Let's Pool US and Russian Technology Skills
FOR 75 years, the United States and the former Soviet Union have engaged in on-again, off-again diplomatic relations - from ally to threat to implacable enemy and back. Now we find ourselves at a potential high point in our relations, trying to develop a relationship of friendship and mutual trust with nations that we once called the "evil empire." This should be a time of great hope, yet social chaos and the desperate economic straits of the former USSR threaten to destroy the prospect of an era of inte rnational stability even before it has begun.
How has the administration proposed to address this volatile situation? Once again, it is business as usual: a stopgap package of humanitarian aid, a currency-stabilization fund, debt rescheduling, and a quick business course in capitalism. This is the same assistance package the US has used for the past 30 years - in Africa, in Latin America, and in Eastern Europe. Its success has ranged from mediocre to abysmal in these regions of the world; why should we expect better success this time?
As Boris Saltykov, Russia's minister of science, higher education, and technology policy, and his colleagues made clear during two days of video-conferences with Congress, Russia is not looking for a handout. A comprehensive aid package must include a substantial scientific and technological component. This can't just be a welfare package for Russian scientists - it must be a partnership that benefits both our nations. Only then can the US be assured that it is fostering economic viability and lasting de mocratic institutions in the new republics. US investment in Russia provides the US with opportunity for economic growth at home.
For over 40 years, Russia has been identified in the minds of most US citizens as a land of dreary apartment buildings, a listless and cowed populace, and a monolithic government. However, this bleak image often has been shattered by dazzling technological achievements, such as the atomic bomb, the first satellite and the first man in space, and breakthroughs in fusion energy. The Soviet Union matched the US stride for stride in many scientific achievements. President Bush announced last month the US acq uisition of Russian space and nuclear technologies that are superior to any in the US.
Fully one-quarter of the "scientific workers" on the planet now reside in the republics of the former Soviet Union, and more than half the world's engineers work there. We cannot ignore this important resource if we truly wish to help the new republics become productive and self-sufficient members of the world community.
What is needed for a complete US/Russia package is the creation of a major nongovernmental foundation jointly funded by the US and Russia that would support mutually beneficial research and development projects between engineers and scientists in the US and the republics. Besides these scientist-to-scientist contacts, the foundation could link high-tech entrepreneurs in the republics to US businesses, giving the US private sector access to a unique pool of promising new technologies. Joint industrial res earch and development projects would provide a "hands-on" introduction to US business practice for fledgling entrepreneurs. The foundation could also encourage and aid US businesses in navigating an unsettled economic and legal environment.
American scientists and engineers already know many Russian specialists in their fields and where the best research opportunities exist. A foundation could capitalize immediately on their knowledge - bypassing clumsy and rigid bureaucracies and funding projects based on technological and scientific merit.
I believe that the interest income from an endowment of $200 million would be sufficient to meet the foundation's goals. When such a foundation is no longer needed, the original US investment would be recoverable. Our experience with similar cooperative ventures with Israel shows that these programs will begin to pay for themselves - in terms of new discoveries, new technologies, new manufacturing processes, and profits - in a very short time.
We know that truly innovative ideas arise more frequently where investigators of different backgrounds and perspectives interact. Properly structured, the foundation's programs could greatly facilitate this type of productive creativity. In addition, a foundation can provide strong impetus for defense conversion, giving highly skilled weapons personnel a financial incentive to develop alternative uses for their knowledge.
The administration's efforts to date have been weak, cautious, and likely ineffectual. For a US program to work, it must be comprehensive, it must be consistent with today's international economic reality, and it must play from US and Russian strengths. Science and technology cooperation must target more than just the few thousand technicians, engineers, and scientists who can create a nuclear device. It must focus on all scientists and engineers - civilian and defense - and help them find ways to channe l their creative efforts into building a technology-based private sector. These goals are not impossible to achieve. All the elements are in place; it needs only the vision and the will to make it work.