Japanese scientists are leading a path to peace- and see dual use research as an obstacle.

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April 10, 2017

The Science Council of Japan (the equivalent of the National Academies of Science in the USA) has released a statement that calls for academic scientists to refuse funding for military research.

They have done this not for a political reason, but for a deeply ethical and philosophical one- to avoid war.

The Japanese scientists on the Science Council understand that they, as scientists, bear responsibility in the effort to avoid war. Scientists are very much part of the technological part of waging war, and must look to themselves as one of the forces that must police itself. But few scientists across the world are willing to risk they power they hold as advisors to the military, or the money they receive from the government, to speak against war.

Some scientists simply haven’t questioned the effectiveness or morality of war. This is particularly easy to do in the USA, which has not had a massive war in its borders since the civil war in the 1860’s, and which hides its huge and expensive militarism (with the largest military in the world) behind a facade of consumerism. Although WW2 was over half a century ago, the atomic bomb devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo and other large cities have left psychological scars that have helped support a culture of pacifism.

Not all people in Japan are determined not to go to war. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, citing concerns about North Korea and China (and supported in this by the United States ), has been trying to justify a polity of re-militarization. He has arrested activists still protesting the many military installations the US military has in Japan, particularly the ones in Okinawa . In 2015, Abe’s governing legislative coalition made changes to the pacifist post WW2 constitution to allow it to rearm and fight beside allies. Geochemist Morihisa Hamada has noted that these changes to the constitution also permit the manufacture and sale of weapons, sales that can bring lots of money into the country.

Abe  has tried to re-introduce military research on university campuses in Japan through funding for dual use projects. Curiously to Americans (who seldom question funding from the military), it was the concept of funding dual-use research in academia that caused such agitation among Japanese scientists. Dual use research is constantly being redefined: it originally meant research that brought benefit to both the military and to civilians , but has come to mean in the USA and Europe the hostile use of a biological agent that is usually used to promote health.  It is the first, pure definition- research that can benefit the military as well as civilians- that is the subject of the Japanese scientists’ proposed boycott.

So the funding for research that has military as well as civilian application has been offered since 2015 to scientists in Japan through the government’s Acquisition & Logistics Agency, and the money was increased dramatically this year. Each university must decide whether or not to accept funds: so far, 10 universities allow researchers to accept defense grants, and 15 do not allow it. The temptation to take the money will be strong, and so the Science Council of Japan has called upon academics to decide for themselves whether it is moral to accept the money, a step they believe will bring closer the likelihood  of war.

Imagine the National Academies of Science doing the same!

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