The Foreign Ministry will continue to support the inter-academy program on ethnic challenges and radiological security. Inform me or my staff if you encounter difficulties.
– Senior Russian Foreign Ministry official during discussion in December 2019 about the most recent NAS-RAS workshop in Moscow
NAS engagement with significant Russian organizations and specialists is very important in keeping open the door until the day when the two governments can again directly engage on issues concerning radiological security.
– Senior career program official of the U.S. Department of Energy, March 2020
We appreciate your progress in engaging the Russian ministries, and we remain supportive of your efforts.
– Senior career policy official of the U.S. Department of State, August 2020
SETTING THE STAGE FOR FUTURE COOPERATION
In August 2020, 150 well-known American scientists and foreign policy experts, including 15 participants in National Academy of Sciences-Russian Academy of Sciences (NAS-RAS) collaborative activities that were discussed in previous chapters, urged the U.S. and Russian governments to put aside political acrimony and work together in the security and scientific arenas. These signers of a joint statement published by a respected nongovernmental organization in Washington, D.C., underscored that continuing collaborative efforts undertaken during recent years could help reduce the likelihood of armed hostilities, a concern that has been increasing. While the emphasis of the joint statement was on sustaining current commitments of the two governments to arms control agreements and on increasing international efforts that could limit the severity of climate change, the broader message was clear.
The continued loss of international leadership by the United States and Russia in supporting science-based activities of mutual interest, working both independently and together, has eroded global security in a variety of ways.1
This final chapter addresses the future of U.S.-Russia cooperation in important fields of security concern, building on the types of activities considered in previous chapters. It also recognizes the importance of developments in related areas appearing on the horizon. As highlighted in earlier chapters, cooperation has focused on understanding the basis for ethnic disputes leading to violence; promoting responsible biological research; encouraging enhancement of radiological security; addressing various forms of terrorism; and recognizing the political realities in assessing approaches to reduce tensions in Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
Several important considerations in carrying out future terrorism-related cooperative activities are the following. Significant support by the governments of the two countries will continue to be critical in sustaining cooperation. The ease of organizing and carrying out collaboration in various locations will be crucial in attracting appropriate participants. The practical aspects of effectively involving scientists from third countries and international organizations in future NAS-RAS activities—whether they be in-person or electronic interactions—should be considered case by case.
Continuing Political Support for NAS-RAS Cooperation
As indicated in previous chapters, both governmental officials and nongovernmental specialists from many organizations have participated in
inter-academy cooperation designed to improve understanding of the roots and trajectories of violent extremism and terrorism in various forms. Visas for participants in events have been issued on time. Rarely have committed scientists dropped out before the events. When they were unable to participate, the reason has almost always been “unexpected conflicts” in the scheduling of competing activities. Regarding security concerns, invited participants with ties to their governments have usually checked the appropriateness of their participation before they committed to attending scheduled events.
When considering topics that have important security dimensions, governmental limitations on participation by some scientists, particularly if meetings are not held in their home countries, have occasionally been of concern. Also, visits by foreign scientists to facilities in the United States and in Russia where classified activities are underway will continue to be difficult to organize. Even with such constraints, the NAS-RAS discussions have usually been of interest to the governments as well as to the participants.
As previously noted, cross-ocean in-person cooperation requires financial support—from governments, from foundations, from institutions of the participants, and/or from the participants themselves. The costs of Zoom interactions are quite modest; but the importance and effect of such meetings are still uncertain. Most of the activities considered in the previous chapters, which were in-person activities, were carried out with financial support by governmental organizations in one or both countries. At times, foundations and the academies themselves covered some of the expenses.
Also of importance, working jointly in the sensitive areas addressed by the academies of the two countries would not have been possible without the explicit or implicit agreement at high levels of the two governments. Fortunately, at present the governmental views in Washington and Moscow about future NAS-RAS activities related to global terrorism seem positive, even during political difficulties in the U.S.-Russian intergovernmental relationship.
Documenting Views and Suggestions of Participants in Inter-Academy Events
As previously noted, a significant characteristic of inter-academy activities considered in this report has been the participation of specialists from both countries who have had close ties with officials of their governments. These connections have eased the flow of observations and suggestions from academy venues to policy circles after completion of deliberations.
Also, the participation of well-informed and well-connected scientists has been in ensuring that discussion topics are scientifically significant and do not unknowingly duplicate related activities taking place in other venues.
A directly related lesson learned is that documentation detailing the basis for findings and conclusions during inter-academy meetings, studies, and other activities should be prepared, even if there are delays in issuing some reports. Reports, or at least summaries of reports, are most effective when they are prepared in both English and Russian.2
Involving Scientists from Third Countries in NAS-RAS Projects
While the NAS and the RAS were the principal organizers of the events discussed in this report, a significant number of scientists and officials from other countries also participated in some activities. This was the case for all events that were held in countries other than Russia and the United States, where local scientists also participated. During these events held in third countries, local government officials usually extended welcomes to the participants in the meetings, often highlighting activities of relevance in the region surrounding the meeting site. Also, local scientists were important participants in the activities. The importance of involving experts from other countries in future U.S.-Russian dialogues is illustrated by a 2021 European Union initiative being conducted by scientists from several countries, including Russia. This initiative will identify and support implementation of steps to improve security at religious sites that take into account the activities at a wide variety of locations across the continent, historical relationships of religious groups and group leaders with local authorities, and ingrained habits and personal aspirations among followers of different religions. Among the topics to be addressed are the following:
- Encouraging cooperation among religious leaders and security specialists in addressing evacuation procedures, safe havens within the sites, and communication and cooperation with law enforcement officials, while maintaining dignity and order within the sites.
- Adapting for use at religious sites existing guidelines for protection against chemical, biological, and high-explosion incidents; methods for recognition of unknown persons; personnel protection methods; security of irreplaceable items; and preparation of safe zones should incidents occur.
- Working with faith-based leaders in increasing awareness of threats when appropriate; improving internal communication, warning, and response requirements; and advocating appropriate procedures, behavior, and responsibilities of congregations.3
While the foregoing activities may seem elementary to professional security officials, incorporating them within the daily routines at religious sites must deal with beliefs dating back centuries, congregations that are skeptical about government involvement in their religious activities, and personal attitudes as to the appropriate role of governments.
THE NEXT STEPS
In early 2020 (before the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic), the NAS and the RAS agreed to organize a third workshop on the topic of extremism and radiological security during late 2020 in Moscow. The workshop has now been rescheduled for late fall 2022. The presentations and discussions by the participants are to explore in more detail than in previous workshops a few topics that were on previous agendas, along with new topics. A continuing objective of the workshop series is to develop and disseminate to the global community important perspectives on the how, why, when, and where of radiological terrorism.
Several examples of important themes—both old and new—that may be addressed during the 2022 workshop are as follows. The malevolent use of radiation-emitting sources inside shopping malls, at sports venues, and within transportation terminals deserves more attention. The feasibility of permanent disposal of liquid radioactive waste beyond simply long-term storage is difficult but of increasing importance. Concern is rapidly increasing that technological advances in drones, robots, and artificial intelligence will enhance the capabilities of terrorists to acquire and use ingredients for dirty bombs; but at the same time these technologies can be adapted to enhance the protection of radiation sources. Progress has been made in some countries in replacing the use of dangerous radiation sources—such as using cesium-137—with less dangerous approaches for medical and other purposes, but the costs of replacing such sources still inhibit broader acceptance of such steps in Russia and elsewhere.
An important objective for the 2022 workshop is to continue to expand the currently limited personal cross-ocean relationships between individuals and teams of researchers in the United States and Russia. These relationships
have begun to stimulate follow-on activities undertaken at the initiative of the participants, including invitations to relevant meetings. Joint research activities and joint publications have also been discussed, but they are still largely in an incubation period.
Two steps are being considered for the 2022 workshop to underscore the importance and feasibility of cross-ocean cooperation through a variety of channels. First, a breakout group could be established to discuss how participants can pursue common interests beyond simply participating in inter-academy workshops. Of possible interest are tabletop exercises, intensive explorations of various scenarios by small teams of specialists, and group visits to facilities where emergency response teams train. Less ambitious activities by individuals might involve simply staying in touch as they prepare papers for publication based on related research endeavors.
Also looking to the future, current plans call for several graduate students from Russia and the United States to participate in the next workshop. These students will be able to describe their research activities and interim findings while also making contacts that may offer windows to future engagement.
In short, the 2022 workshop is intended to conclude the most recent series of NAS-RAS workshops focused on violence and terrorism. Discussions during the workshop should help set the stage for other topics or other forms of collaboration based on similar or different topics for future NAS-RAS programs.
“Security” considerations have always surrounded many aspects of U.S.-Russian scientific relations. This report has focused on program activities that involved security concerns. The NAS and the RAS have unique experience in working together on some of the important aspects of security and are in a position to expand their horizons in addressing the ever-emerging technological aspects of terrorism—cyber weapons, robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous weapons, for example.4 At the same time, they may decide to expand their attention to the economic and human dimensions of life—particularly for engineers—in turbulent regions, including not only profiteering but also the social esteem of belonging to groups of like-minded wayward individuals.5
In looking ahead, this report includes 10 appendixes prepared by participants in NAS-RAS activities that address activities of both past and future importance.
- Appendixes A and B provide details on pioneering efforts to understand the drivers of ethnic violence—drivers that remain important in many areas of the world.
- Appendixes C and D provide details of terrorism acts in Moscow and the North Caucasus that remain grim reminders of the brutality of terrorism.
- Appendixes E, F, G, H, I, and J provide insights as to how the scientific communities of the United States and Russia are dealing with some of the difficult roots of terrorism.
1. Gottemoeller, R., T. Graham, F. Hill, J. Huntsman Jr., R. Legvold, and T. R. Pickering. 2020. “It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy.” Open letter in Politico Magazine (August 5).
2. Schweitzer, G. E. 2004. Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p. 88.
3. European Commission. 2020. Internal Security Fund Policies 2014–2020 (ISEP-2020-AG-Protect). https//ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/content/call-proposal-projects-isfp-2020-ag-protect_en.
4. Cronin, A. K. 2019. Power to the People, How Open Technological Innovation Is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 257.
5. Gambetta, D., and S. Hertog. 2018. Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 159.