Soldiers in the laboratory: what are the ethical issues?

Presentation to the Café Scientifique in Brighton by Dr Chris Langley, SGR, on 16 May 2006

Soldiers in the laboratory: Military involvement in science and technology - and some alternatives

Scope of the project:

  • The situation in the UK during the past 20 years. Comparisons made with other EU countries & the USA. First broad-based study of the UK situation
  • Primary focus - research & development but also other areas within SET across public institutions
  • Literature-based survey of the military sector involvement with SET - research, teaching and PR. Some interviews & discussions also undertaken. Web material also used
  • The military is: government departments, corporations and others!

The focus of the project:

  • Histories over the last two decades of the three major players:
    • the universities
    • the military industry
    • the government - various departments
  • The socioeconomic backdrop against which these three players interact
  • The products of the interplay:
    • partnerships & other collaborations
    • the military presence & its impact on research & funding culture
    • the military agenda & broadly defined security concerns
    • SET & its research landscape

Major questions which the project posed:

  • Where in SET is the military sector to be found? Locations described in the Report.
  • What role does the military play in the UK & its impact on SET in practical and ethical ways? IPR, openness & lock-in.
  • What return does the taxpayer obtain for military funding of R&D? Spin-out and spin-in.
  • How well does the military serve security needs? Contrast between narrow power-based version and more inclusive security needs for the world.
  • What role does technology serve in security debates?


Some of the findings:

The scale of the military machine

  • Global military burden is currently US$1trillion.
  • In the EU military R&D budgets are largely represented by small number of nations:
    • UK
    • Spain
    • Germany
    • France

In 2000 these 4 countries represented 97% of the total EU countries' defence budget (almost 9 billion Euros)

  • The UK spends 30% of all government R&D on military objectives
  • In the UK the military industry has a yearly turnover of over £15 billion
  • Major national and international military corporations are found in USA, UK & France


The wider picture

  • The USA spends more than 50% of its total government R&D budget on military objectives - US$74.8 billion in 2006
  • 75% of the increase in US government R&D spending in the period 2001 to 2005 is attributable to 'defence'
  • The US 2004-9 Defence Plan budget will increase by around $40 billion dollars yearly to well over US$400 billion per year
  • Post September 11th vast increase in funding of research into areas of military interest such as bioterrorism, bioengineering, nanotechnology and surveillance - coupled with cuts in fundamental research.
  • Homeland security has a weapons-based portfolio
  • What the USA does impacts on research process and open nature of science across the world


The military sector and UK SET

  • Ministry of Defence puts almost £3 billion into SET R&D per year - contrast with many non-military SET areas
  • Military corporations in the UK add a further £100 million into SET R&D
  • There are additional non-research funding by the military - corporations plus the MoD, DTI and the FO - education, PR, and image creation
  • Military spending in UK is ahead of all areas save health, social services and education. Research areas which do not have military interest are often the orphans
  • In the last 3 years new consortia announced comprising universities, military corporations & government departments

The military influence

  • Military corporations include the largest commercial enterprises on the planet - Boeing in 2002 had revenues of $54 billion - BAE Systems has yearly sales in 130 countries to the tune of more than £12 billion
  • The 'War on Terrorism' has seen military corporations' profits rise steadily
  • Military funds = weapons-based objectives in context of commercialisation of universities & the research process
  • During the last 15 years: military corporations are now in: government, local agencies, universities & lobby via special interest groups
  • Military research interests now found across SET especially the physical & engineering sciences

Military funding - the New Wave

A consolidation of military funding of SET within universities in consortia:
  • Defence & Aerospace Research Partnerships - comprises 10 active groups at present
  • Towers of Excellence - currently 5
  • Defence Technology Centres - also 4
  • A suite of industrial/university 'partnerships'
    • Rolls Royce UTCs began in 1990s;
    • Manufacturing initiatives
    • BAE & Boeing
    • QinetiQ-university partnerships
  • Military funding of staff & students: professorships, lectureships, student bursaries, curriculum tools & public relations viacorporations plus QinetiQ & DSTL.
  • Joint Grant Scheme: 'defence' objectives - MoD/Research Councils Military funding - the New Wave

Defence & Aerospace Research Partnerships - 10 groups active - 28 projects

  • Rolls Royce & BAE major players
  • Areas: design; simulation; modelling; materials; data handling
  • Universities involved include: Bristol, Cambridge, Cranfield, Glasgow, Imperial, Leicester, Loughborough, Southampton, Surrey, Sussex, Swansea & York
  • Funders: MoD, EPSRC, DTI. Total value of DARPS £18 million in 2002-03


Towers of Excellence - 5

  • Involves research groups in former government defence laboratories, military corporations & universities. Funders are MoD, QinetiQ & DTI
  • Areas of research at sub-system level: guided weapons; radar; synthetic environments; underwater sensors & electro-optic sensors
  • Plans for 25 Towers - with research student training
  • The Intellectual Property Rights issue not clear - civilian utility?
  • Universities currently: Birmingham, Cranfield, Sheffield, Surrey & Imperial College

Defence Technology Centres - 4

  • Areas at present covered: Data & Information Fusion; Human Factors Integration; Electromagnetic Remote Sensing; autonomous systems engineering
  • Consortia comprise MoD, military corporation and university partner. Funding is 50:50 MoD and industrial partner - £10 million each year for 3 to 5 years. MoD has committed £90 million to the DTCs
  • Student training a key element
  • BAE is a major player

Military funding - some of the problems

  • Security issues transformed in last ten years - whereas current military support drives weapons- based approach
  • Lack of public accountability & discussion
  • Lock-in of military support for new technologies
  • The predominance of one or two very powerful corporations throughout the agenda-setting process in SET
  • Conflict resolution takes the back seat - arms escalation fuelled by SET expertise
  • Intellectual Property Rights issues leavened by secrecy - National Security!
  • Highly commercial agenda for science & little room for alternate voices
  • Science, engineering and technology have a vital role to play in addressing pressing needs - many are poorly funded in comparison to military objectives:
    • climate change amelioration, clean energy technologies, biodiversity decline, poverty and supply of clean water & proper sanitation - unequal support in the face of the military machine - all have a part to play in ensuring peace & security
  • University engineering departments close - 46 in the period 1994-2001- loss of expertise
  • Technological imperative sets unreasonable claims in conflict - clean solutions to complex multidimensional issues

What can we do?

The good news

  • Ordinary people have power - boycotts, demonstrations & pressure on government
  • Obtain a copy of the SGR Report or the Executive Summary which has key points & recommendations - then circulate!
  • Check out [other parts of] the SGR website
  • Question where, how and why research programmes are being set up with military funding
  • Open up debate and lobby suitable people. We have produced an ethical briefing on career choice in areas that attract military funding

Some good news

  • It is often slow, but change can occur - there are examples of change from military to security-based objectives.
  • There is a broad-based movement to build an ethical science & this discussion today is part of a growing process