With or without bilateral cooperation, the two countries are viewed as pathfinders in many aspects of biosafety. The stakes are large, as the safety of people is on the line. Thus, it is better for the two countries to be working together and exchanging experiences in this regard than working along uncoordinated separate paths. Bioengagement can help ensure that this is the case.
The two countries have different sets of international contacts that open doors between counterparts and collectively provide excellent global coverage of almost all important research that could lead to significant discoveries in the biological sciences. Many developing countries have very few scientists who can address rapidly the emergence of new biology-oriented issues. For them to be able to simultaneously draw on U.S. and Russian mentors can avoid waste of time and money and reduce international misunderstandings and confusion.
In summary, historical reasons account for the different paths of the two countries in exploring many aspects of the phenomena encountered in the life sciences. They have established different priorities and developed different capabilities; but their common interests are magnified as both countries uncover new phenomena and attempt to assess the long-term impacts on health, agriculture, and the environment. Cooperation in understanding scientific discoveries, giving due consideration to both historical insights and biases, can increasingly benefit scientists and policy officials in the two countries.
Whether Russia’s new innovation complex at Skolkovo, for example, meets its biomedical goals or falls short, the energy and resources of leading U.S. and Russian officials and investors devoted to this high-profile undertaking will probably be substantial. It is better for respected U.S. and Russian scientists to be jointly involved in assessing the potential benefits of devoting efforts to this route of cooperation, which seems to have assured financial support from the Russian government, than simply to speculate about the biomedical activities that are carried out or should be carried out by others. While the short-term payoff from such cooperation may be difficult to measure, collaborating scientists will be able to provide insightful perspectives that might not be otherwise raised in discussions of this important development. In doing so, important personal and organizational relationships will emerge.
The foregoing snapshots of some of the benefits from bilateral cooperation— benefits that have already been observed and additional benefits that are anticipated—lead to the following conclusions:
1. In recent years, bioengagement activities have been undervalued in Washington and Moscow, as reflected in the steady decline in financial support in Washington for joint activities and the reluctance in Moscow to meet commitments to cover one-half of the direct costs of bioengagement.