Make space for cooperation, not confrontation

Make space for cooperation, not confrontation

ITER and the International Space Station (pictured) are stellar examples of long-term scientific research projects. (NASA)
ITER and the International Space Station (pictured) are stellar examples of long-term scientific research projects. (NASA)
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At a time when most countries are being extremely secretive about their scientific and technological prowess, in a welcome breath of fresh air, a truly multinational project — at the forefront of science and cutting-edge technology — this week took a major step forward.

The good news came from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, known as ITER, which is the world’s largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor. It is being constructed jointly by more than 30 countries and blocs, including the EU, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. With this week’s announcement that the final magnetic coil had been installed in the reactor in France (although it still won’t be fired up for more than a decade), it is heartening to note the significant progress being made in a project that brings together countries like Russia, China and the US to work on a common platform, even while they see themselves as arch-rivals, if not enemies.

Nuclear fusion is a technology belonging to the future as, so far, it exists only as a theory or a phenomenon that a few scientists have achieved for a nanosecond or a picosecond in a well-equipped laboratory. ITER is a project, the sole project, that seeks to convert this phenomenon into a never-ending source of reliable energy that is almost free of cost, at least once the reactors have been built.

At a time when humanity is grappling with the extremes of climate change, nuclear fusion is being seen by some scientists as one of the major sources of renewable energy, capable of producing many times more power than the likes of solar and wind.

There are perhaps only a handful of areas where international coordination is progressing relatively smoothly. 

Ranvir S. Nayar

ITER is not the only major scientific project that has survived the unprecedented and severe turmoil that has gripped the world, dividing it into numerous camps. Space is another domain where international cooperation has continued, despite all the tensions, conflicts and sanctions that lie thousands of kilometers below on Earth. The International Space Station is jointly operated by Russia and the US, whose astronauts are launched in the same space vehicles and who conduct joint research while onboard.

ITER and the International Space Station are stellar examples of long-term scientific research projects with goals for the good of humanity that have managed to stay alive and relevant, trumping the short-term visions of politicians concerning matters that are more terrestrial.

Another area that has been relatively unaffected by global geostrategic tensions is climate change, although here the divide is strictly along the lines of rich and poor. Yet, each year, the leaders of countries gather to discuss climate change and the measures they need to take, individually and collectively, to try to arrest the advancement of global warming. Yes, climate change negotiations are not exactly anyone’s idea of a flying success, unlike the space cooperation or ITER, but it is crucial that countries at least get together and negotiate with each other.

The real challenges facing the world are long-term ones that need long-term visions of collaboration. 

Ranvir S. Nayar

There are perhaps a handful of other areas where international, and truly global, cooperation and coordination is progressing relatively smoothly, completely isolated from political or commercial divisions.

Unfortunately, these are too few and the needs of the world far too many — be it issues related to improved access to health, notably in Africa and South Asia, or better education for almost all developing nations, better vocational training or cooperation in the preservation of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, as well as the protection of wildlife. These are just some of the innumerable areas where all the countries in the world need to work in close coordination with each other to identify the best available solutions.

Nations — or, more precisely, political leaders — need to realize and acknowledge that almost all of the current disputes and conflicts and the reasons behind them are based on relatively short-term goals and visions. Meanwhile, the real challenges facing the world are long-term ones that need long-term visions of cooperation and collaboration if humanity is to overcome them.

Here, the fantastic success stories of the fusion reactor and the International Space Station can point the way forward in terms of how cooperation beats confrontation hands down. Thus, it is time for all nations to put aside their differences and pool their best brains and resources in order to find solutions to these problems. Otherwise, they will one day very soon threaten the existence of not just one city or nation, but the entire world and all forms of life.

  • Ranvir S. Nayar is the managing editor of Media India Group and founder-director of the Europe India Foundation for Excellence.
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