As we have seen, the life sciences encompass a wide variety of interests and activities. Cooperative programs are quite diversified. The organizations involved in developing and implementing joint efforts are numerous.
While preparation of a single unified strategy on overarching goals, objectives, and approaches for bioengagement that could be adopted by the two governments is unrealistic, oversight of important elements of bioengagement both at high governmental levels and at working levels has been important in the past. Now, supportive oversight by the two governments will be particularly significant as scientific leaders in the two countries consider adjusting their program priorities and budgets to correspond with changes in the political and economic environments, globally and bilaterally, that affect cooperation.
Broad statements by the governments concerning common interests have frequently provided general guidance on important program goals and activities. As underscored in previous chapters, in the life sciences there are many examples of program approaches that have led to scientific, environmental, social, economic, and security benefits for both countries. Official pronouncements concerning joint approaches have often been useful in focusing attention on successes and on future opportunities for cooperation that build on past achievements.
JOINT PROGRAM STRATEGIES
At times, the U.S. and Russian governments—and also private-sector institutions in the two countries—have adopted broad program strategies for helping to guide clusters of bilateral activities in areas of particular interest. Occasionally, these strategies have been jointly developed and incorporated into agreements
(e.g., agreement between the National Institutes of Health and the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2011, which involves additional institutions from both sides as well). More frequently, each side has developed its own program strategy, taking into account—at least to some extent—the priority interests of the other side. In both countries, organizations interested in bioengagement must often present to budget officials the political, economic, and scientific contexts for requests for funding of relevant activities.
Intergovernmental agreements sometimes set forth important frameworks for programs. More detailed approaches have been included in (a) memoranda of understanding involving government departments, ministries, or institutions in the two countries (e.g., many memoranda and protocols concerning health cooperation); (b) government calls for proposals from the scientific community for cooperative projects, which are to be submitted by interested organizations in parallel in each country (e.g., parallel calls during 2007–2009 for proposals for collaborative high-technology research at universities in the two countries by the Department of Education and the Ministry for Education and Science); or (c) jointly developed program documents that provide the frameworks for specific bilateral activities (e.g., project agreements based on the International Science and Technology Center [ISTC] model agreement of 1998).
At times, agreements provide “umbrella” provisions for activities in a variety of fields, with the biological sciences only one of many fields of interest (e.g., Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation renewed in 2010). A few agreements have been focused specifically on selected aspects of the biological sciences (e.g., Protocol of Intent between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Rospotrebnadzor of 2012, which was directed to reducing communicable and noncommunicable diseases).
In addition, general approaches to bilateral scientific cooperation are frequently discussed during formal meetings and informal consultations between representatives of the concerned organizations—such as ministries or universities—of the two countries. The results of these discussions are then reflected in subsequent actions by the parties to the discussions. The details may or may not be set forth in agreed documents.
Many private companies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations have their own strategies that they have developed with counterparts in the other country (e.g., contract of 2012 between the Skolkovo Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on establishment of the Skolkovo Institute of Technology). At times, the approaches have been explicitly endorsed by the two governments, often reflecting financial and other types of support to be provided by the governments for the activities (e.g., announcement in 2012 by the two governments of joint efforts to help eradicate polio in Uzbekistan). At other times, the governments have applauded planned cooperative activities, even though they have not been directly involved in the development of the agreed approaches.
Frequently, individual institutions, and particularly private companies and
universities, have used their own internal resources to develop and begin implementation of cooperative activities that are of interest to them and their foreign counterparts (e.g., training programs organized in 2009 by Purdue University, with support of Eli Lilly and Company, to train Russian specialists in the conduct of clinical trials). Occasionally, these initial contacts develop into larger efforts supported by the two governments or by private funding. Others have remained quite focused and limited in scope.
Whatever form formal arrangements take, persistence to continue cooperation over many years within an agreed framework of understanding has often contributed both to the advancement of science and to the strengthening of bilateral relationships. But at the same time, some institutional initiatives have been short-lived due to (a) financial, administrative, or technical difficulties that were not foreseen or adequately considered when the contacts were first developed or (b) erosion of interest of the early advocates of cooperation.
Agreements setting forth long-term strategic approaches (e.g., more than 5 years) have been few in number. Still, an agreement of indefinite duration may become a long-term arrangement (e.g., agreement between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ministry for Natural Resources that dates from the 1990s). Long-term commitments that are set forth in formal arrangements, such as those included in the 10-year intergovernmental Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation (once renewed in 2010), are almost always cast in very general terms. Thus, they are more useful in providing a basis for international activities that is respected in both countries than in proscribing the specific types of activities that are to be pursued. Most agreements contain commitments for periodic consultations to review progress in implementing agreed activities and to consider future activities (e.g., Agreement on Cooperation in Science, Engineering, and Medicine between the U.S. National Academies and the Russian Academy of Sciences of 2008).
In the past, concerns about the inadequacy of financial resources for bioengagement have often outweighed other issues that need to be resolved before the signing of agreements. Frequently, agreements have been signed without assurance that funds will be available for implementation. As budgets become tighter, concerns over false expectations as to program activities increase.
In summary, joint program strategies are important, although they may take many forms. Typically, they are carefully developed on a joint basis. And the participating institutions usually make a commitment to implement a joint strategy, at least at the outset. It may be necessary to adjust strategies as projects are formulated and implemented. Such adjustments should, of course, involve the support of all participating parties. The need for a strategic approach to biodiversity, for example, is set forth in Box 9-1.
Preservation of Biodiversity of the Northern Hemisphere
Russia and the United States are home to a significant portion of global biodiversity, including northern coniferous forests of the taiga, tundra, and other ecological zones. As human activities intensify and climate changes, preservation of these economically and environmentally important species is increasingly difficult. The enormous ecosystem services that they provide are poorly understood, and opportunities abound for Russia and the United States to jointly improve understanding of these services for the common good.
SOURCE: Leading American biodiversity expert, August 2012.
THE BILATERAL PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION
As noted in earlier chapters, in 2009 the two governments established a Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC). The BPC established a wide-ranging framework for intergovernmental cooperation in many fields, setting forth some principles that are akin to pronouncements found in very broad strategy documents. (See Appendix E.1.)
Twenty-two working groups were active in September 2012 under the umbrella of the commission. At least six considered activities involving the life sciences. At times, the efforts supported by one of the working groups have overlapped with interests of other working groups, but this has not become a major concern. The six working groups are as follows:
4. Education, Culture, Sports, and Media
5. Science and Technology
In general, the working groups have concentrated on providing political support for programs with near-term program payoffs of mutual interest. Special attention has been given to reducing impediments to implementation of programs. Probably their most important contribution has been the forums they have provided for senior policy officials to focus on engagement.
The lack of funding for carrying out innovative ideas has been a frequent
concern of members of the working groups. In principle, a working group may bring to the attention of the leadership of the BPC opportunities for a new high-payoff initiative. The BPC may then encourage appropriate organizations in each country with access to funding for the initiative. However, they have been quite focused on near-term actions, which already have commitments of funding that will quickly lead to results of interest to the two governments.
Given the broad-ranging bioengagement activities that cross a number of working groups, the BPC could usefully organize overarching reviews of bioengagement activities, perhaps biannually. These reviews could include activities of the private sector as well as government-sponsored activities. In view of the rapid advancement and spread of biotechnology capabilities throughout the world and the impacts of such advances on the very essence of life (e.g., health, food, and environmental conditions), the reviews could be important not only in improving coordination and stimulating joint activities but also in bringing to the attention of interested scientific communities approaches that have proven valuable.
ROLE OF THE ISTC AND FUTURE COORDINATION
For the past 18 years, the International Science and Technology Center has provided a useful mechanism for facilitating development and implementation of many bilateral as well as multilateral projects in the life sciences carried out in Russia. The programs have been oriented in large measure to redirection to civilian tasks of underemployed former defense scientists. ISTC programs have also attracted participation of many other scientists who were not involved in defense activities, but who have high-technology skills. Past cooperative projects have often involved strong research institutions in the United States and Russia, while addressing pressing problems of the present and future.
The committee commends the achievements of the ISTC in facilitating hundreds of bioengagement activities. (See Appendix E.2.) Now, as Russia prepares to withdraw from the ISTC in 2015, the governments of the United States and Russia, along with other ISTC parties, need to carefully consider how they can continue to benefit from the positive legacies of the center in promoting successful international engagement in the life sciences. There has been much discussion in Moscow and in other capitals as to whether a successor organization to the ISTC that emphasizes international science cooperation, and only secondarily promotes nonproliferation objectives, should be established in Moscow.
For many years, Russia has been a principal beneficiary of programs facilitated by the ISTC. Russia now has a responsibility to help ensure that the details of the unique and highly successful experiments of the ISTC in the biological sciences, as well as in other fields, will continue to be available to the international community for the indefinite future. The United States and other ISTC parties can assist in this effort, but Russia has important perspectives and insights that
are essential in capitalizing on 18 years of international investments in ISTC activities.
As the ISTC experiment comes to an end in Russia, a new phase of cooperation should be developed and become even more successful. The current trend is to emphasize cooperation in rapid development of biotechnology capabilities of interest to organizations in both countries. But such an effort can only be successful if buttressed by strong basic research capabilities in the two countries, as discussed in Chapter 10.
In principle, bilateral cooperation organized by individual scientists on their own is certainly possible and highly desirable. In the ideal case, these scientists should need to rely only on their partners in the other country for facilitative services, e.g., arrangement of visas, travel, working areas, and so on. Of course, the interested U.S. and Russian partners must have the necessary financial resources and must be prepared to work within the confines of export control and other international agreements and national laws that define constraints on cooperation.
Three observations are offered concerning the facilitating of cooperative research activities, following the closing of the ISTC office in Moscow. The need for different types of arrangements will depend on the extent to which the U.S. and Russian governments, and to a lesser extent nongovernmental entities, finance cooperative activities.
1. The two governments have science-oriented diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the Russian Embassy in Washington, and they can at times help facilitate cooperative science activities.
2. In Chapter 10, a recommendation of the committee to establish a new bilateral Research Fund is presented. The fund should take on responsibility for supporting implementation of the grants that it awards—a modest but still important task.
3. The working group on impediments of the Science and Technology Working Group of the BPC will presumably continue to improve implementation procedures of the two countries and could give special attention to adjusting to the aftermath of the ISTC.