Soviet Science and Technology Fall Behind

  • Glenn E. Schweitzer


“Plagued by low productivity, lax standards, and bureaucratic stultification, Soviet science needs urgent attention and reform.” These words of Gorbachev’s adviser Academician Roald Sagdeyev were published in the summer of 1988 in the American journal Issues in Science and Technology. Earlier that year Sagdeyev had leveled similar criticism at the Soviet scientific enterprise in the Moscow daily Izvestiya. Sagdeyev reflects the accumulated frustrations of many Soviet scientists in their efforts to unleash the potential of the Soviet science and technology community.1


Machine Tool Chief Engineer Soviet Science Military Technology Military System 
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  1. 1.
    Roald Z. Sagdeyev, “Science and Perestroika: A Long Way To Go,” Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 1988, pp. 48–52; R. Sagdeyev, “19th Party Conference: Tasks of Restructuring; Where Have We Lost Momentum?” Izvestiya, April 28, 1988, p. 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Among the many history books that describe this stage of development of the Soviet state is Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Terrence Garrett, “Soviet Science and Technology—a New Era?” Department of Trade and Industry, London, February 1988, p. 1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    “From the Notes of Academician V. Legasov,” Pravda, May 20, 1988, p. 3.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    These and other Soviet building practices were discussed by American scientists and engineers who visited Armenia shortly after the earthquake during a public meeting at the National Academy of Sciences on January 23, 1988.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Reliable information on Soviet expenditures for military research and development is not readily available. The estimates are based on a review of Soviet information on research expenditures in general and on information developed during Hearings of the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in the mid 1980s.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Garrett, p. 6.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    “Decline of Prestige in the Engineering Profession,” Tekhnika i Nauka, no. 11, November 1987, p. 10.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Louis Lavoie, “The Limits of Soviet Technology,” Technology Review, November/December 1985, p. 70.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Soviet Military Power: An Assessment of the Threat, 1988, Department of Def ense, April 1988, p. 141.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Some of these comments are based on a seminar held at the National Academy of Sciences on July 21, 1988, on the topic of dual-use technologies.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    “The Soviet Economy,” The Economist, April 9, 1988, p. 11.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Michael J. Berry, ed., Science and Technology in the USSR, Longman Group UK Ltd., 1988, p. 58.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Several recent publications provide interesting overviews of trends in Soviet science. They include: Loren R. Graham, “Gorbachev’s Great Experiment,” Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 1988, pp. 23–32; Craig Sinclair, “Reflections on Scientific Research in the Soviet Union,” Science and Public Policy, June 1987, pp. 133–138; “Soviet Science,” Nature, October 29, 1988, pp. 779— 800; Richard M. Judy, “Soviet Science and Technology: Problems, Policies, and Directions,” Prepared for the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, US Congress, April 13, 1988; and “A Study of Soviet Science,” US Government (released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy), December 1985.Google Scholar

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© Glenn E. Schweitzer 1989

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  • Glenn E. Schweitzer

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