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Science Council of Japan to review ban on military research

The high-powered Science Council of Japan has launched a study on reviewing a postwar ban on research for military purposes. The council decided at a meeting of its Executive Board on May 20 to set up a study committee on national security and science.

    The council made the decision after some council members noted that the postwar ban is outdated because the government is promoting research on dual-use technology for military and civilian purposes. A review of the non-military principle championed by the council since the end of World War II because of Japanese scientists' involvement in war efforts may be in the offing.

    In 1950, the council at a meeting of the General Assembly adopted a resolution vowing never to follow scientific research for war purposes. After an international parley of the Physical Society of Japan was found to have received subsidies from the U.S. military, the council issued a statement at its General Assembly meeting in 1967 reiterating its pledge not to carry out scientific research for military purposes.

    But the Defense Ministry initiated a system to promote technological research for national security in the last fiscal year to distribute funds for cutting-edge research which could be applicable to defense equipment. Nine research cases by university and other entities were selected.

    The nation's fifth science and technology basic plan beginning in the current fiscal year also spells out the promotion of research and development of defense equipment-related technologies.

    Some members of the Science Council of Japan have pointed out that it would be difficult to conduct research on robotics and other fields if the council strictly adheres to its non-military principle. Thus its Executive Board decided to establish the study committee on national security and science after hearing opinions from officials of the Defense Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

    The study panel is made up of 15 people, including council President Takashi Onishi, president of Toyohashi University of Technology, and Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa. The panel will debate where to draw the line over military research and the pros and cons of receiving research money from the Defense Ministry before presenting a viewpoint before the end of this year. The panel's deliberations will be open to other council members to allow them to express their views such as being cautious about lifting the ban on military research.

    Onishi says the Science Council of Japan should uphold the principle not to conduct scientific research for war purposes. He added that he does not think research for self-defense should be banned. Circumstances surrounding Japan have been changing and it's strange not to have had debate for so many years, he says, adding the time has come to deepen dialogue on what scientists can and should not do.

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