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Discussing defense at science council risks blurred line between military, civilian R&D

National security has been introduced for the first time as a topic of discussion at the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, the "command center" for the nation's science and technology policy. This is evidence not only of the government's view that civilian technology is crucial for the nation's defense strategy, but also of its desire to copy the U.S. model of widely promoting science and technology, including for military uses.

If, however, the distinction between military and civilian uses become ambiguous under Japanese government policy, there's a risk that the foundations of science and technology policy, which were developed only for peaceful uses after World War II, will be shaken to their core.

In the U.S., basic research costs at universities and other institutions are partly allocated by the Department of Defense, and such subsidies are said to be a driving force behind the development of innovative technologies. There are high expectations among Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and business circles to use the U.S. as a model for promoting the development of technology that protects both the state and its people, and then for that technology to be transferred to civilian uses, thereby contributing to economic growth. This may sound attractive to researchers amid current budget crunches.

However, there's no guarantee that simply trying to imitate the U.S. -- which is the world's strongest military superpower with a huge military-industrial complex -- would pan out in the same way for Japan. Furthermore, if science and technology budgets were to be allocated by various ministries and agencies, whether certain research could be considered the equivalent of military research will become unclear just from looking at the funds' sources.

Japan must engage in careful discussion on how to strike a balance between its science and technology policy and defense policy in order to realize its goal of becoming an innovative scientific and technological powerhouse while still upholding the war-renouncing Constitution. (By Norikazu Chiba, Science and Environment News Department)

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