Tomas Jermalavicius, ICDS
Over a month ago, Estonia‘s government passed a decree approving the composition of the research policy commission – a body which will draft the country‘s new Research and Development and Innovation Strategy (the strategy currently in force, nicely entitled “Knowledge-based Estonia”, is valid for the period of 2007-2013). Seemingly, nothing unusual and worth much attention – just a routine step in the periodic decision-making cycle of crafting national policy. The commission‘s list of membership features undoubtedly very competent public policy experts, scientists, representatives of non-governmental organisations, ministries – all led by a politician who is an accomplished scientist himself, the minister of education and research Jaak Aaviksoo.
But then, there is a tiny little snag: the list does not include any representative of defence , justice, internal or external security organisations. As if national R&D and innovation policy for the next seven years was seen by some policy wonks as being irrelevant to the defence, security and justice sector – the defence forces, foreign intelligence, security police, rescue services, police and border guard authorities, prisons services, etc. And vice versa, as if all those organisations were totally oblivious of the need for national scientific and technological base as a source of scientific advice, innovation and evidence-based policymaking and, therefore, were completely disregarding the need to define their knowledge requirements, sit at the table of national policymaking and think in synch with the rest. (A particular irony is that the commission’s chairman is a former and also currently acting defence minister).
Obviously, the spirit of “comprehensive” security and “broad-based” defence enshrined in Estonia’s national security and defence strategies is yet to permeate the R&D and innovation policy circles. (Although, quite frankly, the value of science and innovation to security, justice and defence is yet to acquire meaning to broader circles of people in uniform, not just to a very few of them). It is clear and almost official by now that “knowledge-based Estonia” does not encompass defence, security and justice affairs – it is mainly about interaction between science and business. The gap between the rhetoric of “knowledge-based Estonia” and “comprehensive” security / “broad-based” defence on the one hand, and real action on the other hand is becoming evident.
Thus, in a critical mission of developing Estonia as a knowledge-based society, defence, security and justice continue their march forward in their own little “bubbles” (the ministry of defence, indeed, is one of the few Estonian ministries which has its own R&D strategy as well as a research council that is actually being used), instead of being an integral part of the national innovation policy. They are deprived of or unwilling to take the opportunity and become proper stakeholders of national R&D and innovation strategy from its very inception. Their priorities and needs will, hopefully, get some consideration, but only at a later stage, when the direction of a broader national R&D and innovation strategy has been more or less agreed within the research commission. They are treated just as a sideshow.
The consequences of such persistent ignoring and lack of mutual dialogue turning into a syndrome? Anywhere between “dumb” defence and security (by further encouraging the attitude of some uniformed people, along the lines: “Science? No thanks, we don’t give a damn. Only NATO’s ‘sissies’ such as A. F. Rasmussen need scientific advice”) and “smart” defence and security, only based, by and large, on imported foreign scientific expertise and technology. Finance minister Jürgen Ligi – another former defence minister – will eventually notice, with his sharp eye, its small negative effect on Estonia’s trade balance in the annual balance sheets, but so what really?
The ministry of defence, the ministry of the interior or the ministry of justice now have a perfect and almost legitimate bureaucratic excuse for facing down all those Estonian scientists and entrepreneurs who claim that these ministries have to do their bit in funding national aspirations: the national R&D and innovation strategy will have been drafted, yet again, without their genuine involvement (as opposed to a formal process of reviewing and commenting upon a draft). Perhaps, this is what they want: The three ministers, and their staffs, apparently were in favour of the government decree and the approved composition of the commission. “No country for uniformed men” at the national level often equals to “no scientist, no cry” at the institutional level. Will there be anyone with enough clout, persistence and wisdom to undo this equation?
No country for uniformed men?