Importantly, scientific cooperation continued and even increased as technical cooperation and the joint accomplishment of more practical engineering goals became more visible. This is a healthy situation and very likely a necessary prerequisite for the long-term stability of scientific and technical cooperation. Because its goals are both for the longer term and of world interest (as distinct from shorter-term goals of national or bilateral interest), scientific cooperation serves as a flywheel to smooth what are otherwise the potentially destructive starts and stops of a purely project-oriented technical cooperative relationship.
Moreover, a relationship of scientific cooperation provides a framework for working-level discussions that can lead to new forms of technical cooperation and (importantly) to new technical concepts that can be the tools for advancing mutually beneficial national purposes. Sometimes, as suggested below, scientific cooperation can provide new frameworks and paths forward, ranging from universally agreed-upon technical principles (such as those of nuclear physics) to issues over which the two nations’ political positions seem irreconcilable.
What are some of the required characteristics of robust, productive scientific cooperation?
It is primarily directed science, with an appropriate smaller admixture of curiosity-driven science that balances the portfolio. The areas of discourse must be specified in advance, at a high level, by the governments of the two nations, according to their mutual interests.
It is science and not engineering development. Within specified areas, it begins with working-level discussions. The selection of technologies for accomplishing goals is an output of the scientific process, not an input.
It involves a peer relationship between scientists of the two nations. Working scientists from both sides are equally and mutually involved in agenda setting, exploratory research, project definition, and project execution.
It is a partnership. It is reasonable to suppose that each side will contribute resources in support of the cooperation. It is not a one-sided assistance program (although it may have beneficial effects that have that result).
Unfortunately, it appears that after an initial creative burst of laboratory-to-laboratory interactions in the early 1990s, scientific cooperation has rarely met the sustainable cooperation requirements outlined above, and there has been a significant cost in missed opportunities. Although the programmatic successes of the last decade have indubitably made the world a safer place than it might otherwise have been (see the next section), neither the Russian nor the American side has really succeeded in tapping, for the purposes of nonproliferation, that enormous brainpower assembled by each side for national security purposes during the Cold War.
In the opinion of the joint committee, the administration of U.S.-Russian nonproliferation programs has been so inflexible as to generally preclude the kind of creative, midcourse scientific corrections that are necessary for sustainable success. The American scientists involved in these programs believe that their assignments are often little more than project management (financial, administrative, and so on) and that their scientific training and creative abilities are neither engaged nor valued. Russian scientists articulate the frustration of being on the receiving end of this project management, with little or no involvement in project definition phases and little or no flexibility in the execution of projects. They, too, believe that their creative abilities go unrecognized and that innovative possibilities are ignored. When U.S. or Russian scientists turn away from nonproliferation risks because of these frustrations, the cooperative nonproliferation effort loses not only their expertise but also their institutional memory and the continuity that stems from long-term working relationships.
High rates of personnel turnover at the working level on the American side place existing and future programs at risk, in the view of Russian experts. American scientists find that assignments in the existing programs are so unrewarding scientifically (“numbingly bureaucratic”) and offer so little opportunity for creative scientific work that assignees seek other work at the earliest opportunity.
At the same time, American scientists believe that their Russian colleagues, when they are dividing their time between U.S.-Russian cooperative projects and purely Russian institute work, exhibit a far greater degree of commitment to the latter. Even though there is nothing intrinsically wrong or unexpected about this, it does highlight the fact that existing cooperative programs are not considered desirable assignments for the best scientific talent of either country.
Both Russian and American scientists are eager to tackle the hard technical issues that might genuinely advance the cause of nonproliferation, not only in a bilateral context but also internationally, if they could do so genuinely as scientists seeking innovative new technologies in an atmosphere of peer partnership. It is important that future programs be structured to take advantage of this talent pool before it becomes irretrievably lost to nonproliferation efforts, specifically, by providing the participants from both countries with an appropriate degree of flexibility and autonomy regarding technical decisions in both the project definition and the project execution phases. The joint committee recommends that in future projects agency leaders and project planners actively seek opportunities to incorporate appropriate scientific flexibility for participants from both countries so that the scientific expertise can be used as effectively as possible and so that such projects can be made more attractive to the best scientific talent in each country.