving toward a market economy, the Soviet economic crisis had worsened to the point that discussions of specific policies and action programs rather than general dialogues held greater priority for the Russians. The U.S. and other Western governments were considering a variety of multilateral and bilateral assistance programs, but they were hesitant to commit resources until the macroeconomic framework within Russia was to their liking. Consequently, much of the early response from the West was in the form of policy advice from Western economists, many of whom differed in their concepts of what was best for Russia. Within this context, the NAS, acting through the National Research Council, which increasingly drew on members of the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine as well as those of the NAS, launched several efforts in the early 1990s designed to provide an improved framework for substantial Western investments in revitalizing an economy on the decline. These first interacademy efforts centered on “defense conversion”—that is, finding opportunities for Russian defense enterprises to develop and manufacture products for the civilian market. Toward this end, an NRC committee undertook case studies of the commercial potential at two military aviation enterprises in Saratov—Tantal and the Saratov Electromechanical Production Organization (SEPO). Among the recommendations developed was the call for establishment of a U.S.-Russian fund that would serve as a loan mechanism for Western investments in defense conversion activities, with U.S. government assurances that American investors would not incur large losses should their investments turn sour. A related effort centered on documenting lessons learned from a comparative review of regional defense conversion plans in different areas of Russia (NRC, 1993c, 1993d). Closely related to this interacademy focus on defense conversion was another project on dual-use technologies. It concentrated at first on the activities at defense firms in Perm that had always worked behind a veil of
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation secrecy. In addition to pondering the difficulties encountered in trying to attract investors to finance civilian-oriented activities at these firms, the project looked at the export control aspects of marketing dual-use technologies internationally. During the 1980s, NRC expert committees had conducted several studies of export control issues that provided helpful background for this project (NRC, 1987b, 1991b). The project culminated in a joint report of the two academies that set forth a set of guidelines for balancing the commercial and export control objectives of Russian conversion programs. The report was particularly helpful to several Russian legislators during the 1993 debates of dual-use issues in the lower house of the Russian parliament, known at that time as the Supreme Soviet (NRC, 1994). A third interacademy effort was the continuation of the exchange of young researchers in economics. At meetings in Moscow and Leningrad in mid-1991, young specialists from the two countries prepared joint papers and set the stage for sustained cooperation on a direct specialist-to-specialist basis. The topics of continuing interest included internal currency markets, price reform, enterprise reform, and environmental economics (NRC, 1991c: 12). These interacademy activities in the field of economics had little immediate influence on policies in Russia or the United States because of the many larger efforts being carried out under the auspices of various Western governments. However, the dialogues sponsored by the academies attracted important specialists from both countries who subsequently played a significant role in developing the intellectual framework for the never-ending debates about the economics of a country in transition. Thus, the interacademy program clearly had an indirect “educational” impact on the economic policies designed and implemented in Russia during the 1990s. SAVING RUSSIAN SCIENCE At the request of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in early 1992 the National Academy of Sciences brought together over 100 policy officials and technology specialists from the American science and technology community to consider how to energize Russia’s rapidly declining research capability. They considered (1) the decline in pay for Russian weapons scientists and engineers who might be tempted to look to unreliable countries for financial support; (2) the Russian government’s dramatic cutting of support for basic research programs; (3) the difficulties encountered in trying to commercialize Russian technology; and (4) the
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation lack of significant programs of interdisciplinary, problem-oriented research. Recommendations in each of these areas were included in the report of the conference (NRC, 1992d). Several suggestions were eventually incorporated into intergovernmental and private sector programs, with advocacy by the NAS an important factor in encouraging their acceptance. The recommendations highlighted, for example: the importance of adopting a broad definition of weapons scientists who would be eligible for financial support through the soon-to-be-established International Science and Technology Center in Moscow. (In short order, the center adopted this approach.) the opportunities for easily dispensing new funding for cooperation with Russian colleagues through the extramural programs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense. (This concept was almost immediately put in place by several agencies.) endorsement of a congressional initiative to establish a research foundation for support of science in the former Soviet Union. (Several years later, Congress established the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation.) Other perennial issues that were considered, but that garnered few new ideas for their resolution, included the inadequate legal framework for intellectual property rights in Russia, the stifling effect of taxes on grants for scientific research, and the need to refurbish Russian laboratories on a massive scale. The 1992 gathering of American specialists was only one in a series of meetings that set out to “save Russian science.” However, even at this early date many leading Russian scientists found this objective far too broad and began calling for steps to save world-class “schools of Russian science.” Subsequent interacademy meetings attended by RAS leaders and significant Russian government officials, as well as leading American officials and representatives of professional societies, were of special importance in such an effort. These meetings were held in Washington and Moscow during 1992 and 1993. Among the topics of special concern were the brain drain from Russia and within Russia; ways to stimulate and retain the interest of Russian youth in science, including the broadening of access to computers in schools; and international concerns over global ecology and energy issues.
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation These topics had been raised in U.S.-Soviet dialogues in previous years, but with the Russian economy in a shambles there seemed to be a more receptive audience among funders searching for program opportunities. Also of continuing concern was the stagnant state of social science research in Russia—the result of most of the accomplished social scientists being called to government service. Finally, the NRC developed an ambitious plan to analyze the mobility of Russian scientists within the country, but, lacking a financial sponsor, the plan was destined to remain in a file drawer (NRC, 1992c: 4). In late 1992 the NRC organized another significant conference in Washington that developed a framework for a proposed action plan that cut across many topics (NRC, 1993e). These topics included: organizing a new program of competitively awarded research grants, with the funds to be transferred directly into the hands of the selected Russian scientists collecting books, journals, and other material to help restock depleted Russian scientific libraries rebuilding the human and physical infrastructures needed to support scientific research preserving unique specimen collections and data sets in various fields organizing outreach programs in Russia to stimulate public support for science devising a mechanism to coordinate Western assistance programs that could help Russian science and technology activities. The NRC then turned again to the poor state of social sciences in Russia. At another 1992 meeting, leading American and Russian specialists urged government action to help maintain the libraries of Russia, to upgrade them with computer systems and reference material, and to link them together electronically. The group also pointed to the need to identify and preserve the many data sets scattered throughout the country. And they called for greater opportunities for researchers to spend time in the Unites States, where they could develop model curricula for use by Russian universities (NRC, 1992a). Also during 1992, the NAS supported the initial deliberations organized by businessman and philanthropist George Soros that eventually led to the establishment of the International Science Foundation. The founda-
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation tion was designed to provide temporary financial support for selected Russian researchers. The NAS leadership actively participated in development of this initiative, and the NRC played a significant peer review role in ensuring the scientific integrity of the life sciences program that emerged (Dezhina, 1999). The NAS also reached out to counterpart organizations in Europe, which shared concerns about the decline of science in Russia. At meetings hosted in 1995 and 1996 in London by the Royal Society and in Moscow and Paris by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), NAS representatives helped to chart possible paths for collaborative programs. At these meetings it became clear that the NAS was well ahead of European academies in putting in place its own programs and in encouraging the government to pay greater attention to the plight of Russian scientists and engineers (NRC, 1992b: 3). REORIENTING THE INTERACADEMY EXCHANGE PROGRAM In 1992 the NAS and the RAS entered into a new interacademy agreement that significantly changed the approach to exchanges of individual scientists. For more than 30 years, individual exchanges had been based on nominations of scientists by the sending academy. The receiving academy would then attempt to place the nominees at appropriate research facilities for periods of two weeks to one year. As noted earlier, during the 1980s the NAS had tried to encourage nominees to obtain invitations for visits from colleagues in the other country, but this approach was not working well. In fact, most of the nominees did not have invitations from prospective hosts. The selection of some Soviet nominees had continued to be based more on the relationship of the nominees with the ASUSSR bureaucracy rather than on scientific merit. Also, American hosts simply did not know many of the nominees and agreed to receive them as a courtesy to the NAS rather than from a desire to establish genuine collaboration (NRC, 1991a: 1). The new system under which Russian scientists would travel to the United States was simple, at least from Washington’s perspective. The host American scientist would invite a Russian colleague to visit and then apply to the NAS for financial support. The NAS would decide which applications to support on the basis of merit, knowing that the hosts—who were the applicants—were genuinely interested in receiving the visitors. As for American travelers to Russia, the interested American would apply to the NAS with an invitation from a Russian colleague in hand, and again the
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation participants would be selected on the basis of merit. In both cases, the American scientist would make all the administrative arrangements, with the NAS simply providing a travel grant. At first, this change caused some consternation on the Russian side, because the RAS had its own list of Russians it wanted to send to the United States. But soon the new approach was accepted, and the exchange program, which now is better described as a “grants” program, has worked well since the change, which is described in more detail in Chapter 5. Meanwhile, the NAS and the RAS leaderships established an ad hoc interacademy panel to recommend new modes of cooperation. The suggestions of the panel seemed sound, but most were not implemented because of a lack of financial sponsors. These suggestions included the establishment of electronic clearinghouses in the two countries to track cooperative projects, and thereby avoid unnecessary duplication, and an emphasis on exchanges in areas in which Russian institutions had different but complementary capabilities such as high-temperature superconductors, the physics and chemistry of fullerenes, and energy conservation. One suggestion, which was adopted many years later on a limited basis, called for inviting Russian specialists to serve as members of NRC study panels (NRC, 1993a: 1). By 1994 the NAS and RAS had considered a broad array of policy and program initiatives by the two governments, by the academies, and by other institutions that could be helpful as Russia began to realign its political structures and to move toward a market-oriented economy. The time had come for launching new projects of interest to members of the two academies, and the remaining chapters of this report address some of the most important interacademy projects during the past decade. These projects were, however, affected by two important changes in U.S.-Russian scientific cooperation during the early 1990s as the Russian economy continued its downward spiral and as Western governments adopted a foreign assistance mentality in dealing with Russia. First, almost all American organizations began paying the expenses associated with Russian visitors traveling to the United States in addition to covering the expenses for American visitors to Russia. The principal exception was official delegations sent by the Russian government to the United States—these delegations paid their own way, using Russian government funds. In most cases, then, the NRC has had to shoulder the task of raising larger sums of money than in earlier years when the costs of cooperative projects were shared, and this practice of the NRC carrying most of the financial burden continues to this day.
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation Second, there was a sharp decline in the number of Russian specialists with international experience who were in a position to arrange cooperative programs for academy institutions. Some of their most skilled colleagues had taken more lucrative positions in the private sector and were not replaced. At the same time, so many Western organizations were suddenly interested in arranging cooperative projects that the Russian gatekeepers were overwhelmed. They preferred to put at the head of the line the deal that appeared to be the most financially rewarding for themselves. Fortunately, the activities of the NAS rooted in formal interacademy agreements continued with few disruptions, but occasionally projects were delayed as other more lucrative arrangements received new attention in Moscow. In short, just as life in Russia was rapidly changing, the character of U.S.-Russian cooperation was undergoing a major transformation as well. But as the opportunities for cooperation expanded dramatically, there was a significant danger that the quality of programs would decline. In some instances, Western enthusiasm to visit previously isolated geographic regions in Russia, to walk through closed facilities, and to drink vodka with new acquaintances with innovative achievements in their résumés pushed considerations of quality and the potential impact of new exchange activities into the background. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the NAS to science during this period of transition was its steadfast determination to demonstrate that quality still mattered in cooperative undertakings. Other, less visible organizations also consistently stressed scientific integrity, but some organizations on both sides of the ocean seemed more interested in having scientific “events” than in advancing science.
Representative terms from entire chapter: