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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-4

Barriers to International Research Collaboration due to U.S. Sanctions

1 Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's University Hospital, Bethlehem, PA, USA
2 Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, The Medical Center of Aurora, Aurora, CO, USA

Date of Web Publication8-Mar-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Donald Jeanmonod
Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's University Hospital, 801 Ostrum St., Bethlehem, PA 18015
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/IJCIIS.IJCIIS_9_19

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How to cite this article:
Jeanmonod D, Firstenberg MS. Barriers to International Research Collaboration due to U.S. Sanctions. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci 2019;9:3-4

How to cite this URL:
Jeanmonod D, Firstenberg MS. Barriers to International Research Collaboration due to U.S. Sanctions. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 27];9:3-4. Available from: https://www.ijciis.org/text.asp?2019/9/1/3/253769

It was with great interest that we read “United States federal government regulation of international research collaborations: What every physician-scientist should know.”[1] In this article, Miller et al. introduce the researcher/academician to the idea that there are activities that they may engage in with foreign individuals and institutions that are subject to the U. S. regulatory bodies (specifically the Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC] and the Department of Justice). Common activities in academia, such as research, teaching, scientific collaboration, and contracting, are prohibited with numerous individuals as well as broadly with certain foreign states and although the academician may not know of these prohibitions, the ignorance of the law does not shield the individual from the consequences of their actions. The concerns are the substantial fines and potential criminal charges that can result in significant jail times that can be associated with such activities – not something that a scientist/researcher often considers as they embark on a scientific endeavor. Although large institutions and universities may employ an individual to help navigate the muddy waters of governmental bureaucracy, many of us come from smaller institutions or may be embarking on new international collaborations and do not know whether our activities are of concern. As Miller acknowledges, this is made even more complex and difficult with the proliferation of “internet-based” tools, such as Facebook, ResearchGate, Twitter, and numerous other professional social media sites dedicated to bringing people together and encouraging collaboration independent of the geopolitical barriers that have historically challenged Team-science (a term, i.e., universally encouraged in biomedical research – especially by those who fund such activities).[2] Of course, the very irony that one government agency supports international collaboration, while another seeks to punish it with threats of large fines and jail time, is not lost in the discussion.

For the academician engaging in international endeavors, the take away from the article is that academic activities, such as publication of prospective and retrospective research, meta-analyses, reviews, case series, and case reports, with nationals from North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Iran or individuals on the OFAC Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN)[3] may be prohibited by OFAC or if allowed, will require review and issuance of a license by OFAC. For those who are involved in humanitarian and medical aid missions to Iran and Sudan, the export of medicines or equipment to foreign countries may also be governed by OFAC.[4] A simplified process would be to first consult the active sanctions list looking for the country pertinent to academic activity and if listed to read the available bulletins for that country.[5] The researcher should then access the SDN list and query the individual or individuals involved (as individuals have the ability to cross borders).[3] If a positive result is obtained, the next step would be the application for a license from OFAC.[4]

Who would have considered the complexities that arise with international collaboration and how decisions by the U. S. government administration could affect relationships that are already existing?

Although in medicine and science, we seek a certain truth that is knowledge and that truth should be without borders, we do not operate in an isolated vacuum, and it has become very difficult to separate politics out of everyday practice, whether it is domestic politics or international. Recent news[6] of the arrest in Canada of the Chinese tech giant Huawei's chief financial officer for claims of violations of the U. S. sanctions against Iran underscores the lengths that the U. S. government will go to enforce the sanctions. Even for individuals who are suspected of infractions but exonerated, like Dr. Xiaoxing Xi, the initiation of legal proceedings comes at huge personal cost. In his case, Dr. Xi has reportedly accumulated over $220,000 in legal expenses.[7] The process of getting a license for joint academic endeavors itself can be laborious and costly, and despite the investment of time and money, may result in failure.[8]

The complexities that are presented and the significant barriers to compliance, coupled with a moderate chance of failure, certainly have the effect of limiting joint collaboration. This in turn biases publication and knowledge dissemination from countries and individuals on whom the U. S. government has imposed sanctions.

Certainly, the importance of knowing that such laws exist and the severity of penalties for violations cannot be understated. However, the method by which doctors and researchers can be made aware needs to be more fully explored and practical answers provided. The question remains as to what are the most effective ways to protect and make doctors and researchers aware. As well, it would be important to make the process of compliance less burdensome. For grant writers who often need to budget for publication charges, salaries, institutional overhead and indirect, laboratory supplies and the cost of performing the actual research, do these laws now suggest that consideration be given to budgeting for legal fees or insurance policies to assist in protecting against the randomness, inconsistencies, and potentially financially (and professionally) devastating implications of violating sanctions – especially when enforcement of sanctions and the countries that are “on the list” may vary considerably based on the given political climate at the time and which political party is in power.

The concept of “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission” clearly does not apply to OFAC and while knowing who, where, when, and how to ask for permission when conducting multidisciplinary global team-based research is difficult enough as it is, the consequences of having to appeal for forgiveness can be substantial. If science and research are to continue to flourish and solve difficult problems, without a doubt the bureaucratic obstacles and international regulatory compliance obligations need to be both clarified and simplified. All it takes is one E-mail. Good scientific research is hard enough as it is – we don't need more ways of making it harder.

   References Top

Miller AC, Ziad-Miller A. United States federal government regulation of international research collaborations: What every physician-scientist should know. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci 2019;9:5-10.  Back to cited text no. 1
  [Full text]  
The National Cancer Institute's Science of Team Science (SciTS) Team Toolkit. Available from: https://www.teamsciencetoolkit.cancer.gov/public/ToolkitTeam.aspx. [Last accessed on 2019 Dec 02].  Back to cited text no. 2
U.S. Department of Treasury: Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Available from: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/SDN-List/Pages/default.aspx. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 29].  Back to cited text no. 3
U.S. Department of Treasury: OFAC License Application Page. Available from: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Pages/licensing.aspx. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 29].  Back to cited text no. 4
U.S. Department of Treasury: Sanctions Programs and Country Information. Available from: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/programs.aspx. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 29].  Back to cited text no. 5
Conger K. New York Times: Huawei Executive Took Part in Sanctions Fraud, Prosecutors Say. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/technology/huawei-meng-wanzhou-fraud.html. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 29].  Back to cited text no. 6
Johanson K. CBS News Philadelphia: Temple Professor Gets Help with Legal Fees. Available from: https://www.philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2016/03/21/temple-professor-gets-help-with-legal-fees/. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 29].  Back to cited text no. 7
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Policy and Global Affairs; Development, Security, and Cooperation; Schweitzer GE, editors. Overcoming barriers to cooperation. In: U.S.-Iran Engagement in Science, Engineering, and Health (2010-2016): A Resilient Program but an Uncertain Future. Ch. 4. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017.  Back to cited text no. 8


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