The military from a large number of countries funds a significant body of research which appears to have little direct bearing on weapons production or development. For example, after WWII the U.S. Office of Naval Research was a mainstay of research in biology and physics. As well, studies of a significant number of diseases, malaria for example, was carried out by military personnel using military research money.
Furthermore,the question of what is “military” and “non-military” is difficult to answer What may seem non military to one researcher, may be put to a military use by another. The case of a vaccine against a disease causing microorganism is the classic case. While developing a vaccine may save civilian lives in the absence of conflict, developing a vaccine is a key step towards use of the agent in biological warfare. More generally, any scientific advance increases the base of technology which may be used to produce more deadly weapons.
So it seems clear that military funds a broad range of non-weapons related research; is there something wrong with such funding? Indeed, an occasional remark from those who receive funds from the military is that by taking the military’s money one reduces the amount they can spend on weapons production, and so is in some sense working for disarmament.
However I believe there is a problem with military funding of basic or non weapons related research. The problem is this: such funding blurs the distinction between basic research and weapons related research.
As a result, such funding makes it difficult for society to separate the military from non-military functions of the armed forces. The net result is not that the society benefits in any way in which it would if the money were channeled into non-military research. Rather, the effect is that the military is able to control a larger fraction of the research and technology resources.
The key point is that if society believes that the non weapons related projects which are funded through military grants are important, the funds should be allocated^-^through non military agencies.
For example if the vaccine is important, transfer the funds from the military budget to the public health agencies and allow the grant to be funded there.
Such transfers would reduce the military budget and allow more grants in public health areas to receive more funding. Furthermore, such funding would make clearer the goal of military research.
One colleague of mine who has had some dealings with the military suggested to me that they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it all so they were willing to fund non weapons related research. The fact that the military has sequestered so much money is a demonstration of the problem. The remedy is to not give the military so much money in the first place, not to accept money allocated to military budgets.
By accepting grants from the military, one provides additional justification for future budget requests. Such budget items make it more difficult for elected officials to see clearly what the priorities are.
Part of our role as scientists should be to bring issues facing society into focus. Certainly distribution of resources, in this case research funds, is a key factor in our ability to meet be imminent social problems. I believe that we can help to clarify the role of the military as a source of solutions to our problems by dissociating it from non military functions. I would urge all fellow scientists to neither seek nor accept military funding for any non-weapons related research.