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Bad for business and worse for security

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITOR [email protected]

DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITORAs of this writing, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is just over three weeks old. Though Europe has seen its share of military conflicts, the current scale of the aggression directed against civilians in a sovereign European nation was virtually unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

Given this timeframe, it is daunting to risk any perspective here when it could potentially appear reactive and outdated before it is even published. Conversely, it feels wrong to simply ignore or take a wait-and-see position on a conflict that, in addition to causing immeasurable loss and disruption to Ukrainian lives, is already rippling through industry operations, scientific research, and even global economies.

On March 17, the United Nations estimated that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than 4 million refugees could need protection and assistance in neighboring countries in the coming months. The refugee crisis is immediately apparent in countries that neighbor Ukraine, such as Poland. But the impact has already spread as far as Germany, where it will be evident to attendees of April’s LASER World of PHOTONICS exhibition.

To their credit, the stakeholders of Messe München — the venue for the event — announced that they unanimously decided to reconfigure the exhibit halls to provide two of them as temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

The conflict has also roiled the normally collaborative discipline of science by forcing research journals, organizations, and active research teams to choose a side. Nature and Science, the world’s two preeminent scientific journals, have tried to strike a balanced pose for now. Both condemned the Russian invasion in editorials while also advocating against indiscriminate isolating of Russian scientists.

It is a fine line that these journals walk, but perhaps understandable, given that more than 4750 Russian scientists and science journalists have signed an open letter to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that excoriated the war as “driven by dubious historiosophical fantasies.” Such dissent in Russia has since been curbed by government censorship that equates it with treason — an action that could prompt a certain amount of brain drain as Russian scientists flee the country’s borders to avoid being trapped behind a new Iron Curtain.

As unfortunate as the situation is for Russian scientists, it does not compare to the conflict’s impact on Ukrainian researchers. Many have been forced to abandon their work, while others have actively joined the fight against their invaders. These trends appear likely to affect the country’s scientific contributions for decades to come.

Current generations grew up in a world tempered by a globalist economy. And many of the problems with that framework — job insecurity, corporate hegemony, financial imperialism — while legitimate, sound almost cliché, even quaint, amidst the news footage of bombed maternity hospitals and schools in a European nation. There is an argument for challenging globalism’s current world order. But Putin’s autocratic kleptocracy sure isn’t it.

The answer to his military adventurism might share many parallels with the solutions for globalization’s worst excesses: broader and more open scientific collaboration, competitive markets, and equal opportunity for all.


Photonics Spectra
Apr 2022
Editorial

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