Update on India and a Visit to Japan  

bridges vol. 32, December 2011 / Norm Neureiter on Science in Diplomacy

By Norman P. Neureiter


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Norman P. Neureiter

Just a year ago, bridges carried a piece on the Indo-US S&T Forum, of which I have been the US co-chair since the Forum's beginning ten years ago.  At our recent joint Governing Body meeting in Delhi last week, there was enough substance discussed to justify a brief update for all of you who may be interested in India and the vitality of this unique cooperative mechanism for US-India S&T cooperation.

Established as a nonprofit private society, funded with a modest endowment that provides some $1.5 million in operating funds annually, the Forum's mission is simple: to promote cooperation in science and technology between the US and India.  On the Indian side of the Governing Body are the secretaries of three powerful departments - Science and Technology (Indian cochair), Biotechnology, and Scientific and Industrial Research - as well as the managing director of Ashok Leyland, a major Indian corporation, and the president of one of the illustrious Indian Institutes of Technology.  Science is booming now in India and remains a top national priority as a basis for continued development of the country.   

On the US side, the current Governing Body members represent the National Science Foundation, the National Academies, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health (biomedical imaging and engineering), Lockheed Martin (the chief technology officer), the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School (professor of technology and public policy), and AAAS (US co-chair).

And Dr. Rajiv Sharma, the new executive director, now presides over the Forum's Secretariat located in Delhi.

IUSSTF_small_CL_121611.jpeg The Forum will soon complete 11 years of activity - including more than 300 workshops, seminars, roundtables, innovation programs, 34 training schools, 29 joint centers, and several visitation programs. With this rich history behind us, including a focus on bringing together younger science and engineering leaders of both countries, there was lively discussion at our meeting about the future of the Forum, with a strong consensus that it should continue. In addition to the bottom-up approach with open calls for workshop proposals to the science communities of both countries, there was a strong feeling that some larger top-down initiatives should be developed. Among the suggestions: an effort to develop enduring institutional relationships, and targeted development of larger S&T themes.  

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At the same time that our Governing Body was meeting, a large US-India conference on medical technology was convened in which the Forum had played an important organizational role. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins  delivered an important speech, and it already appears that a major joint research program will emerge from this conference.    

In short, the present health of the Indo-US Forum is very good. We have now established a permanent US office of the Forum's Secretariat at AAAS in Washington, DC.  It is run by Michael Cheetham; his phone number is 202-326-6664 and his email address is mcheetha [at] aaas.org.  Persons interested in the Forum or in developing S&T cooperation with India should feel free to contact him.   

The Forum Secretariat has also been designated as the secretariat for the administration of the US-India S&T Endowment Fund. This fund is separate from the Forum; it is designated for "joint research and development, innovation, entrepreneurial and commercialization activities in S&T." A separate Board of 18 members (nine from each country) has been appointed to direct the fund. Its funding comes from the interest on an endowment of $15 million in rupees contributed by the US government plus a payment matching that interest from the Indian government, yielding a total of $2-3 million per year. This money is used to fund joint projects based on open calls for proposals from innovative companies, institutions, and individual entrepreneurs. A top priority designated by the Board is to improve human health through diagnostic, preventive and curative measures as well as by providing quality food and nutrition products.  Another priority is to seek to reduce the digital divide, which might involve information and communication technologies with a social impact in areas such as water agriculture and education.  

In the first call for letters of intent, nearly 400 replies were received.  Initial reviews reduced this number to 30, from whom more complete business plans were requested. Further review narrowed the field to six, who were then interviewed by board members in their respective countries. It is expected that three winners will be announced soon. This program differs from the Forum in that the objective is to create commercial activity based on applied research and innovation. Awards are intended to be in the $250,000 to $500,000 range. It is apparent that there is tremendous interest in innovation and entrepreneurship in both countries.

The two cochairs of the Endowment Fund Board are: for the US, Mr. Blair Hall , minister counselor for Economic, Environment, and S&T Affairs at the US Embassy in Delhi; and for the Indian side, Dr. Arabinda Mitra, who was the first executive director of the Forum and earlier this year returned to the Indian government as the head of the International Bilateral Cooperation Division of the Department of S&T. Michael Cheetham at AAAS (see above) also heads the US office of the Secretariat for the Endowment Fund.  

The Forum is very well known in India but not as well known in the US. To raise the Forum's profile in the US, the Governing Body created a Science Ambassadors program and appointed a brilliant Indian woman physicist as the first incumbent - Professor Anita Mehta, currently at the S.N. Bose National Center of Basic Science in Kolkata, India. In 1978 she was the second woman from India to be chosen as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. In 2006-2007 she was the first Indian to be elected a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard. On at least two trips a year, she will visit American universities and tell the Forum story with the objective of increasing the number of American scientists working in India and enhancing the S&T cooperation between the countries.  

Japan

jst_logo_small_CL_121611.jpeg At the end of the Forum meeting, I flew all night to Japan, where I was scheduled on the following day to give a keynote address at a meeting on "Science and Technology for a Safe and Secure Society." The meeting was convened by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and the results of the discussion were to go as recommendations to the Japanese government. Their focus was very much on security with respect to natural disasters. My presentation focused far more on the actions the US took after 9/11, dealing with terrorism. The key point was that, while the actions taken have different causes, they very quickly converge. It is all about prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery - whether the disaster is a terrorist attack or an unexpected tsunami.  

The Japanese are aware of many dangers and are thorough planners. They work out procedures and the people obey them. The diesel generators at the Fukushima plant started up as planned and kept cooling water flowing after the earthquake cut off the power, and the tsunami wall at Fukushima was ten meters high. But the tsunami rolled in at 14 meters, flooding the generators which were located too low and near the shore; cooling stopped and the real disaster began. The threat from radioactivity release is still very real.  

The speaker following me told a sad tale of a village that was requesting relief assistance from the government, but the rules required certain village officials to request the aid. However, three tiers of those officials had been killed in the tsunami and, since the right officials did not exist to ask for it, the aid never came.  

The fatalism of the Japanese with respect to disaster is remarkable.  Another speaker involved in disaster planning spoke about a small city south of Tokyo. Nothing had happened there recently, but he said that it was only a question of when: The city lies directly on a great fault line, and they know that a big earthquake is coming and that they will have only one minute's warning of the resulting tsunami. They have analyzed the structures in the town and the ways to evacuate. They have studied the aging patterns of the population. A number of years ago, they had estimated that there would be 8100 deaths from the "big one"; their latest estimate, based on all that has been done to prepare, is now down to about 4000. They feel they have saved 4000 people. But they know the "big one" is coming and there is little more they can do except to be as prepared as possible.

There was remarkable cooperation between the US and Japanese governments throughout the crisis. Daily conversations were held between Japanese officials and the US nuclear regulatory people at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Energy, and others; and the US military helped in major ways.  
The Japanese were very impressed with the speed with which the US government reacted to 9/11. Incredibly, only one week later came the first wave of the anthrax letters - in essence, a bio-attack. Very quickly the Office of Homeland Security in the White House  was established. By early October, US and NATO forces began the invasion of Afghanistan. The Patriot Act was quickly passed, over objections from civil libertarians. The Transport Security Administration (TSA), which forever changed air travel, was also set up very quickly, initially in the Department of Transportation until the Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2002 and absorbed TSA and 21 other federal agencies.  

A US government document PPD-8 (Presidential Policy Directive) released on March 30, titled "National Preparedness," was also of great interest to the Japanese. It was the result of merging some 26 previous preparedness documents into a recipe, with dates of delivery, for establishing a total preparedness goal and preparedness system for the US, from the White House down to the states, counties, towns, and individual citizens, with provisions for continuous review and improvement.  

Another important step in the US was the voluntary initiative by the National Academies (Science, Engineering, and Medicine) to assemble a large Committee on S&T for Countering Terrorism. It clearly had an impact by leading to the creation of the position of undersecretary for S&T in the structure of the Department of Homeland Security. It also provided considerable detail about the role of S&T in combating terrorism.    

It is indeed moments of tragedy, which can bring the world's people closer together. But the greater challenge is to get the world's people to cooperate and to work together in tackling and solving some of the grand challenges that face all humanity - food, water, energy, climate, health, etc.  Science and technology are essential pieces for addressing those challenges.  That is the ultimate purpose for developing effective international S&T cooperation.

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The author, Norman Neureiter, has been a senior advisor to the  AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the Center for Science Diplomacy (CSD)  since July 2009.  

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