The UK government’s military research and development (R&D) spending is heavily focused on offensive weapons systems, which do not tackle the main threats to our security, says a report out today.
Press release, 30 September 2013
Using new data from freedom of information requests, the report estimates that 76% of Ministry of Defence’s R&D annual spending is for technology programmes whose main role is ‘offensive’, i.e. aimed to be used to ‘project force’ far from British shores.
The report also estimates that the government’s military R&D spending is seven times greater than direct spending by civilian government departments on R&D aimed at understanding and tackling the roots of conflict. The latter includes social science research on conflict prevention and increasing political stability in developing countries. Also included is R&D on renewable energy technologies, which helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world.
The in-depth report is published by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), a UK campaign group.
The report also reveals that:
- During the three-year period 2008-11, the six largest areas of military R&D funded by the UK government were: strike planes; attack helicopters; long-range submarines; nuclear weapons; nuclear propulsion (for submarines); and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).
- Savings of at least £1 billion per year could be made in public R&D spending by taking steps to move to a less aggressive – but robust – defence policy, where the development of unnecessary offensive military technologies was cut.
- The imbalance between military R&D and R&D on tackling the roots of conflict is illustrated by some comparative examples of total public R&D spending over the three years, 2008-11:
Offensive weapons systems: £1,565m for combat aircraft; and £991m for long-range submarines, including their nuclear warheads;
Tackling the roots of conflict (based on a concept known as ‘sustainable security’): £626m for international development, and £179m for renewable energy.
- The Ministry of Defence was unable to provide a breakdown by programme of over one quarter of its R&D spending, despite repeated questioning. This opaque funding averaged about £500 million per year. This represents a major shortcoming in accounting practices.
- A shift in the public funding of R&D from military to civilian areas is likely to be beneficial for the UK economy and employment.
Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR’s Executive Director, said, “UK military R&D spending is among the highest in the world. But the recent parliamentary vote against military action in Syria – backed by public opinion – emphasises the need for a shift in focus to preventing wars rather than preparing for yet more military intervention. Our report concludes that the government should take a lead by redirecting its currently large-scale funding for R&D on long-range, offensive weapons systems to helping to deal with the roots of conflict.”
Barnaby Pace, SGR’s Researcher, said: “The UK government has in recent years acknowledged the threats of climate change, dwindling natural resources and international poverty. However, a lack of joined-up thinking means that the security implications of these dangers are downplayed and billions of pounds in R&D spending are still directed into developing military equipment more suited to the Cold War. This report shows the ample opportunities for a change in direction that would improve our security.”
Stuart Parkinson: 07941 953640
Philip Webber: 07929 827322
Barnaby Pace: 07969 295078
1. The SGR report is entitled Offensive Insecurity: The role of science and technology in UK security strategies. It is 67 pages in length (including the executive summary, but not the appendices), and draws on over 200 references. It is authored by Stuart Parkinson, Barnaby Pace and Philip Webber. Pdf copies of the report and appendices are available to download and printed copies can be purchased – see: /publications/offensive-insecurity
2. SGR is an independent membership organisation of about 1,000 natural and social scientists, engineers, IT professionals and architects. It was formed in 1992. SGR’s work is focused on several issues, including security and disarmament, climate change, sustainable energy, and who controls science and technology? For more information, see /