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Containing Russia's Nuclear Firebirds

Harmony and Change at the International Science and Technology Center

Glenn E. Schweitzer

Publication Year: 2013

In Containing Russia’s Nuclear Firebirds, Glenn E. Schweitzer explores the life and legacy of the International Science and Technology Center in Moscow. He makes the case that the center’s unique programs can serve as models for promoting responsible science in many countries of the world.

Never before have scientists encountered technology with the potential for such huge impacts on the global community, both positive and negative. For nearly two decades following the Soviet Union’s breakup into independent states, the ISTC has provided opportunities for underemployed Russian weapon scientists to redirect their talents toward civilian research. The center has championed the role of science in determining the future of civilization and has influenced nonproliferation policies of Russia and other states in the region. Most important, the center has demonstrated that modest investments can encourage scientists of many backgrounds to shun greed and violence and to take leading roles in steering the planet toward prosperity and peace.

Schweitzer contends that the United States and other western and Asian countries failed to recognize the importance, over time, of modifying their donor-recipient approach to dealing with Russia. In April 2010 the Russian government announced that it would withdraw from the ISTC agreement. After expenditures exceeding one billion dollars, the ISTC’s Moscow Science Center will soon close its doors, leaving a legacy that has benefited Russian society as well as partners from thirty-eight countries. Schweitzer argues that a broader and more sustained movement is now needed to help prevent irresponsible behavior by dissatisfied or misguided scientists and their patrons.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Studies in Security and International Affairs

Praise, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

So read part of a diplomatic note addressed to the executive director of the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) announcing Russia’s withdrawal from the center. A Russian colleague forwarded the note to me in mid-July 2011. I had spent twenty-seven months in Moscow in the early 1990s leading the on-the-ground effort ...

Significant Events in the History of the ISTC

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pp. xv-xviii

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1. A Unique Experiment for Security and Prosperity

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pp. 1-17

Economic chaos prevailed as the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen independent states in 1991. Once-secret research and development organizations throughout the new Russian Federation began to open their doors to foreign visitors, who indicated that they might finance advanced technology activities directed to peaceful purposes. ...

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2. Off to a Fast Start (1994–2000)

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pp. 18-34

The political turmoil in Moscow in the fall of 1993 led President Boris Yeltsin to abolish the Russian Parliament (then called the Supreme Soviet) that was created when the Soviet Union splintered into fifteen separate countries. My Russian colleagues anticipated that in the wake of this political clash, the Duma, ...

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3. An Era of Euphoria (2001–2006)

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pp. 35-55

The ISTC entered the first decade of the twenty-first century on a high note. Praises for its work were coming from all directions. Governments in North America, Europe, and Asia were pleased with their financial investments as both nonproliferation and scientific returns seemed obvious to all. ...

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4. Unraveling of the Moscow Science Center (2007–2011)

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pp. 56-84

With strong words of praise from the funding parties and accolades from scientists throughout Russia and other member states, in 2007 the ISTC seemed poised to continue blazing new pathways for coordinating international interests in many fields of science. The following ISTC-sponsored workshops and seminars in cities of Russia during 2007, ...

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5. The World Market for High-Tech Expertise

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pp. 85-103

As the Soviet Union splintered into fifteen independent nations, “stop the brain drain in Russia” became the mantra of both nonproliferation specialists and promoters of international scientific collaboration in many countries. Indeed, concern over a brain drain in dangerous directions was the primary driver for the establishment of the ISTC. ...

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6. The Long Road to a Silicon Valley in Russia

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pp. 104-125

Thomas Edison often said, “If I can’t sell it, I don’t want to invent it.”1 Both aging Russian researchers and the new generation of scientists now realize that a successful transition to a market economy requires more attention to Edison’s practical philosophy. For the time being, with very few exceptions, Russian researchers should keep in the distant background their dreams ...

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7. U.S.-Russia Bilateral Engagement Programs

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pp. 126-152

As the ISTC was being established in the early 1990s, a number of U.S. government departments and agencies were rapidly increasing their expenditures for technology-related contracts with Russian organizations. These expenditures soon climbed into the tens of millions of dollars each year. ...

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8. The Nuclear File

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pp. 153-169

When diplomats first raised the concept in 1991 of an international center to support redirection of Russian weapons scientists’ expertise to civilian tasks, the threat of primitive nuclear bombs constructed by disenfranchised rogue groups was in the forefront of the discussions. The possibility of a nuclear catastrophe dominated ISTC deliberations for many years. ...

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9. The Biosecurity File

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pp. 170-183

Rapid advances in the biological sciences and biotechnology hold the promise of dramatically improving human health, the food supply, environmental conditions, and other aspects of life. Most biological advances and innovations have originated in the industrialized countries. Now, broad diffusion of biological knowledge and biotechnology capabilities is under way. ...

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10. The Aerospace File

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pp. 184-198

Many stories were circulating in Russia during the early days of the ISTC about the export of rocket and missile components from large Russian enterprises to states in the Middle East and South Asia, where some local officials had questionable security agendas. Analyzing the known and unknown activities of recipients of military hardware produced in Russia ...

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11. Measuring Success

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pp. 199-218

The international nonproliferation community has widely recognized the importance of redirecting underemployed Russian weapons scientists to civilian careers during a time of economic turmoil throughout the country. Each redirected weapons scientist who has changed his or her career has become a small plus sign on a huge screen ...

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12. Replicating ISTC Experiences While Avoiding Pitfalls

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pp. 219-234

As the doors of the ISTC headquarters in Moscow slowly began to close in 2011, a handful of officials from member governments were searching for ways to preserve the center’s legacy. They correctly assumed that lessons learned from transforming a radically new idea about curtailing proliferation into a successful program over seventeen years, ...

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13. The Way Forward

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pp. 235-248

In 2010, reflecting on the successes of the ISTC , the former director of a leading Russian nuclear research center bitterly condemned Russia’s impending withdrawal from the ISTC Agreement with the following assertion: “All Russian stakeholder agencies united in fighting against the ISTC . ...

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pp. 249-250

Nobel Peace Prize or not, government officials around the world have recognized the unique role that the ISTC has played in restraining flocks of nuclear firebirds from flights into dangerous nesting areas. ...


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pp. 270-277

Appendix A. Agreement Establishing an International Science and Technology Center

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pp. 251-259

Appendix B. Protocol on the Provisional Application of the Agreement Establishing an International Science and Technology Center

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pp. 260-261

Appendix C. President Dmitry Medvedev’s Decree No. 534, August 11, 2010

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pp. 262-289

Appendix D. Diplomatic Note on Russian Withdrawal from the ISTC Agreement and Protocol

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pp. 263-290

Appendix E. ISTC Project Funding and Beneficiary Scientists, 1994–2011

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pp. 264-270


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pp. 271-284


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pp. 285-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780820344713
E-ISBN-10: 0820338699
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820338699
Print-ISBN-10: 0820338699

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos, 5 tables, 7 figures
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Security and International Affairs

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- International cooperation.
  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- Former Soviet republics.
  • International Science and Technology Center.
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