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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Chapter 16. Science and Techology

SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL progress has played a crucial role in the domestic and foreign relations of the Soviet Union and other modern, industrialized nations. New domestic developments have promised to strengthen the Soviet economy, enhance its military capabilities, and significantly influence Soviet relations with other countries.

The Soviet Union has placed great emphasis on science and technology. Soviet leaders since Vladimir I. Lenin have stressed that science and technology growth is essential to overall economic expansion of the country. They have overseen the development of a massive network of research and development organizations that in the 1980s employed more scientists, engineers, and researchers than any other nation. Their commitment also has been reflected in the annual increase in government funds allocated to science and technology and in the efforts made to incorporate science and mathematics courses in the school curriculum at all levels. In 1989 Soviet scientists were among the world's best-trained specialists in several critical fields.

The results of this commitment to science and technology have been mixed. In some areas, the Soviet Union has achieved notable success. For example, in 1964 two Soviet scientists, Nikolai Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov, shared a Nobel Prize, together with the American Charles H. Townes, for their research in developing the laser. Soviet scientists also have excelled in space research. In 1957 they launched the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik (see Glossary), and in 1989 they still held several records for longevity in space. Other strengths have included high-energy physics, selected areas of medicine, mathematics, and welding technologies. And, of course, in some military-related technologies the Soviet Union has equaled or even surpassed Western levels.

In other areas, the Soviet Union has been less successful. In chemistry, biology, and computers the Soviet Union in 1989 remained far behind the technological levels achieved in the West and in Japan. Research and development in industries producing consumer goods has received little attention, and the goods produced in those industries have long been considered to be of extremely low quality by Western standards.

This disparity in the achievements of Soviet technological development has resulted from a combination of historical, economic, planning, and organizational factors. All have combined to produce a system in which scientists and engineers have had little incentive to innovate because of immense bureaucratic obstacles and because of limited professional and personal rewards.

In the 1980s, the problems of science and technology received considerable attention in the Soviet Union. Cognizant of their country's serious economic shortcomings, leaders stressed the importance of scientific and technological advances to end the Soviet Union's dependence on extensive economic development (see Glossary) and to move toward intensive development. In the middle of the decade, the new leadership began examining the problems of Soviet science and technology and launched numerous programs and reforms aimed at improving the country's research, development, and production processes.

Data as of May 1989