„The military is interested“

After reporting by Wiener Zeitung revealed that the Pentagon finances science projects at Austria’s public universities, many questions have arisen. Among them: What strategy is the Pentagon pursuing?

Some of the answers can be found in strategic Pentagon papers acquired by Wiener Zeitung that mention Austria explicitly. Specifically, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s paper states that Austria is interesting because of its research in quantum technology and says there are “major advances through EU research centers.”

This article was published in Wiener Zeitung, print and online, on the 10th of July, 2014. http://www.wienerzeitung.at/themen_channel/bildung/uni/644293_Militaerisch-interessant.html

In response to Wiener Zeitung’s previous publications*, Austrian universities emphasized that they were only involved in basic research and that the results were not used for military purposes. But not everybody agrees with that. „It is widely known that in the field of quantum computing and –optic, there is a considerable interest by the military,” says Wolfgang Liebert, head of the Institute of Safety and Risk Sciences at Vienna’s University of Agricultural Sciences. Liebert senses a strong presence of „dual-use“; which is when science fulfils civil as well as military purposes. Liebert, who has been engaged in pacifistic research, stresses that dual-use science is “a purposefully grey area.”

The Pentagon paper mentions Austria as one of 20 countries with which the Air Force holds data and information exchange agreements.

The U.S. military not only finances research projects but also holds symposia and pays for researchers’ travel costs. For example, it paid the airfare for researchers working for the Austrian public Academy of Science. Scientists have accepted those invitations in order to attend international networking events held by the Pentagon in the States, a member of the Austrian Academy of Science confirms to Wiener Zeitung.

The controversial topic of basic research is also mentioned in the paper; it states that the purpose of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is to provide the Air Force with „a strategy, awareness, and access to overseas basic science and technology.”

Department of Defense wants to be „the world leader in basic research”

“In order to avoid tech [sic] surprise, it is important for the Department of Defense to be involved in the cutting edge of basic research on topics of specific interest, whether cutting edge is in the U.S. or overseas,” another paper states. In a 2013 paper, the AFRL recommended an increase in the percentage of basic research funding around the world, from 2.5 to 3 percent to 5 percent.

It is not news that the U.S. military relies on international science, but its interest in overseas research has grown stronger in recent years. In the U.S., the number of scientific articles being published is declining, but still, the U.S. managed to have a 41 percent increase in publications over the past ten years. This was only possible through research done on behalf of the Pentagon in Europe and Asia. In just one year there were almost 900,000 scientific articles published (numbers from 2010).

Meanwhile, the public debate about external funding in Austria goes on. “There must be a discussion about transparency and ethics,” says Karlheinz Töchterle, member of the parliament and the People’s Party’s science spokesman. Like the students’ union, the conference of universities and several other politicians, he demands “as much transparency as possible” and “independence that guarantees basic research.” Töchterle stresses one shall not be too hasty convicting scientists and universities, though. Similarly, Liebert, a critic of arming, stresses that it is important not to blame scientists only. In Germany, the discussion has exposed radical positions on both sides: “The one side argues that you are not allowed to do research on anything that could be interesting for military purposes. The others stress the freedom of science – and by that they justify that they do whatever they want.” In order to enable a discussion, you have to balance both perspectives, says Liebert.

Information

Wiener Zeitung and NDR Info revealed that several public universities in Austria and the – also public – Austrian academy of Sciences received almost nine million Euros from the Pentagon. All big Austrian universities cooperate, or have cooperated, with the U.S. Department of Defense, which was not known to the Austrian public before this investigative research was originally published by Wiener Zeitung.

In 2013, Austrian universities received a total of 600 million Euros of outside funding. 155 million Euros were provided by companies, 23 million Euros came from foundations or assemblies, and the rest came from public funding institutions like the FWF, the FFG or the EU. In 2013, the Austrian Department of Science spent around three billion Euros for science and teaching. The Pentagon’s budget has other dimensions: In 2013 it was 370 million dollars, about 70 million dollars of which go toward research and development annually.