Interlude : Yes, Comrade
- Central Scientific Research Institute No.50 (TsNII-50), June 1975
Er, Fedor Nikolayevich, I wonder if I could have a word?
Of course, Boris, come in. What seems to be the problem?
Well, it’s the Minister.
You’ll have to narrow it down more than that, Boris.
The Minister has asked us to write a report about this American space shuttle. Apparently, “Uncle Mitya” is in two minds about whether we should develop our own equivalent, and he’s asked the Ministry of General Machine Building to produce an analysis summarising the military potential of such a vehicle, and so the Minister has in turn tasked our Special Research Institute to write the report.
Sounds simple enough. So what’s the problem?
Well, the Chief Designers and the Academy of Sciences aren’t keen on it. They don’t see any benefit and want to focus on their existing priorities.
You mean Mishin wants Glushko’s space stations, Glushko wants Mishin’s Moon rockets, and Utkin just wants to be left alone to build missiles.
Er, well, that is…
So why your concern?
Well, the Minister is worried that it would look bad if he recommended a shuttle against the wishes of both his Chief Designers and Keldysh. But on the other hand, he doesn’t want to risk recommending against
a shuttle, in case it later turns out the American’s do have some secret military purpose for it.
Hmm, I see. Still, the solution is simple enough, Boris: You must ensure that your report is sufficiently “balanced”.
Yes, Boris. You present a detailed, rigorous analysis of all the available data, complete with charts, trade-offs, parametric assessments, and so forth, and then you add a summarising page at the beginning stating that on balance, when the totality of the data is taken into account, and having been weighed up by all the experts in the relevant fields, when assessing the indications of the shuttle possessing an inherent military capability on the one hand versus the countervailing evidence of fundamentally non-offensive characteristics of the system in question on the other hand, it is not possible to determine with a high degree of certainty the true level of threat, or indeed lack of threat, presented by this potential future American vehicle to the Peasants and Workers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
You fudge it. You cloak the methodology in complexity while keeping the conclusion so vague that, whatever happens, you are sure to be right.
Oh, I don’t think I could really do that, Fedor Nikolayevich.
And why not?
Because the Academy of Sciences has done it already.
But I thought you said the Academy was against the shuttle?
They are, but if you take a look at their report… Here: “We do not see any sensible scenario that would support the shuttle for scientific uses
.” The rest of their analysis says our expendable rockets are cheaper and more effective than the shuttle, but with those two words, “scientific uses”, they hinted that there could be a military use, and so got the whole problem passed to us at the Ministry of General Machine Building.
Hmm. Well, if obfuscation has already been used, perhaps we should deploy a surfeit of clarity.
You write two reports. One clearly indicating that the American shuttle is a military threat that must be countered, and the other just as clearly proving that it isn’t.
But surely only one of them can be true?
If you want the truth, Boris, you must read Pravda.
No… I mean, yes… That is, what I mean to say is, how is the Minister to make up his mind based on contradictory reports?
Official reports are not intended to enable our leaders to reach a conclusion, Boris. They are to provide cover for them to go ahead with whatever conclusion they have already reached. Where the conclusion is uncertain, it is our job to give them options - and to ensure that no punishment for being wrong should ever fall upon the leadership or, more importantly, on us!
Well, I suppose if you put it like that…
Then you’ll write the two reports?
With apologies to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
. If you’re not familiar with their work, I recommend this clip
as encapsulating much of the spirit I have attempted to channel.
Happy April Fool’s Day! This light-hearted interlude was already written and in the buffer when I realised my regular posting schedule would put Post 5 on 1st April, so I decided to swap the order around. Post 5 (which will
discuss the shuttle decision, promise!) will now go up on 5th April, with Post 6 returning to the regular ordering on 8th April.
Incredibly, TsNII-50 really did produce two contradictory reports, IOTL and ITTL, although the canonicity of this particular exchange is left as a matter of reader preference.