Fund-Raising Through Weepy Idealism

Rarely is a book about a government project written by the project's head simply a book. Usually it fulfills non-literary requirements: a little back-scratching here, a little subtle propagandizing there, and a stream of self-promotion all the way through. And in Moscow DMZ, by Glenn Schweitzer, the American former head of a multilateral effort to help Russia convert its weapons science program to peaceful purposes, the reader has to do a lot of work to separate the book from its ulterior motives.

While Schweitzer clearly has the best interests of Russian scientists at heart, his book is conspicuously an apology for the American policy of solving Russia's problems by throwing money at them. Frequently it goes further, making an open appeal for further funding for the bureaucracy Schweitzer spends 200 pages defending.

As head of the International Science and Technology Center, or ISTC, in Moscow, a liaison organization, Schweitzer had a straightforward task. Though nominally the ISTC was dedicated to rebuilding Russia's research and development infrastructure and to cleaning up its environment, basically it was, and still is, about buying off Russian armaments scientists so they will not build weapons for nations hostile to ISTC countries.

Without a doubt, the ISTC's task was urgent: According to Schweitzer, the Russian intelligence services in 1993 identified 16 countries interested in buying into Russian nuclear expertise, including Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

Conversely, Schweitzer estimated some 60,000 Russian scientists who could contribute significantly to nuclear, chemical or aerospace weapons programs in developing countries.

With an initial budget of $50 million, the ISTC in 1994 quickly managed to employ some 6,000 military scientists in civilian projects. How they did this might have been an extremely interesting story, but Schweitzer for the most part limits his discussion of individual projects to a stark appendix that lists project names alone.

What Schweitzer leaves out in discussions of his science projects, he makes up for in weepy idealism. Written in the first person, his book is a compendium of comments of the hackneyed official American view of Russians as "darn nice people just like us," whom we never got to know because they happened to be victims of a repressive government for 70 years.

All of this, of course, leads to a very concrete end: raising money. "Russian R&D is in shambles," he writes in the epilogue. "Ten billion dollars would have been a much more realistic estimate" of the funding the ISTC would still need to revive Russian science. He may be correct. But unless you are in a position to find that cash, you probably will not have much use for this book.

"Moscow DMZ," by Glenn E. Schweitzer, M.E. Sharpe, 291 pages, $21.95.

From the Chechen neighbor who goes to the trouble to nod as Schweitzer leaves Russia at the end of the book, to the myriad right-thinking scientists who just needed a little help (and a little cash) to escape from under the yoke of the Russian military-industrial complex, Schweitzer seems never to have met a Russian he did not like.