The Yomiuri Shimbun It is feared a draft statement on military research, compiled recently by a committee of the Science Council of Japan (SCJ), will lead to universities curbing the progress of science and technology.
Concerning any research deemed to have possible “military purposes,” the SCJ panel calls on universities and other organizations to “establish a system to examine its appropriateness from technological and ethical viewpoints.”
Depending on the content, research projects will be halted or modified in the process of such examinations.
The SCJ’s opinion has no binding power, but its call to examine the content of research will itself have a chilling effect on researchers. Universities and other research organizations should deal with the draft statement prudently.
The SCJ represents the Japanese scientific community. Reflecting on scientists’ roles in World War II, it issued statements in 1950 and 1967 to the effect that “no research is allowed for military purposes.” The council plans to carry on this spirit.
The question is whether the purposes of science and technology research can be divided into “military” and “civilian.”
The global positioning system (GPS), a U.S. military technology, is indispensable to car navigation systems. Products permeating daily life, including food wrap and microwaves, also derive from military technology.
Technology is inherently dual-use — meaning it can be used for both military and civilian purposes. If dual-use technologies are strictly divided into the two categories, even beneficial research with a wide range of applications will be eliminated under the pretext that it will be used for military purposes.
Prioritize national interests
The SCJ’s target of criticism is the Defense Ministry’s system for promoting security technology research. Under the system, the ministry provides funds for basic research deemed to be useful for defense and disaster prevention. The ministry then has the right to utilize research results.
The draft statement points out that the ministry’s research support system is intended for the development of equipment for the Self-Defense Forces.
Based on that recognition, the draft criticizes the ministry’s supervision of research progress, saying that “government intervention in research is conspicuous.” But this represents an opinion that does not match reality.
Research topics adopted in the past include “development of palm-sized robots” and “development of sheets that absorb harmful gas.” If these technologies are put to practical use, they can be used at disaster and firefighting sites.
When research results are utilized to develop SDF equipment, the Defense Ministry will be directly involved in the development of applied technologies.
In the documents inviting applications for its research promotion system, the ministry clearly states that it can freely publish and commercialize research results. It will not “intervene” in the results. But as long as such research involves spending public money, it is natural for the Defense Ministry to check on its progress, as other government ministries and agencies do.
The draft statement will be referred to a general meeting of the SCJ in April.
Sophisticated science and technology serves as a deterrent in terms of security. Discussions on the matter must be deepened from the viewpoint of national interests.