Trident, technology and democracy

Notes for a presentation by Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR, for a Demos seminar, held in London on 30 March 2006


Democratising military technologies

The material in this talk is largely drawn from SGR’s report Soldiers in the Laboratory

  1. Scale of military involvement in UK science and technology

  2. Openness of military involvement

  3. Implications for technology/ security debates

  4. Some recommendations


1. Scale of military involvement in UK science and technology

Annually, the Ministry of Defence spends

  • ~£2.7 billion on R&D – one third of government R&D spend
  • ~£6 billion on military technology procurement

UK is world’s second largest government funder of military R&D

Military industry

  • BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ are biggest UK corporations
  • In 2002-03 additional R&D spending ~£350 million

Military industry also very influential in setting agenda for science and technology budgets – both within MoD and DTI – through advisory committees (which also influence civil agenda)

In last few years, several military-university collaborative schemes have been set up

  • Defence Technology Centres (DTCs) – four in approx 20 universities
  • Defence and Aerospace Research Partnerships (DARPs) – six in ~20
  • Towers of Excellence (ToEs) – five in ~10
  • University Technology Centres (UTCs: Rolls Royce) – approx twenty-five in ~20
  • University Partnerships (QinetiQ) – five in 5
  • Other research collaborations involving BAE Systems and Boeing

These are in addition to existing military funding of university work including the Joint Grants Scheme which is run jointly with the Research Councils.

Military industry also funds teaching, eg BAE Systems has large involvement in Dept of Education and Skills specialist schools programme

UK military and foreign policy has close links with US military and foreign policy (eg Trident, Iraq war, Mutual Defence Agreement etc) hence US military funding of UK SET.

  • US government is world’s largest funder of military R&D - 60% of US government R&D spend
  • US-UK exchange of scientists in nuclear weapons research labs.

Military has major involvement in emerging technologies

  • US Dept of Defense is one of the world’s largest funder of nanotechnology R&D
  • QinetiQ is UK’s largest manufacturer of artificial nanoparticles


2. Openness of military involvement

It’s hard to compile details of military involvement in science and technology due to lack of openness.

National security obviously reduces openness – especially serious if treaty obligations are involved, eg recent US-UK sub-critical nuclear weapons test

Most MoD funded science and technology takes place in industry and is therefore subject to commercial confidentiality restrictions (often with national security restrictions).

Most MoD R&D contracted through Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and QinetiQ – MoD retains no central record of its spending in universities. (Indeed the webpages on DTCs, DARPS, ToEs have been taken down.)

A lot of military projects have civil sector funding partners (DTI, Research Councils etc), so civil money is directed towards military ends but is not classified as military in government statistics.

Universities can often be reluctant to say who’s funding many of their projects (military or civil) – perhaps due to worry over possible controversy – we have been refused information on several occasions. With Freedom of Information Act coming into force, we are now asking again! Current progress – both universities and government departments are very slow to respond and information can be commercially restricted

Advisory committees involved in decisions on military technology – role/membership sometimes not clear


3. Implications for technology/ security debates

  • Military – through advisory committees and large direct funding of R&D – can strongly influence the research agenda and the direction of technological development without significant public discussion.
  • Priority tends to be given to narrow technology/ weapons-based approach to dealing with insecurity – non-violent conflict resolution and conflict prevention given low priority
  • Wider interpretations of security, eg food/ environmental security, tend to be marginalised
  • Hence R&D which could help is given little priority, eg UK renewable energy R&D £12 million in 2002/3 – compare with military R&D figures above
  • Leads to double standards, eg UK aiming to retain nuclear weapons and nuclear power (despite real alternatives), while wanting major restrictions on other countries (eg Iran)
  • Changing the priorities in R&D could help attract scientists and engineers back into the profession


4. Some recommendationspolicy options should be specified and discussed before R&D funding is allocated

  • more public scrutiny of/ input to the R&D agenda
  • sustainable development/ conflict prevention agenda needs strong application to R&D agenda
  • scientists and engineers should speak out more about the need for wider priorities