Friday, June 19, 2015

State Dept. to Blame for Lack of Russia Specialists at Think Tanks?

A new Foreign Affairs article titled "The Decline of International Studies" suggests that the US State Department's elimination of funding for advanced language and cultural training on Russia, which supported a variety of think tankers, is one of the contributing factors to the problems we currently have with Russia.  Here is an excerpt:
In October 2013, the U.S. Department of State eliminated its funding program for advanced language and cultural training on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Created in 1983 as a special appropriation by Congress, the so-called Title VIII Program had supported generations of specialists working in academia, think tanks, and the U.S. government itself. But as a State Department official told the Russian news service RIA Novosti at the time, “In this fiscal climate, it just didn’t make it.” The program’s shuttering came just a month before the start of a now well-known chain of events: Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the descent of U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest level since the Cold War. The timing was, to say the least, unfortunate.
The end of the United States’ premier federal program for Russian studies saved taxpayers only $3.3 million—the cost of two Tomahawk cruise missiles or about half a day’s sea time for an aircraft carrier strike group. The development was part of a broader trend: the scaling back of a long-term national commitment to education and research focused on international affairs.

The article, written by Charles King, a professor at Georgetown University, goes on to note that democratic societies depend on having a "cadre of informed professionals" outside government - people in universities, think tanks, museums, and research institutions "who cultivate expertise protected from the pressures of the state."  In explaining the importance of think tanks, the article says: "Many countries can field missile launchers and float destroyers; only a few have built a Brookings Institution or a Chatham House."