58 Nobel Laureates Urge Congress to Halt Budget Cuts to Science Research

A group of 58 U.S. Nobel Laureates is urging members of Congress to preserve federal funding of long term scientific research for the 2014 fiscal year budget. Today, President Obama released the FY2014 budget, which is sent to Congress for approval and allocation.  With sequestration cuts to agencies which support scientific research and development including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the United States is at risk of falling behind other countries in the development of science and technology.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) released the letter which was written by Dr. Burton Richter, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in physics, and signed by 58 U.S. Nobel Laureates, many of whom serve on FAS’s Board of Sponsors. Dr. Richter writes that “there is a bipartisan agreement on the importance of federal funding of long-term scientific research. The agreement exists because of recognition that this sort of research fuels the innovation engine that is essential to our economy. The entire federal research, development and demonstration enterprise amounts today to about one percent of our Gross Domestic Product and has steadily fallen over the years, while our rivals in Europe and Asia invest more.”

Dr. Richter underscores the importance of long-term scientific funding for future generations, stating that, “we Nobel Laureates are likely to do well in competition for a reduced level of funding. Our concern is for the younger generation who will be behind the innovations and earn the Prizes of the future.”

“The United States has far surpassed other nations in Nobel Prize winners in the sciences. The ability to foster such talent will be undermined with continued erosion of federal support,” said FAS President Charles D. Ferguson. “FAS is proud to circulate this letter on behalf of Dr. Richter and the Nobel Laureates to raise awareness of potential budget cuts to the United States science industry and future generations of scientists.”

Read the article in the New York Times regarding the letter here.

Click here for the PDF version of the letter or see full text below.

April 9, 2013

Dear Members of Congress:

With the delivery of the President’s budget on April 10, Congress will begin the process of allocating funds to all the areas in the Federal Budget. One of those areas is long-term research and development in the agencies that fund the backbone of the U.S. scientific enterprise: National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as parts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense. There is a bipartisan agreement on the importance of federal funding of long-term scientific research. The President emphasized it in his State of the Union speech and Majority Leader Cantor emphasized it in a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute. The agreement exists because of recognition that this sort of research fuels the innovation engine that is essential to our economy. The entire federal research, development and demonstration enterprise amounts today to about one percent of our Gross Domestic Product and has steadily fallen over the years, while our rivals in Europe and Asia invest more.

We Nobel Laureates are likely to do well in competition for a reduced level of funding. Our concern is for the younger generation who will be behind the innovations and earn the Prizes of the future. We urge you, even in these financially troubled times, to keep the budgets of the agencies that support science at a level that will keep the pipelines full of the younger generation upon whom our economic vitality will rest in future years.

Respectfully,

Dr. Burton Richter

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

1976 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Peter Agre

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Sidney Altman

Yale University

1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Kenneth J. Arrow

Stanford University

1972 Nobel Prize in economic science

Dr. David Baltimore

California Institute of Technology

1975 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Bruce Beutler

UT Southwestern Medical Center

2011 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. J. Michael Bishop

University of California, San Francisco

1989 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Gunter Blobel

The Rockefeller University

1999 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Michael Brown

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

1985 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Thomas Cech

University of Colorado Boulder

1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Martin Chalfie

Columbia University

2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Stanley Cohen

Vanderbilt University

1986 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Leon N. Cooper

Brown University

1972 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. James W. Cronin

Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

1980 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Robert Curl Jr.

Rice University

1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Johann Deisenhofer

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

1998 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Andrew Fire

Stanford University School of Medicine

2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Jerome Friedman

MIT

1990 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Walter Gilbert

Harvard University Professor Emeritus

1980 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Sheldon Lee Glashow

Harvard University

1979 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Roy Glauber

Harvard University

2006 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Carol Greider

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. David J. Gross

University of California, Santa Barbara

2004 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Roger Guillemin

Salk Institute

1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. John L. Hall

University of Colorado

2005 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Leland Hartwell

Center for Sustainable Health, Arizona State University

2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach

Harvard University

1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Roald Hoffmann

Cornell University

1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Louis J. Ignarro

UCLA School of Medicine

1998 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle

MIT

2001 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Brian Kobilka

Stanford University School of Medicine

2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Walter Kohn

University of California, Santa Barbara

1998 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Roger Kornberg

Stanford University School of Medicine

2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Leon Lederman

University of Chicago

1988 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Robert Lefkowitz

Duke University Medical Center

2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Eric Maskin

Harvard University

2007 Nobel Prize in economic science

Dr. John Mather

University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2006 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Craig Mello

University of Massachusetts Medical School

2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Mario Molina

University of California San Diego

1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Dr. Ferid Murad

George Washington University

1998 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Douglas Osheroff

Stanford University

1996 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Martin Perl

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

1995 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Saul Perlmutter

University of California, Berkley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

2011 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. William Phillips

Joint Quantum Institute

1997 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. David Politzer

Caltech

2004 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Adam Riess

Johns Hopkins University

2011 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Richard Roberts

New England Biolabs

1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Brian P. Schmidt

The Australian National University

2011 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Phillip Sharp

Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Hamilton Smith

J. Craig Venter Institute

1978 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. George F. Smoot

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

2006 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Thomas Steitz

Yale University

2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Dr. Steven Weinberg

University of Texas at Austin

1979 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Carl E. Wieman

University of British Columbia

2001 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Eric Wieschaus

Princeton University

1995 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Torsten Wiesel

Rockefeller University

1981 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

Dr. Frank Wilczek

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2004 Nobel Prize in physics

Dr. Robert W. Wilson

Bell Laboratories

1978 Nobel Prize in physics

California Action Alert: April 9 Call-in Day to Cut Nuclear Weapons

Californians have a unique role to play in reducing dangerous stockpiles of nuclear weapons as well as helping to reduce the deficit. Our Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is the Chair of the committee that oversees the nuclear weapons budget, and is one of the most important leaders in the Senate on the issue.

That is why an urgent Statewide Call-in Day is planned for Tuesday, April 9th, to show Sen. Feinstein that Californians want to cut spending on nuclear weapons.

Current plans will have the U.S. spend up to $500 billion in the next decade on these weapons, in direct contradiction to the growing bipartisan consensus that we could safely cut our nuclear arsenals now and cut billions of dollars from the federal deficit.

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From Tonnage to Feelings: Evaluating Campaign Ads

 

Negative campaign ads that leave a sour taste in your mouth and an unsettling feeling in your stomach might not be all bad, according to new interpretations. YouGov analyzed a random sample of 600 individual’s reactions to political ads, representative of the U.S. population at large. This topic was the foundation for a panel discussion hosted by  The Brookings Institute in Washington, DC on July 23rd .

The panel, New Ways of Evaluating Campaign Ads featured panelists John Geer Professor and Chair of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Doug Rivers, President and CEO of YouGov/Polimetrix, Lynn Vavreck  Professor at UCLA and director of the Center of the Study of Campaigns, Jeremy Peters, political reporter for The New York Times, and Ken Goldstein, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The event began with an overview of the history and discussion of different broadcast mediums. The initial emergence of broadcasting in the 1960’s came about with the introduction and growing use of television being utilized to reach as many people as possible with no limiting measures. Then came narrow casting in the 1970’s and 1980’s with the introduction of cable creating the  capability to target different demographics with certain ads or messages, the 1990’s and the Internet brought about mircocasting allowing candidates to narrow their focus even further, and finally to present-day and nanocasting using social media networks. This topic is of interest to political scientists (especially those that focus on advertising)to see how people respond to these different types of broadcasting and their reactions to both positive and negative ads. The continuous narrowing of casting has allowed for campaigns to be even more tailored and more effective in targeting a certain demographic with certain campaign ads.

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The Next Generation in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan: Youth, Politics, Identity, and Change

This Tuesday, Nadia Diuk, Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy, hosted a panel discussion concerning her book and the topics addressed therein. Also featured was Sharon Wolchik, Professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, and Marc Plattner, who moderated the discussion. Diuk’s book studies the role of youth in politics in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan, through public opinion polling in 2003 and 2009 of youth between the ages of 18-35 and interviews with young leaders, analyzed from a historical perspective. Continue reading

Increasing Nuclear Transparency with Satellite Imagery

FAS was pleased to welcome experts Matthew McKinzie with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Hans Kristensen with FAS, and Tamara Patton with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) this Thursday to present and discuss their use of satellite imagery to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators.

Matthew McKinzie spoke about the use of Geographic Information Systems and satellite imagery for arms control, human rights, and environmental advocacy work. Google Earth has exposed IBCM silo complexes, and observations of changes in images of the same location over time have evidenced mass building destruction on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border after the 2000 cease-fire and home demolitions in the Gaza Strip. Using knowledge from North Korean refugees, what at first appeared from satellite to be towns we now know to be prison camps. An examination of geographical overlap can also reveal locational information about Hezbollah terrorism targets in Beirut. In addition, when given known information about prevailing winds, McKinzie was able to calculate the radiation plumes that would result from a meltdown of each US power reactor at specific times during the day. The NRDC also collected data on radar throughout the US, including weather, airport surveillance, and air route surveillance radar, which, when combined with information about prevailing winds and elevation, can give essential information to the DOD about high interference areas. Continue reading

We Need Clean Energy R&D: Where are the Investors?

By Carrie R. Williams, FAS Intern

There is broad consensus that clean energy investments are critical to the long term stability, security and economic welfare of the United States.  Rep. Paul Tonka (D-NY) recently said, “We cannot cut our way to number one.  If we are to stay competitive as a nation in the long term, we must invest in new technologies, clean energy and job creation.”  But who will make the investment?

Globally, in 2010 governments invested more than $5 billion in renewable energy research and development (R&D).   By comparison, the United States invested $5 billion for all energy R&D during the same period.

In FY2012, the total proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)—the lead financial supporter of energy R&D in the United States—is  $29.5 billion, with $3.2 billion going to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and $550 million for Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).  This would represent an 11.8% increase over FY2010.  However, the House of Representatives is seeking to terminate ARPA-E and decrease EERE funding by $786.3 million for FY2012—drastically cutting the clean energy R&D budget of the federal government.

Within the DOE, EERE and ARPA-E hold the bulk of the clean energy R&D budget.  The EERE mission focuses on strengthening the United States’ energy security, environmental quality and economic vitality through public-private partnerships.  This office seeks to accomplish this mission by financially supporting organizations that work to enhance energy efficiency and productivity and/or bring clean, reliable and affordable renewable energy technologies into the marketplace.  Modeled on the DARPA funding framework, which has funded basic research to create the computer, among other technologies, ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward energy ventures.  Created in the America COMPETES Act, ARPA-E’s mission is to fund innovative energy technology projects with the potential to reduce foreign energy imports, cut energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve efficiency across the sector.  For example, in the first round of proposals ARPA-E funded projects related to axial-flow wind turbines and crystalline silicon wafers.

Additional energy R&D and early commercialization funding is also provided through tax benefits, grants, loans and contracts created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.  This stimulus bill created $260 billion in energy tax credits for companies and consumers, with the goal of improving the market penetration and share of efficient, clean energy technologies. However, these tax credits either have expired or will expire in 2011.

Along with tax credits, DOE also received $1.4 billion in supplemental loans, grants, and contracts for R&D which is distributed between the Office of Science, fossil energy research and development, general science and research activities and the Innovative Technology Guaranteed Loan Financing programs.

With the ARRA money ending and the DOE clean energy R&D budget likely to shrink, researchers and early commercial investors must look to alternative sources of funding and capital.

What are their options?

Chief amongst the likely energy R&D funders will be: private investors both domestic and foreign, universities, and big corporations.

In 2010, venture investment in clean energy companies rose to $5.1 billion in the United States, 23% of all venture capital investment for the year.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that in 2010, renewable energy investment worldwide rose to $211 billion.  While the majority of this funding goes to finance large scale deployoment projects rather than R&D or early commercialization activities, the level of financing indicates there is great interest in renewable and clean energy technologies as good monetary investments.

Large corporations that rely heavily on fossil fuels are beginning to turn to renewable and sustainable energy sources; while not a traditional source of clean energy investment, they are likely to prove to be a valuable source of R&D and commercialization funding.  Google – a company whose data centers uses 0.01% of the world’s total electricity consumption in 2010– is looking to invest $350 million in the renewable energy industry.  According to Google Green, Google has cofounded the Climate Savers Computing as well as joined The Green Grid.  These two groups are dedicated to improving efficiency and sustainability standards for computers and data centers around the world in order to reach a goal of a size zero carbon footprint. Big corporations are looking to reduce their reliance on foreign oil and reduce their impact on the environment; moreover, the cash funding available to many large firms – especially those in the technology sector – provide clean energy R&D entrepreneurs with the support needed to commercialize and develop bigger and better things in the future.

With federal funding likely on the decline, a larger percentage of energy R&D responsibilities may also fall to research universities in the U.S., including internationally recognized public universities such as Colorado State University (CSU), which has programs and researchers looking into alternative fuels, clean engines, solar energy production capabilities, “smart” grid technology, wind engineering, water resources and much more.  However, in the current weak economy, public universities – even those with the best programs and most brilliant researchers – face a high risk of budget cuts that impact hiring and merit scholarships to attract the best talent, as well as investments in laboratory facilities and new research projects.

Private universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) make significant contributions to the clean energy R&D industry through research and patents as well as financial opportunities.  In 2008, Transformative Integrated Power Structure (TIPS) was developed by electrical engineers at MIT to increase the efficiency of power conversion in semiconductors, which will be cr.  TIPS has been patented and commercialized by a start-up, Arctic Sand after testing proved it reduced power losses by 50-75%.  Arctic Sand was able to capitalize on MIT intuitive research to reach out to the core market of data centers as a way to increase energy efficiency where it is needed the most.

With the United States facing the largest budget deficit it has ever seen, the federal government is committed to cut spending and reduce the deficit over the next 10 years by $1.5 trillion.  The clean energy sector can no longer depend upon federal government funding and must reach out to alternative and even unconventional sources for development support.  Reaching out to domestic and foreign investors, university led R&D and commercialization ventures, and corporate funding all have a role to play.

As Mike Bowlin, chairman and CEO of ARCO said in 1999, “We’ve embarked on the beginning of the last days of the age of oil.  Embrace the future and recognize the growing demand for a wide range of fuels or ignore reality and slowly – but surely – be left behind.”  The United States cannot afford to be left behind when the reality of federal funding slips away.  The country, its clean energy entrepreneurs, and its investors must continue to push forward the state of clean energy technology and market penetration before it’s too late.

A New Role for the US Government in Yemen


Today Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sits in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, the victim of an assassination
attempt.  Back in Yemen, the opposition is cautiously optimistic about what this means for the future of Yemen.  And as the U.S. State Department and its allies continue to publicly call on Saleh to resign from office and make way for genuine, democratic elections, it is paramount to remember that the removal of Saleh should not be the end game in Yemen.  A successful, stable, secure Yemen needs more than one man’s fall from power.

In the meantime, what are other areas of the U.S. government doing and saying about Yemen?

Just one week ago the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Included in this act is updated language that affirms and strengthens the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) with respect to “the ongoing armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.”   In justifying the new language, which gives legal grounding to broadened executive actions in the war on terror, House Armed Services Committee Chair, Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) explicitly cited Yemen’s terrorist threat and the actions of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

The accompanying press release directly states that “the threats posed by al-Qaeda cells in Yemen and Africa underscore the evolving and continuing nature of the terrorist threat to the United States.”  Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey praises the updated language as adding “order and rationality” to the current ad hoc authorization of military actions and detentions in the war on terror.

Nevertheless, the language does explicitly authorize U.S. military incursions into any country–such as Yemen–perceived to be or contain a security threat to America.

This stance, while bold, does not mark a new era in U.S.-Yemeni relations.  Rather it highlights the narrow lens through which the American government views and interacts with Yemen.  Under the ongoing Yemen strategy, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP take precedence over all other matters.

For the past four months Yemen has been engulfed in anti-government protests that seek to force Saleh to resign from office.  Since January 2011 more than 50 protesters have been killed, hundreds have been wounded, and the economic fragility of this country exposed as oil exports collapse and food and fuel prices soar.

Throughout the protests the U.S. narrative has focused on this crisis as a political matter only, with the primary issues being the implications of Saleh resigning on Yemeni political stability and capacity to combat AQAP.

However, the answer to the question “Is Yemen failing?” does not come down to one man.  As early as the 1960s the U.S. government recognized that the key barriers to development and success in Yemen are the country’s lack of natural resources, shortages of educated and trained manpower, scarcity of water, and divisions in the country’s social structure.  While Yemen has improved in key indicators such as literacy rates and GDP, to date none of these critical development issues have been significantly addressed.

The current conflict  has already exacerbated and will continue to exacerbate these development concerns.

Hydrocarbon development. A net oil and gas exporter, Yemen depends upon oil for more than 70% of its declared GDP.  The country nevertheless possesses only 0.2% of the world’s total oil reserves (2.7 thousand million barrels proven in 2009) as is believed to have already reached peak production.  Attempts to compensate for the expected oil revenue loss through natural gas development, namely a 5-year $4 billion project to build and supply a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal, have been stifled by political instabilities, tribal tensions, and reluctant foreign investment.

Since the start of the anti-government protests this national income crunch has only gotten worse.  Daily oil exports have been cut by more than 100,000 barrels per day, down by more than one-third from 270,000 barrels, and worker strikes and pipeline cuts have completely halted both production and export for days on end.  Internally, over the last three months the combination of pipeline disruptions and limited domestic refining capacity has fueled severe electricity, gasoline, and heating fuel shortages within Yemen.

Water. By 2050 several main cities, including Sana’a and Taiz, are expected to drain their water aquifers—effectively running out of water.  Current withdraw rates show the aquifers under Sana’a withdrawing at up to 5-6 meters annually (data from the German Technical Office).  In a water sector already characterized by water management struggles, corruption, bloody fights over irrigated land and water access, prolonged absence of central authority will likely reduce the already limited compliance with Yemen’s environmental and water laws.  Even if central fighting were to stop tomorrow, the Ministry of Water and the Environment is in disarray in the wake of Minister Abdulrahman al-Eryani’s resignation on March 22nd and the leveling of the Ministry building (located in the Hasaba district, near the Ministry of the Interior) during the last week ‘s violent conflict between government troops and tribesmen supporting Sadiq Al Ahmar.

Population. With or without Saleh, Yemen must confront one of the highest population growth rates in the world (more than 3%), a poor education system, high unemployment, and one of the world’s most significant gender equality gaps.  In a population of 23 million, over 45% of people lived on less than $2/day in 2010, a level defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as being poverty level.  With many livelihoods either directly or indirectly dependent upon hydrocarbon extraction and tourism, this poverty level has without question risen over the past six months.

Food. Once considered the breadbasket of Arabia, Yemen is now a net food importer.  The World Food Programme considers 32% of Yemen’s population to be food insecure and 12%  severely food insecure.  While there is significant evidence that social networks and communities in Yemen ensure that even the poorest families are not calorie deficient, there is significant nutrient deficiency and many families depend upon borrowing in order to meet their basic food needs.

To aid Yemen in addressing their extensive social, economic, and resource challenges the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has requested just over $120 million in aid for FY 2012.  Of this, just 57 percent or $68.6 million will go towards all economy building, education, health, and democracy building activities.  To offer perspective, in FY 2012 DOS alone requests $5.6 billion for global foreign military funding.

As the U.S. government develops its policies toward Yemen it must look beyond a narrow perspective of counterterrorism and seek to address key causes of insecurity—environmental, social, and economic, as well as political and military. Neither authorizing military force against actors in Yemen nor providing security funding is enough.  Addressing root causes of terrorism and instability means sustained and significant engagement over critical issues including education, resource management, governance reforms, and economic and financial restructuring and development.

When the Embassy staff return to Sana’a and engage with the Yemeni government, whatever its form, the US must work with Yemen to:

  • rebuild key institutions  and capacity;
  • support those existing development and business projects that have been most successful;
  • initiate new U.S-Yemeni partnerships that strengthen Yemen’s internal scientific, economic, governance, and business capacity; and
  • push the Yemeni government for meaningful governance reforms.

Engage Now: Science Diplomacy in the Middle East

Revolution in Egypt (c) Al Jazeera
  • In the wake of revolution the U.S. must immediately engage with Egypt and Tunisia through S&T initiatives.
  • The U.S. should: expedite student visas, fund additional scholarships, support dialogues between U.S and regional universities, and recommit existing S&T and education aid packages.
  • S&T activities should be a key component of building better, more resilient relationships with MENA countries.

The Middle East and North Africa are currently in a period of intense instability and transition and we do not know what the other side looks like.  Within the last month revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have ousted Presidents Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, respectively, while Yemenis continue to protest against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Salah, who has agreed to step down in the next election.  All three of these leaders are secular strongmen who have ruled their respective countries for at least twenty years and are widely viewed in the region as pro-American.

While vastly different, each of these three countries has the potential to be an important economic, political, and security partner for the United States.  Currently America’s relationship with all three heavily emphasizes military and anti-terrorism cooperation, often at the expense of our economic and political relationship.

In fact the U.S. government is the leading military supplier for all three countries, with military assistance counting for over 70% of their total country aid package.  Egypt alone received over USD 1.5 billion in military and economic aid in 2010, second only to Israel in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, while Tunisia received USD 20 million and Yemen received USD 160 million.  Of this almost USD 1.7 billion in aid, less than 800 million went to all non-security aid programs, which include economic development, civil society and governance building, and education.

To provide perspective on the size of U.S. military support, the President’s FY 2012 requested budget for the entire Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at the National Science Foundation requests just over USD 58 million, up over 21% from FY 2010.  Under this budget funding for OISE, which serves as the interagency focal point for all international science and engineering activities, equals just over 22% of the military aid for Egypt alone in FY2010.   And given the current Congress, even this relatively small budget is likely to face stiff opposition.  But should the United States be focusing so intently on military and security aid to the MENA region or could other forms of aid and engagement play an equally important role?

Despite decades of high military funding for Egypt and other MENA countries, Egypt and Tunisia’s revolutions reveal that the countries are neither stable nor economically and politically successful.  A different approach to U.S. economic assistance and engagement is needed.  The U.S. S&T sector will play a critical role in this new approach because of the sector’s ability to develop new economic opportunities, the popularity of U.S. science, and the focus on positive engagement.

Over the past two years the U.S. government has begun a new initiative in the region that aims to further and deepen science and technology (S&T) ties between America and the Muslim world.  Popularly termed the “Cairo Initiative,” through the Mulsim-Majority Countries Initiative the government has appointed three science envoys, scaled up existing S&T projects, increased dialogue on S&T and education, and developed (on paper) five centers of excellence, though none have received appropriations and remain unrealized.

In the face of the recent political upheaval and revolution, S&T partnership, assistance, and support play an even more critical role, both because of the disruptions to S&T that have occurred and because of the unique opportunities provided by these circumstances.

The S&T challenges created or exacerbated by political upheaval and revolution can broadly be grouped into: education, economic, foreign relations, and damages to or destruction of resources and physical infrastructure.

In each category some challenges and opportunities will be immediate, while others will be long term and may not be most effectively addressed until a new government and power structure is in place.

In the immediate future the greatest needs and challenges for the S&T communities will be:  the disruption of academic institutions, the temporary halting or holdup of student visas, international aid holds, and lost economic opportunities.  The U.S. government and S&T community can play a critical role in responding to and overcoming these challenges.

Immediately, embassies in each country should work to get their visa processing—especially of student visas—back up to speed.  The U.S. embassies should expedite the processing of visas for all students who have a place at a U.S. academic institution.  Simultaneously, academic institutions in the U.S. should work with students to make up any time they have missed as a result of their visa holdup and inability to leave the country.  For the upcoming Fall 2011 semester, the U.S. should look for opportunities to increase study opportunities and scholarships in the U.S. for students from Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries where academic institutions may not be on stable footing.

In many Middle Eastern countries, top university positions are politically appointed.  Where the revolution or political transition has created voids in S&T leadership and where there are opportunities to restructure how leadership positions are decided, U.S. universities can immediately begin dialogues with partner institutions in the Middle East on how to restructure leadership based on criteria such as merit and fit with institutional needs.  The government can support U.S. universities in these efforts by creating a pool of funding for delegations of university administrators and leaders to visit and engage with existing partner institutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries undergoing similar upheaval.

A third critical role the U.S. government can play in the immediate future will be the recommitment of all promised S&T aid and funding, especially for funding that benefits S&T stakeholders at many levels.

In Egypt, for example, USAID has promised USD 50 million for S&T higher education in Egypt, to be channeled to the Ministry of Higher Education.  Over the past few months, USAID has worked with Ministry officials, scientists, and other stakeholders to develop a model to leverage this funding to engage and benefit stakeholders and provide economic opportunities for the S&T community.  Efforts such as these must not be lost.  Rather, the U.S. government must recommit to this and similar assistance packages, get staff back on the ground to determine how the funding model has changed, and actively engage with S&T stakeholders to provide aid that is appropriate, need driven, and stakeholder supported.

At this critical juncture in the Middle East, the U.S. must seize our opportunities to engage with, to support, and to build our positive relationship with the S&T community.

PCAST Federal Energy Policy Report Released

U.S. public energy RD&D spending as share of GDP is only 1/3 of Japan's

Yesterday morning the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its “Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy.”  This report, requested by President Obama, issues recommendations for the Administration and the Department of Energy on how to “transform the energy system” over the next two decades through “leadership in energy technology innovation.”

Informed by a working group of PCAST members and energy experts, this report makes recommendations that are, in large, both feasible and ambitious.  Based on our reading of the report and the summaries presented by co-chairs Maxine Savitz and Ernest J. Moniz at the release event, we particularly applaud PCAST in calling for the coordination of federal energy policies and for its recommendation that the US Federal government spend $16 Billion annually on energy RD&D.

Some of the key recommendations of this report are to:

  • Establish an interagency Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) led by the Office of the President (OOP)
  • Based on the QER, realign federal energy subsidies and incentives and align DOE processes and organization to meet energy objectives
  • Enhance energy technology innovation and technology by exercising the Federal Government’s purchasing power
  • Increase annual energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) funding to about $16B, with $10-16B of that generated through “new revenue streams”
  • Direct $12B of the new RD&D money to outside the DOE-national lab sphere and focus on funding DOE competitive programs such as ARPA-e
  • Initiate a multidisciplinary social science research program

While we approve of the goals and objectives of this report, we have significant concerns about the feasibility and implementation of both the QER and the RDD&D fund.

The QER is not a new idea. Rather, it is a timescale change.  The Section 7321 of US Code (Title 42, 84, VIII, 7321) already legally obligates the President to produce and submit to Congress a biennial National Energy Policy Plan.  The comprehensive plan is to be developed with the participation of “consumers, small businesses, and a wide range of other interests, including those of individual citizens who have no financial interest in the energy industry.” The last plan produced was the Bush Administration’s controversial 2001 report, Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future.

While changing the timescale from two years to four years will decrease the time burden on the DOE and the OOP, it will not fundamentally change the fact that the energy review process will still depend upon annual Congressional appropriations for funding as well as continued OOP compliance.  In order to ensure the success of the QER, the relevant legislation must both fund the entire four year process outright and include provisions compelling Congress and of Executive branch to act upon the results and recommendations of the QER.

Raising $16 Billion for energy RDD&D will require finding significant new funds. While the program could and will likely be funded in part through Congressional appropriations, this is neither the preferred nor the most stable long-term funding stream.  Rather, the report calls for generating the funds through “new revenue streams”—government speak for taxes.  Likely to take the form of new energy taxes on transmission, production, generation, and/or consumption, in the current fiscal and political environment new taxes are going to be an extremely hard sell.

To raise these funds, the government must work to build a base of support for energy RDD&D at the national and local levels and must sell the long-term advantages of innovative energy technologies to all energy and energy policy stakeholders.  Support will need to come from voters, local governments, industry and business, regulatory authorities, public utilities, the finance and venture capital sector, academia, and think tanks.  Before a new energy technology tax can be passed and this critical energy technology development process begun, the OOP and DOE must take the helm and begin this necessary, but difficult dialogue.

Both the full PCAST report and executive summary can be accessed here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports.

Engaging Yemen on the Sources of Insecurity

  • US aid for Yemen goes predominantly to military and hard security projects.
  • To confront the key sources of instability the U.S. must look beyond military assistance.
  • Tier two engagement will be a critical component of this strategy, especially in looking at challenges to natural resource and human security.
government protesters in Sana'a, 2009

As Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen makes headlines yet again for attempted terrorist activities against the United States, the US government is preparing a $150 million package aimed at training and aiding Yemeni security and military forces.  This unsurprising move represents business as usual for US-Yemeni relations; a continuation of security and terrorism-centric dialogue, policy, and funding that pervades all levels of the two countries’ engagement.    In fact, of the $63 million in aid money to Yemen in FY10, well over half goes toward military and security assistance.

In his October 29th speech on the attempted cargo plane bombings, President Obama announced that the US government intends to “strengthen a more stable, secure and prosperous Yemen so that terrorist groups to not have the time and space they need to plan attacks from within its borders.”   This statement is coupled with an announcement to increase the military aid to Yemen to $150 million.  Considering that the President’s FY11 budget called for just over $100 million in total aid for Yemen, 48% of which was for military and security assistance, this new announcement triples military aid and makes it approximately 75% of Yemen’s aid money.

While security is the primary focus of the FY 11 budget, under its new Yemen strategy USAID is also working to address some of the soft security issues that fuel instability.  Included in this FY11 budget are projects on:

  • Military and security assistance;
  • Responsive governance, a multi-sector project expected to be funded at $43 million for 5 years and aimed to strengthen public policies and institutions;
  • The Community Livelihoods Project, a multi-sector program expected to be funded at $125 million for 5 years with the goal of economic stabilization through government services, job creation, civic participation, and responsive local governance.
  • Urban refugee aid for those living in Sana’a;
  • Public health; and
  • Supporting an independent media.
AQAP, 2009, courtesy of The Long War Journal

This $200 million in aid compares to packages of over $1.5 billion for Egypt, $730 million for Iraq, $680 million for Jordan, $550 million for the West Bank and Gaza, and $250 million for Lebanon.

A recent article by Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out that Yemen suffers from more than just the hard security challenges associated with AQAP, the Houthi Rebellion in Sa’da, and the Southern Mobility separatist movement in the South and in Hadramawt[1]. Boucek notes that, “Beyond its security concerns, Yemen is on the brink of economic disaster, suffering from poor governance and quickly dwindling water supplies.”

The article rightly calls for the U.S. government to expand its aid focus to help Yemen: improve its legal system and laws, fight corruption, increase policing capacity, improve the economy, alter the land distribution and ownership system, and enhance the education system. These policy prescriptions are standard practice in the Middle East—multilateral aid packages with the goals of addressing economic instability, furthering governance and rule of law, promoting civil society, and improving education and with debatable effectiveness. Boucek further calls on the U.S. government to partner with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s largest donor nation at $2 billion a year.

While these prescriptions will be important components in a comprehensive Yemen strategy, they fall short of addressing Yemen’s immediate and long term stability challenges, especially those

related to:  natural resources, population growth, and human health and capacity.

Robust track one and track two Yemeni-U.S. engagement will be necessary over the coming years.  Track two approaches will be especially important for addressing these core resource, population, and human challenges as their solutions are highly technical in nature, the target populations often live in areas with limited central government involvement or legitimacy, and effective solutions will require individual buy-in and stakeholder engagement from diverse actors.

Note that an effective strategy must include cooperation and engagement with the tribal and religious networks and stakeholders that are central components of Yemen’s social structure and civil society.  Tribes especially will be important partners in Yemen’s ongoing stability.  As an example of this, the leader of Yemen’s largest Bakil tribe, Sheikh Naji Abdul Aziz Al-Shayef, recently called for the creation of a coalition aligned with the government against Al Qaeda.

In the immediate future, the U.S. must support both track one and especially track two engagement in:

  • Resource ownership. An immediate problem, Yemen’s oil and natural gas are running out and its water is running out even faster.  The U.S. must support scientists, technologists, and other experts in working with Yemeni government officials, scientists, and stakeholders to determine resource distribution, replenishment rate, and must begin dialogues with stakeholders on how resources are distributed, allocated, and managed.
  • Land ownership. Before radically overhauling the land ownership system, the U.S. must work with the Yemeni government to institute legal safeguards that ensure that traditional land tenure systems are recognized. Current land reform efforts seek to secure land titling through registration and ownership legislation.  However, much land is owned at the tribal level, is communally owned, or is owned by the local mosque for the benefit of the mosque and the area’s poor (generally as a result of land donated through zakat or alms) and land reformation has the potential to further increase poverty as those without registration are displaced.
  • Science and technology (S&T) cooperation. The U.S. government should take advantage of the Arab world’s favorable opinion of U.S. S&T to develop exchange programs and build internal Yemeni S&T capacity, focusing on issues such as water, energy, and biosecurity, which are of mutual need and interest.
  • Refugees. Located not just below Saudi Arabia, but just across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden from Africa, Yemen is a country of 23 million people, with almost 200,000 refugees.  The majority of these refugees are from Somalia, with small groups from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iraq.  The U.S. must work with civil society in the U.S., Yemen, and internationally, as well as with the UNHRC, to develop a strategy for permanent resettlement and to aid refugees as well as the populations in the South of Yemen where the refugee camps are located.
  • Internally displaced persons. Yemen has an estimated 150,000-250,000 internally displaced persons, mostly in Sa’da and the North.  The U.S. must work with local tribes, international human rights and refugee organizations, and the government of Yemen and to develop a strategy for infrastructure and housing development, for public health initiatives, and for economic development.

Long term formal and informal engagement on the following issues is critical:

  • Resource management. With dwindling resources, especially of water and fossil fuels, management is an increasingly critical challenge.  Sustainable resource use and allocation mechanisms are critical.   Their development can be best facilitated by the U.S. supporting tier two collaborations between experts, resource managers, and stakeholders, backed by tier one cooperation with politicians to develop supportive legislation, markets, and profit sharing mechanisms.
  • Infrastructure development.
  • Public health. Foci of these efforts should be infectious diseases, material and reproductive health, access to basic medical services, and population control issues.

No one policy or engagement strategy will be a panacea for Yemen’s root destabilizing factors.  Instead, the U.S. and other donor nations must focus on a variety of strategies at multiple levels of engagement that enhance human capacity and education, stabilize resource use and availability, improve governance, engage Yemen in the global S&T community, and approach Yemen as both a unique state and as a critical actor in a volatile region.


[1] For an overview of the Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) in Hadrawawt, see Michael Horton’s article “The Growing Separatists Threat in Yemen’s Hadramawt Governorate,” TerrorismMonitor Volume VIII, Issue 40.