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Editorial: Japan science community should solidify rejection of military R&D

It was recently revealed that at least 128 Japanese university researchers had accepted funding from the United States military, apparently to the tune of more than 800 million yen in the six years from the 2010 academic year. It was already known that the U.S. military provided research funding to Japanese scientists; what was shocking was that the practice had become so normalized, and that so many researchers were involved.

Following World War II, the Japanese scientific community did some serious soul-searching over their complicity in Japan's war effort. In the end, Japanese scientists decided to draw a hard line between their research and that for military purposes. Since the end of the war, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) has twice released statements pledging its membership would not undertake military or war-related research. The second statement, issued in 1967, apparently cued the start of U.S. military funding for Japanese scientists.

The very fact that the U.S. military is pouring money into Japanese research institutions shows how badly the spirit of the SCJ pledge has been eroded, that in truth it is now nothing but an empty shell. The scientific community should take this opportunity to ponder how to revive the core of its promise never to do military research.

The legitimacy of the research funded by the U.S. military is underpinned by the fact that scientists are essentially free to choose their own themes, and their projects are open to the public and produce peer-reviewed papers.

All this may lower the psychological bar for scientists talking themselves into taking U.S. military money. However, there is no guarantee their discoveries won't be repurposed for military ends. What's more, such military ends are not limited to the defense of the United States, but may just as easily be applied to the creation of more powerful offensive weapon systems. We call on Japan's scientists not to delude themselves, and to wake up to this reality.

It is not just U.S. military funding that is of such concern. Starting in fiscal 2015, Japan's Defense Ministry launched a new program to funnel "research aid" to Japanese scientists. That year, 300 million yen was budgeted for the program. That doubled to 600 million yen in fiscal 2016, and is set to rise to 11 billion yen in fiscal 2017.

Both the U.S. military and the Japanese Defense Ministry are apparently hoping to get something militarily useful out of civilian research, and at low cost. They are also likely trying to build a network of scientists. After all, if a scientist takes military funding just once, it becomes very difficult to sever that cooperative connection. It's very important to consider that state of mind.

The SCJ has begun deliberating accepting the Defense Ministry aid program, and the council took a very cautious attitude to military research in a midterm report released last month. Minority opinion held that there was no problem with such research if it was for defense purposes only, but then it is very difficult to draw a clear line between defensive and offensive weapons technology. That being the case, the scientific community should aim to build a consensus not to accept research support from military-related organizations.

Of course, this will not be enough. Regardless of the source of funding, there needs to be a fixed mechanism to steer the fruits of Japanese research away from military uses.

Furthermore, one major factor behind Japanese scientists accepting military money is the paucity of basic research funding in this country. As such, we would like to see the government turn its attention to boosting basic research subsidies, rather than pouring vast sums into military R&D.

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