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Research Universities
Should Nudge National Policy

by Gary Bertsch


Gary Bertsch is director of the UGA Center for International Trade and Security and University Professor of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs. He is the author and editor of numerous books and articles dealing with issues of technology transfer and control, weapons proliferation, and national and international security.

The Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy identifies the “crossroads of radicalism and technology” as the principal threat to the United States and its allies. Who better than the research university to help policymakers formulate wise decisions about this nexus of terrorism and technology?

We clearly have an interest in joining the national debate. Policy, law and international relations are not the exclusive domain of politicians and diplomats. And new laws, not to mention political decisions relating to homeland and international security, could shake the foundations of academia, both in the United States and abroad. We should — we must — be involved. Our efforts will have a dual effect. They will benefit us by discouraging the 800-hundred-pound gorilla in Washington from unduly infringing on academic inquiry and they will benefit the nation by advancing its security in this age of terrorism.

Patriot Act
First consider the impact of the anti-terrorist campaign on universities. Even before the fires at Ground Zero had been extinguished, Congress had passed, and President Bush approved, the USA Patriot Act, which sought to help federal, state and local governments shore up security and prevent terrorism on our soil. The Act also created a new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security, ushering in the most sweeping overhaul of the executive branch since the days of Harry Truman.

Many feel that Congress rushed through the deliberations leading up to the Patriot Act, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act, and other legislation — laws whose impact we may all live to regret. Indeed, the new security milieu raises as many questions as it answers. For instance, will these new laws make us safer, and at what cost? Will they tend to stifle the research, innovation and legitimate commerce that are the lifeblood of free societies — and thus make the eventual triumph over terrorism a Pyrrhic one?

It behooves the university research community to help answer these questions. We should rein in our defensive reflexes and admit that our endeavors do have mixed and unintended effects. Dramatic advances in science produce breakthroughs that promote the common welfare, but many of these advances, if misused, could make the world more dangerous.

For example, researchers in the biomedical sciences are making discoveries that will complicate the control of biological and chemical weapons. The fall 2001 anthrax episodes underscored the perils of liberal access to biological pathogens; but denying access to such pathogens could fetter critical medical research. How stringently, then, should we control pathogens that can be used as weapons? Advances in molecular biology and biotechnology could yield even more deadly instruments of biological warfare. And the rapidly evolving field of atomic and molecular engineering — nanotechnology — will cause headaches throughout the arms-control community. Yet continued research in these fields is vital.

A catalyst for sound policy
How far should governments go towards regulating scientific inquiry, which thrives on openness and the initiative of the researcher? If we do the right things, research universities like ours can nudge the future toward the positive. We should help our elected representatives find ways to foster homeland and international security without sacrificing the scientific openness and civil liberties we all treasure. From my travels to Washington, D.C., and other national capitols, I can tell you from experience that policymakers and government officials sorely need our help.

Sound policy is a product of scientific understanding, thoughtful analysis of complex issues and competing interests, and an appreciation of the diverse social, cultural and economic forces at work in the world. Universities are ideally suited to help policymakers sort through these issues, which are exceedingly multidisciplinary in nature. We enjoy access to — and produce — some of the best scientific research in the world. We have the freedom to fashion partnerships with others inside and outside academia — and outside our borders — and to pursue unorthodox lines of inquiry. In short, we need to roll up our sleeves and take an active role in public affairs.

Happily, the process is already underway. Vice President Gordhan Patel convened a UGA “Homeland Security Summit” in November 2002, bringing together nearly 100 participants to determine how we could contribute to this common effort. The summit spurred several initiatives on campus to forge research, service and teaching partnerships. It is helping bring in more research dollars and is acting as a catalyst for creative relationships with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with other universities, including the Medical College of Georgia.

Enhancing trade and security
The UGA Center for International Trade and Security, which I direct, is one example of the kind of public service the university can provide. First, working under its parent institution, the new School of Public and International Affairs, the center is working with Congress to craft legislation that intelligently controls the transfer of weapons-related materials — biological pathogens and nuclear materials, to name two — while remaining mindful of scientific openness, the need for robust trade and the legitimate reasons for transferring technology between nations.

Our center is sharing its findings not only within the United States but also with lawmakers and officials from foreign governments and international organizations. Russia, which continues to possess a large stockpile of nuclear materials, has been the object of much of our attention. In 2002 our staff founded the U.S.-Russian Legislative Working Group, a forum that brings Russian parliamentarians to Washington to discuss with their counterparts from the U.S. Congress methods of devising laws to enhance nuclear security and stem weapons proliferation. We also take American lawmakers to Moscow for reciprocal visits. The kind of free-flowing exchange that characterizes these meetings helps cement mutual understanding and camaraderie while promoting joint efforts to counter international terrorism and a host of security challenges.

Our center also monitors the effectiveness of nonproliferation export controls — the laws and regulations regarding traffic in items and substances that might be used to build weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles. Until recently, there were no international standards to measure how well governments and businesses controlled their weapons-related trade and technology transfers. To plug that gap, our center developed a research methodology and used it to evaluate such practices in 35 countries around the globe. Our evaluations have become the worldwide standard, used by governments and researchers to assess how well nations are living up to their non-proliferation obligations. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) praised the center for dealing “with the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at as great a distance from our borders as possible, since it is only by strengthening the first lines of defense abroad that the U.S. can hope to prepare successfully for the threat at home.”

Our center also conducts research assessing the extent to which businesses comply with governmental rules and regulations on trade and security issues. We share this research with our counterparts in other countries and have helped create nongovernmental centers in such countries as Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Our center and its partners are using this research and experience to lobby the governments of these countries to implement sounder policies. We also use our findings to conduct training in governments and businesses internationally. We and our counterparts in Moscow have schooled thousands of Russian officials and business leaders on the ins-and-outs of non-proliferation and nuclear security.

In short, the work of the Center for International Trade and Security shows how university-based research can shape better policy and, in turn, a safer world. UGA is poised to play a leadership role in the areas of homeland and international security. If we can fuse the scientific expertise found on South Campus with the humanistic, legal, business and policy wisdom found on North Campus, we can help our nation and the world meet the most pressing security challenges of our time. We are blessed tohave this opportunity.

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