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MTCR and Skawina in Poland

Before I move on to Rome, there were some other disappointing events in Poland.

MTCR.  Before the fall of Communism, there had been some security failure at the embassy in Poland, so that even after the fall, there was a lot of concern about security of classified material.  As a result, there were a limited number of paper copies of classified cables, with few distributed to anybody except the office that had “action,” i.e., that had to act on or respond to the cable from the Department of State.  In other embassies, more people might have gotten “info” copies, so that they would know more of what was going on in the embassy.

Besides overseeing the science cooperation, which was cancelled, I also had responsibility for environmental issues and some nuclear related matters, one of which was export control  matters such as the Zangger List, which controlled exports of items which might be used for nuclear proliferation.  In that capacity, I often dealt with a Polish diplomat at the Foreign Ministry,. Ambassador Strulak, who worked on a variety of proliferation issues.  One day while I was talking to him, he asked me if I could find out why the US had blackballed Poland’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).  This came as a shock to me, because I had worked on MTCR issues for years in the Department of State, and I had seen nothing about the MTCR in the embassy cable traffic.  It turned out that the “action” on MTCR cables went to the political section, and I did not get a copy in the science section, although after years of working on the issue, I had to be one of the experts on the MTCR.  In fact that is why Amb. Strulak had asked me about it.  On one of his visits to Washington, he was asking around in the State Department about why Poland had been blackballed, and someone had told him to ask me in Warsaw, because I was an expert.  Until then Amb. Strulak never knew that I had worked on missile proliferation as well as nuclear proliferation.

By then, however, I had been out of the loop for several years, working on other issues.  However, I called back to my old office and talked to the man then running it, Vann Van Diepen.  I had known Vann since he was in intern and I was an analyst in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  However, Vann told me there was nothing I could do, because President Clinton had personally decided to blackball Poland.  It’s not unusual for an issue that can’t be agreed between agencies to go to the White House for decision.  I also knew what the problem was: The MTCR was unwieldy because it basically operated on consensus.  The US wanted to get a more controllable management structure before it got too big, and adding Poland would have made it bigger.  On the other hand, the Poles wanted to cooperate so badly that they would not have been a problem in reaching consensus.

Anyway, I was disappointed that no one thought it worthwhile to consult me or even to inform me that this matter was on-going, when I had been the main working level person handling this issue a few years earlier in Washington.  It was as if they didn’t think the science office could handle a policy issue.

Skawina.  Although they didn’t think I should be involved in political matters, it was pretty much accepted that I handled environmental issues.  This main mainly meant working with the Polish environment ministry, and supporting an organization called the Ekofundusz (or Eco-fund).  The Ekofundusz was a non-governmental group funded by forgiven US debt.  Instead of being repaid, the US authorized the Ekofundusz to finance environmental projects in Poland that it found worthwhile.  I don’t remember its budget, but most of the projects were relatively small, maybe in the tens of thousands of dollars.

For me one of the best things about the Ekofundusz was that it provided a refuge for liberal environmentalists who had supported the overthrow of Communism.  In the mid-1990s when I was there, the old former Commies were back in power in many places, including the environment ministry.  The Ekofundusz was like a Brookings Institution or Heritage Foundation, it gave the anti-communist environmentalists an office and a little salary until they had a chance to get back into government.  This is the same kind of thing that the Maria Skladowska Curie Fund could have done for anti-Communist scientists and engineers, but by cutting off the funding, the Republicans cut them off at the knees.  Fortunately, because of the vagaries of the law, the environmentalists’ funds were not cut off.

In addition, USAID had a much larger environmental program as part of its agenda.  One of its projects was to build a scrubber for an old electric power plant near Krakow, called Skawina.  I frankly didn’t pay much attention to it, although AID was better than the political section about keeping me informed.  So, I knew we were building this scrubber, and we turned it over to the Poles.  After a while, I began to hear from my Polish contacts that the scrubber didn’t work.  Basically, it blew exhaust from the power plant through a process in which lime stone was supposed to remove most of the sulfur from the gas.  When I began to look into it, it turned out that it didn’t work.  The chemical properties of Polish limestone were not suitable for the process.  It was somewhat galling, because the main Poles complaining were old Communist apparatchiks who were happy to see the US fail, but they were right that the system did not work.  One took me to a much bigger power plant with working scrubbers; they were built by the Dutch, but were based on General Electric designs.  I think that when I left Warsaw for Rome, Skiwina was still not working.

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