Peace Matters Index

more soldiers in the laboratory

ONLINE contents

- in memoriam
- conversion to peace
- send in the blue shirts
- soldiers in the laboratory
- military in schools
- monitoring toolkit
- descent intomadness
- history of movements and ideas
- science and war
- cold war modern
- history of movements and ideas
- 'New thinking' needs new direction

- complete issue pdf

This update of More Soldiers in the Laboratory from Scientist for Global responsibility highlights new developments related to military involvement in science and technology that have occurred over the past three years. It shows:

  1. The emphasis on a high-technology, weapons-based approach to complex security issues remains prominent in government and industry in the UK, USA and elsewhere. This is despite considerable evidence of the shortcomings of this strategy in current major conflicts and as a long-term approach to security. As a result of this trend, non-offensive security stances tend to be marginalised, especially where the presence of military corporations are to be found, not only within government decision-making bodies but also within teaching, research and the governance of the universities.
  2. Efforts to further embed military R&D in the universities are proceeding rapidly, despite the lack of discussion within the scientific and technological communities. This process has the potential to impact negatively on the R&D mechanism within non-offensive security programmes and key areas of civilian work such as cleaner technologies. Additionally academic freedom is likely to be compromised.
  3. The availability of science and technology skills in civilian areas such as cleaner technologies is likely to be compromised by the continuing large-scale presence of the military in education, research and industry.
  4. There is an urgent need for a full and open debate about both military policy and the role played within it by science and technology. Neither is being pursued to any significant measure by politicians of the main political parties or any of the professional institutions, despite considerable public concern.
  5. It is often from our universities that perspectives critical of those of the powerful, such as the military, emerge. However, when government policy, through a range of initiatives, pushes the universities into developing closer ties with the military and acting more like commercial entities with more resources devoted to projects with financial aims, then dissenting voices can be marginalised. This problem is compounded by the large number of closures and amalgamation of departments in physical sciences and engineering, leaving academic staff feeling vulnerable and limiting sources of independent critiques of security. Since the publication of the Scientist in the Laboratory report, the military has put in place plans to expand and strengthen its involvement with and influence over the UK science and technology sector with significant emphasis on building and further consolidating links with universities. Yet it is also increasingly clear that the narrow, high-technology, weapons-based approach to tackling international tensions and conflicts is failing in many situations. Furthermore, the imbalance between resources – scientific, technological and beyond – devoted to the military and those allocated to broader approaches to security problems continues to be massive. The recommendations made in the SITL report – not least, the need for a major shift in scientific and engineering resources away from the military and towards areas which support social justice and environmental protection – continue to hold true. Indeed, a recent report from the think-tank, BASIC, argues that there is also potential for real economic and employment benefits if the UK industrial sector is switched away from its large-scale dependence on military projects to areas like renewable energy.

It is high time that science and technology, both in the UK and globally, were redirected, giving far greater prominence to ethical and practical concerns, which impact on both humans and the environment.
Chris Langley, Stuart Parkinson and Philip Webber
Scientist for Global responsibility

Military involvement in schools
Additional to university research partnerships are a range of schemes in which military corporations provide educational materials and support to UK schools and colleges. Many of the larger corporations provide extensive science and technology materials attuned to the National Curriculum. In addition, they run a range of activities for schools. Current examples include BAE Systems’ School Challenge competition and a theatre-based roadshow. Rolls Royce runs a science prize for teachers60, while DSTL has a science and engineering ambassadors schemel, and the Atomic Weapons Establishment runs the ‘AWEsome’ science campaign. The major US military corporations are also involved in a very wide range of ‘educational activities’.

Military employers are also very active at the college level. The large-scale involvement of BAE Systems is one such example.

It is especially common for military corporations to build good relations with schools and colleges local to their main industrial facilities, which helps ensure their future workforce and where there is least opposition. For example, BAE Systems has sponsored schools in cities like Portsmouth, Bristol and Plymouth not far from their local divisions or factories.

Military industry clearly wants to encourage uptake of science and technology subjects at school in order to ensure a supply of qualified staff for the future. A little-discussed secondary aim of this strategy is their wish to encourage schoolchildren to associate the subjects with the particular company so that they are more likely to come and work for them rather than for anyone else. However, this strategy can undermine critical questioning of the role of the military from an early age.

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