Brussels, 20 Jan 2005
Military issues have a disproportionate influence on how science and technology funding is allocated in the UK, says a report published on 19 January.
The report 'Soldiers in the laboratory - military involvement in science and technology', published by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), points out that 30 per cent of total UK public research and development (R&D) spending is funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Furthermore, 40 per cent of government R&D personnel are employed by the MoD.
'Today the military sector plays a disproportionate role in setting the research agenda for science and engineering,' explains Chris Langley, author of the report. 'Yet we face a whole variety of security threats not addressed by current military thinking.'
According to the report, 'an increasing emphasis on high technology weaponry among the wealthier countries is contributing to a narrow approach to dealing with security issues.' For example, states the report, the UK MoD only spends approximately six per cent of its budget on conflict prevention.
'A broader interpretation of security is called for which takes account of global issues such as climate change, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity and an array of human health problems. Some redirection of the global 'defence' burden to under funded areas (many with a SET [science, engineering and technology] component) such as renewable energy and climate change mitigation would significantly assist in the development of these areas,' states the report.
The report finds that military involvement with SET is concentrated in a fairly small number of countries, with the US dominating. For example, in EU in the year 2000, the UK, France, Germany and Spain accounted for 97 per cent of total government military research spending.
As the report points out, the military sector supports emerging technologies such as space technology and nanotechnologies, and could therefore dominate the direction of their development. 'This imposes barriers to full public scrutiny of these technologies and colours the public perception of the potential usefulness of such technologies. The report therefore calls for the MoD to restrict its funding for those emerging technologies to less than ten per cent of that from civil public funds.
The reports also laments the fact that a number of new multi-million pound collaborations between the military and UK universities are leading young researchers to switch to high-technology weapons-based research.
Furthermore, adds the report, 'the UK government policies which have shaped SET over recent decades have moved commercial priorities centre stage and military corporations have a large part in this process.'
The report therefore recommends that the UK government begin a significant shift of funding from military R&D to civil R&D to contribute to peace building, addressing environmental issues and alleviating poverty at all levels. It also suggests introducing procedures to make MoD funding of R&D more transparent and open to public scrutiny, and calls on the UK to cease all scientific and technical work on the development of new nuclear weapons. To read the full report 'Soldiers in the laboratory-military involvement in science and technology', please visit: http:///www.sgr.org.uk/ArmsControl/Soldie rs_in_Lab_Report.pdf