Expanding military influence over science and technology is marginalising social and environmental programmes, says science group

Press release, 21 August 2007
 

Flawed government thinking is driving a rapid expansion in the military influence over science and technology, says a new briefing from Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR). US government spending on military research and development (R&D) is soaring (up 57% since 2001), while the UK government has rolled out two new military technology strategies in the last two years. Factors such as these are contributing to an expansion of military involvement in UK universities.

SGR’s briefing argues that government policies, which emphasise the application of military technology in dealing with complex international crises, are driving the continued expansion of military R&D in the USA, UK and elsewhere, despite major shortcomings being apparent – not least in current conflicts such as the Iraq war.

The briefing documents how government funding for military R&D dwarfs that spent on social and environmental programmes across the industrialised world. For example, in 2004, governments in industrialised countries spent a total of $85 billion on military R&D, but only $50 billion on R&D for health and environmental protection, and less than $1 billion on R&D for renewable energy technologies essential for tackling climate change. A similar imbalance can be seen in UK spending.

Dr Chris Langley, lead author of the briefing, said: “This briefing updates our earlier research which highlighted the way that the UK military sector – including government departments and major corporations – has disproportionate influence over science and technology. That this military influence is being extended is all the more disturbing in the light of ongoing corruption investigations into top UK arms corporation, BAE Systems.”

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Director of SGR and co-author of the briefing, said: “Gordon Brown, in his recent speech at the UN, said that we should put science and technology at the heart of efforts to tackle social and environmental problems. Yet, it is clear that current UK science policy allows the military far too much influence in the sector, undermining that aspiration. We urge Mr Brown to put his money where his mouth is and force a shift in current R&D spending to prioritise social and environmental concerns.”

Dr Philip Webber, Chair of SGR and co-author of the briefing, said “In David Milliband’s first speech as Foreign Secretary he talked about the need for changes in the way that the UK engages in the international arena. But can the government really be serious about changing its approach to foreign policy while pursuing major new military technology projects such as replacing its nuclear weapons system and building new aircraft carriers at a time when science and technology skills are so urgently needed in areas such as renewable energy?”

Notes:

1. SGR is an independent UK organisation of approximately 900 members across the natural and social sciences, engineering, IT, architecture and design. Its main aim is to promote ethical science, design and technology – based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. For more information, see http://www.sgr.org.uk/

2. SGR’s new briefing is entitled ‘More Soldiers in the Laboratory: the militarisation of science and technology – an update’ and can be downloaded from the Military Influence section of our website. It was written by Chris Langley, Stuart Parkinson and Philip Webber and updates the information and arguments provided in the critically acclaimed SGR report ‘Soldiers in the Laboratory’, published in January 2005, also available on the SGR website. Printed copies can be obtained from the SGR office - see our Publications page for further details.

3. The text of Gordon Brown’s speech at the UN on 31 July 2007 is available at: http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page12755.asp

4. The text of David Milliband’s speech ‘New Diplomacy: challenges for foreign policy,’ given on 19 July 2007 at Chatham House, is available at: http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029391629&a=KArticle&aid=1184751108322