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Universities avoid defense research based on lingering post-WWII ideology

  • August 14, 2022
  • , Sankei , p. 1, 3
  • JMH Translation

A full-page advertisement was published in the five national newspapers and some local newspapers on May 15. The words “To all researchers” were written in large red letters on a solid black background in a manga-style typeface. Underneath the red letters, the advertisement expressed opposition to military use of science and technology, saying “Research to save lives is used for weapons, which can easily take lives.”


The Chiba Institute of Technology, a private university in Chiba Prefecture, had placed the advertisement.


Last year, the university received protests from civic groups opposed to military-university collaboration, because the university applied to an Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) program to support basic research in the private sector. Although the application was for research on solid rocket fuel that does not pollute space, it was criticized for being “able to be repurposed to missile development.”


The Science Council of Japan (SCJ) declared in a March 2017 statement that it would maintain its previous stance of “absolutely not” conducting defense-related scientific research. This cast doubts on the ATLA program. The number of applications to the program from universities across the country fell sharply from 58 in FY2015 to nine in FY2020, a reduction to one-sixth. There were only 12 applications in FY2021.


A spokesperson for the Chiba Institute of Technology said that the university had confirmed that there was no possibility of the research being repurposed for military use when it applied to the program, and stated that the university “will not apply [for the program] in the future if there is a possibility that [the research] will be used for military research.”


The universities’ avoidance of military research is not limited to the disciplines of science and technology.


A symposium on security was held on July 9 at a hotel in Kobe. Former Self-Defense Forces (SDF) officers spoke. About 100 people attended the symposium, including active-duty uniformed officers. About half the attendees were students. The event was sponsored by the non-profit Research Institute for Indo-Pacific Affairs (RIIPA) established in 2019. Kobe University Graduate School of Law Professor Minohara Toshihiro established the research institute, with the belief that “we cannot discuss security without on-the-ground knowledge.”


Minohara tried to invite an active-duty SDF officer to his class in 2002 but gave up on holding the class on campus because some students protested. The incident was also criticized in magazines. An article in a weekly magazine introduced comments from a student opposing the invitation saying, “Universities will be used as government subcontractors for research on contingencies.” The article ends by saying, “This may be the beginning of something foreboding.”


It is estimated that around 10 Japanese universities teach courses on security, but the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) does not know the exact number. Most universities include the topic in courses on international relations, but security is rarely the subject of an entire course.


Former Defense Minister Morimoto Satoshi taught courses on “Security Theory” at Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management in the late 1990s. He was one of the pioneers who treated security as a specialized subject. Morimoto, who was an Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) officer before becoming a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official, tried to take a professorial position at the dean’s request, but the appointment was not approved by the faculty council. Morimoto looks back on the event and says, “I think there was resistance to a former SDF officer teaching a course.”


Morimoto heard that an acquaintance who teaches at a national university in the Kansai region was harassed after discussing security in class. Someone blocked the keyhole in the acquaintance’s lab with glue. Morimoto comments that “There is still a postwar ideology that security is concerned with military affairs and is evil. We cannot deny the influence of the SCJ.”


Minohara says, “It’s more dangerous if we are not familiar with military affairs. We talk about civilian control, but can civilians control the situation without knowing the realities?” Minohara expressed concern that public opinion, which is cautious about the use of military force, could swing in the opposite direction in a contingency. Morimoto stated, “Being grounded in realism should prevent such extreme swings in public opinion.”


Tsuruoka Michihito, an associate professor at Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management, studied at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Tsuruoka says that military personnel and government officials from various countries study at this department. Its graduates find positions in private consulting firms as well as in government. Tsuruoka points out that in Japan, there are “almost no positions for students who have studied security other than in government.”


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the media exposure of researchers at the Ministry of Defense’s National Institute for Defense Studies. The situation highlights the small number of security researchers in the academic community in Japan.


Tsuruoka notes that, “The prevailing attitude in Japan for a long time was that ‘war is evil and should not be studied.’” Tsuruoka says that “when people talk about their opposition to war, they are talking about Japan’s instigating a war, based on their experience of World War II. Wars caused by Chinese and North Korean provocations or incursions are more likely to occur today. Whether we can change our perception of war is a big issue.” (Abridged)

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