Volume 39, Number 5: September/October 2005

Academics in the Service of War

In Canada, we have guidelines that strictly regulate the use of human stem cells and assisted human reproduction. Both Bill C-6 and the Guidelines on Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research came about through public consultations with scientists, faith groups, the Canadian public and scholars in bioethics, sociology and law, among others. These instruments established guidelines for ethical research into and use of technologies with potentially profound life-saving medical benefits. Furthermore, the Guiding Principles include the notion that “Research undertaken should have potential health benefits for Canadians” and that the research should “Respect individual and community notions of human dignity and physical, spiritual and cultural integrity.”

As these instruments came into effect and the establishment of the first human stem cell lines in Canada was about to be announced, representatives of the U.S. Army were touring southern Ontario universities. The purpose of this tour was to make known to researchers at Canada’s premier research institutions the various funding opportunities available to them through the U.S. military. For example, through the Pentagon’s International Technology Center-Canada, Canadian scientists were asked for contributions in the development of systems enhancing the survivability, maneuverability or lethality of U.S. forces including “[technologies] to provide the warfighter the ability to autonomously deliver payloads (up to 30,000 lbs.) accurately from high altitudes (25,000 ft) and offset distances (20-30 km)” and “A fire control system that can perform tactical and technical fire control for both missiles and guns” able to “assign targets to the optimum weapon and fire multiple weapons at multiple targets.”

The products of this research are intended specifically to contribute to the violent increase of global morbidity and mortality. Yet, the administration at the leading research-based university in Canada declared that “it would be at odds with the university’s research-intensive mandate and commitment to academic freedom to prohibit legitimate academic research” (Provost Vivek Goel, quoted at www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/050503-1320.asp).

How, then, does it arise that scientific research and academic freedom at Canadian universities is subject to public scrutiny, ethical guidelines and federal legislation in the context of investigations aimed at reducing morbidity and mortality while remaining outside of ethical considerations when it is specifically intended to facilitate the waging of war and the killing of civilians on a global scale?

University-based military research is only one aspect of a symbiotic relationship, an “axis of evil,” between academics working at Canada’s public universities, private military industries and state military establishments. Development of this relationship is recognized as a military asset by the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND).A 1998 DND report states, “This report argues the case for improving research partnerships between DND and Canadian universities as a means of maximizing the return that could accrue from a pooling of scarce resources.” Combined with the hidden information through commercial secrecy and “national security” issues, Canadians unknowingly find themselves financing, developing, participating in and benefiting from wars around the world.

Direct Funding By War Criminals

According to the Association of American Universities, the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) contributed $2.153 billion in academic research grants that resulted in an estimated 67,927 direct and indirect jobs in 2001. Clearly, waging war keeps academics at U.S. universities busy. Likewise, funding for academic programs at universities in Canada comes from organizations known to be involved in a number of violent, illegal activities. Specifically, listed among the “friends” at the University of Toronto supporting research activities in 2002 were the U.S. Department of Defence, the U.S. Department of the Navy and the Office of Army Research United States Air Force.

These funding agencies were recently involved in an illegal invasion and continue to occupy of a sovereign state. This action constitutes, under the Principles at Nuremberg, the supreme crime – the crime against peace. These actions further violate the most fundamental aspects of the Charter of the United Nations. Furthermore, they have predictably led to additional crimes including torture, degrading and inhumane treatment of prisoners, indefinite incarceration without charge or trial, destruction of the means for the civilian population to survive, failure to protect the civilian population and massive environmental degradation.

In May of 2005, as these “activities” continued, representatives of the U.S. Army initiated their tour of universities in southern Ontario with presentations, handout materials and, scheduled at least at the University of Toronto, personal interviews with researchers who might be interested in contributing to the U.S. war effort. On the basis of academic freedom, the University of Toronto administration defended the ability of representatives of the U.S. military to solicit researchers for their intellectual contributions.

Limits On Research Activities

The university represents a unique environment where all academic pursuits can proceed unfettered, since, in the words of a University of Toronto statement, “they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.” While this basic notion should be supported in all facets of Canadian society, it represents the kernel upon which activities at Canadian universities are conducted. Indeed, the privileged position of academics at Canadian universities is predicated upon maintaining this fundamental principle.

It is clear, however, that limits to academic freedom exist. As was cited concerning research on human stem cells, very specific limitations have been defined on the use of these materials. For example, if I proposed an experiment to mix stem cells from a mouse and from a human and implant this “chimera” into a mouse to allow it to proceed as far as was viable, I rightly would be prohibited from performing such experiments. This restriction is not limited to issues dealing with human experimentation. The genetic experiments on animals performed in my lab are subject to specific guidelines restricting the sorts of investigations I can perform and on how they are conducted. Thus, despite the “publishability” of these studies, there exist specific limits, guided by moral and ethical principles, on academic freedom.

These limits to academic freedom and adoption of a code of ethics have recently been the subject of discussion surrounding the publication of data potentially useful to “terrorists” in the context of individuals rather than nation states. Concerning the use of scientific data for bioterrorism, biosecurity experts explained that, “The answers to such problems” are codes of conduct. “Advocates say they would force each researcher to think about the proper conduct, dissemination and use of his or her work” (my emphasis; Nature (2005) 435:855).

Are we to understand, then, that publishing of data with the potential to be used by non-state terrorists in order to kill civilians should be subject to codes of conduct, but that none should apply for research conducted for the U.S. military, which has a demonstrable history of killing millions of civilians around the world in this century and which clearly intends to apply this knowledge to wage war?

Are All Funding Sources Acceptable?

Universities accept funding from a myriad of sources in order to conduct basic and applied research and analysis. The University of Toronto has stated that, “Any attempt to restrict the sources of funding for research undertaken at the university is a form of censorship and an attack on the freedom of academic inquiry” (“Report to Governing Council on Military Research at the University”).

Let’s put that notion to the test. Would it be acceptable to perform perfectly noble civilian studies to determine the melting point of steel girders in office towers if it was funded by al-Qaeda? Hmm … terrorist organization, you say.

Would it raise eyebrows if it was the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (dprk)? “Axis of Evil,” you say. Well then, how about from the military of a country that has invaded dozens of countries and used atomic bombs against civilian populations in this century? Similarly, while presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as American corporations, saw fit to assist in production and targeting of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s, would funding for chemistry experiments be acceptable at Canadian universities if they came from the Iraq military during its war with Iran?

The point here is that, while it is not possible to determine the uses of all research – indeed, science in the public domain is often used for nefarious purposes – there is no confusion concerning the uses of research performed on behalf of military establishments. Why, then, are these funding sources not subject to codes of conduct or ethical constraints?

As already alluded to, this very issue is under serious discussion in scientific circles. A paper entitled “Analyzing a bioterror attack on the food supply: The case of botulinum toxin in milk” was recently published. After approval by reviewers, including a biosecurity expert, the U.S. Government blocked its publication at the last minute in May, 2005, although it was ultimately published at the end of June. The research for this paper “was partially supported by the Center for Social Innovation, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.” However, it seems likely that, if the military establishments of the DPRK, China, or Syria, who might well want to fund such research to protect their civil societies, could be prevented from funding this study at Canadian universities. Furthermore, one might expect that some of the many Canadian professors, postdocs and graduate students of Iranian descent might be restricted as to their funding sources for this project.

Canadian Universities And Funding Agencies In The Service Of Foreign Militaries

Military R&D activities provide substantial funding to the mostly private universities in the U.S. Researchers in Canada are not eligible to compete for many of these funding programs. Since access to funding for such projects as “Effects of implosion on surrounding structures” and “Modelling the effects of training for the networked battlefiled” is not directly available, the Canadian DND and at least one major federal granting agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), have taken it upon themselves to encourage Canadian scientists to perform this research on behalf of the U.S. military – but at the expense of the Canadian public.

Specifically, the DND website (www.drdc-rddc.gc.ca/business/muri/muri_e.asp) explains that, “Canadian university researchers, since they are not eligible to receive MURI funds, will be using their own resources that, most likely, will be provided by Canadian government granting agencies. Potential proposers are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to collaborate and team with Canadian researchers at no additional cost to DoD” (my emphasis). The only downside to this arrangement that I can see is that the U.S. DoD does not have charitable status, so tax receipts for NSERC or the Canadian government will not be issued. Canadians of Iraqi or Afghani origin or anyone advocating the peace through the rule of law on Planet Earth might, of course, view the merits of this “charitable” arrangement differently.

The “War Research Benefits Civilians” Gambit

Resistance to military activities is also met by additional contradictory and disingenuous arguments. University and government administrations attempt to play up the

consumer benefits of military research. The apparent paradigm that civilians benefit from military R&D (at least the civilians on the supply end of the Stealth Bomber) makes both consumers and researchers complicit in war efforts. Furthermore, military R&D sucks resources out of productive or useful R&D efforts at the expense of civilian-directed projects and activities.

Of course, the military does not fund research for the purpose of civilian benefit. Rather, it is clearly stated that the research is intended for enhancement of fighting capabilities and, secondarily, for commercial and civilian benefit should it arise. So, for example, a large program exists in malaria research. Malaria, uncommon among the U.S. population, is a significant problem when your military is stationed and involved in active combat in other regions of the world.

The example of malaria research also leads to the notion of how mixing of military-directed research and civilian benefit serves two other important purposes. It obscures the difference between military and civilian-funded research and it generates a source of propaganda selling a benevolent face for the military, which is engaged fundamentally in lethal enterprises.

Both of these issues are combined in the area of breast cancer research. As many in the field of breast cancer research are aware, and as stated recently by the University of Toronto administration, “U of T researchers have also participated in breast cancer and diabetes research funded by the U.S. Office of Army Research.” Here, the actual purpose of the Army (killing people, invading countries, regime change, etc.) is wrapped in nice paper with motherhood issues like breast cancer research. This is particularly disingenuous, since the U.S. army does not, in fact, fund breast cancer research. Rather, it administers a civilian program, mandated and funded by the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Army acts as the middle-person between those asking for the money for cancer research (breast cancer patients, families, etc.) and those paying it out (the U.S. Congress). The Army takes out of these funds, of course, its administrative costs. This research performed at universities in Canada, then, is another civilian program used, in part, to fund, train and employ U.S. military personnel. By focusing on these “nice” activities, it obfuscates the reality that the vast majority of R&D done by the military is devoted specifically to waging wars. Canadian university administrations tend not to mention the other areas of “lethal” research in their defence of the presence of U.S. Army recruiters on our campuses.

I have focused here primarily on the more obvious aspects of the military-academic alliance in Canada. Readers should also be aware of the deeper integration of the military in Canadian universities through programs such like DND’s Defence and Security Forum, or through academic centres, like the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. These programs nurture “military thinking” and generate a cadre of “experts” available to promote military issues, as during the Ballistic Missile Defence debate.

Discussion needs to take place within Canada’s public universities as to the ethical aspects of receiving funding from or “aiding and abetting” agencies involved in illegal wars, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Clearly, the noble banner of “academic freedom” is subject to ethical limits, as are all human activities, as in the principle of the medical Hippocratic Oath, where “do no harm” is the guiding principle. Surely if promoting hate or racism is subject to restraints on academic freedom, then contributions to the means of waging war, civilians in other countries being the principal “beneficiaries” of such activities, must also be subject to ethical considerations.