BRUSSELS (IPS) - Arms traders are seeking to convince the European Union that publicly-funded scientific research grants should help develop weapons for future wars.
In a series of secret discussions, Brussels officials and representatives of the arms industry are examining if the EU’s multi-billion euro “framework program” for research can be used for projects of a military nature.
Since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, senior policy-makers in the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, have been eager to ensure a greater involvement of arms manufacturers in the program. Yet because of the reluctance of some EU governments to give the commission a greater say in military matters, the scope of “security research” has so far been limited to projects that, according to EU officials, can be categorized as “civilian” and “non-lethal.”
About 1.4 billion euros ($1.85 billion) have been allocated to the “security” theme of the current framework program, which runs from 2007 to 2013 and has an overall budget of 53 billion euros ($69.5 billion). With planning already under way for the next phase of the program — from 2014 to 2020 — the arms industry is pushing for projects of a more explicit military nature to be funded.
Many arms industry lobbyists view the research program as an important source of money at a time when military expenditure is being reduced throughout Europe. While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) advocates that its members should devote at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the military, France, Greece and Britain are the only EU countries that have met that target.
The secret talks on how science grants may aid the military are being organized by a network called SANDERA (Security and Defense policies in the European Research Area).
Burkhard Theile, a German arms industry lobbyist who is joining the talks, said he wishes to see EU research grants being used for developing new pilotless drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs). Such weapons were used extensively by Israel to kill and injure civilians in Gaza during 2008 and 2009. They are also being used by the US in carrying out extrajudicial executions — which frequently result in civilian deaths — in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.
“UAVs have both civilian and military uses and they should be funded by the Union,” Theile told IPS. “They can equally be used for border patrol or for missions like the one we have in Afghanistan.” Formerly a vice-president of Rheinmetall, a maker of tanks and warplanes, Theile now runs his own consulting firm for the arms trade.
Andrew James, a lecturer in Manchester Business School and coordinator of Sandera, acknowledged that giving the European Commission a greater say in scientific research may encounter resistance from EU governments. He said: “A number of powerful and influential stakeholders in Brussels and beyond would like to see defense in some form take funding more broadly than it does at the moment, not least because defense spending among [EU] member states is obviously declining. This is politically controversial. Not all member states would be comfortable to see the commission getting involved in defense research.”
Rather than being financed as a “security” project, the work of Sandera is covered by the section of the EU’s research program reserved for social science and humanities.
Academics from the Free University in Berlin have expressed concern that the research program is focusing less on issues of a genuinely social nature. A paper drawn up by Tanja Boerzel, a professor at the university, laments how EU-financed social science projects are often driven by the interests of private companies. Although about half of all academic staff at leading European universities work in social sciences, only two percent of the EU’s research program is allocated to this field, the paper says.
Ben Hayes, a campaigner with the civil liberties organization Statewatch, argued that the research program should concentrate more on social than on military issues. “There is a huge conflict of interest in allowing the military and security lobby to set the research agenda, to be able to define the priorities and then to apply for the funding on offer,” he said. “They are developing their wares with taxpayers’ money and then selling them back to the state. This is a hugely misdirected allocation of taxpayers’ money and scarce resources.”
Mark English, the European Commission’s spokesman on science, said that the EU executive expects to increase the amount of grants given to social research from 84 million euros ($110 million) next year to almost 111 million euros ($145 million) in 2013. He also denied that there are discussions taking place about using EU grants for military purposes.
But a study published in October by the European Parliament, the EU’s only directly-elected institution, concluded that the arms industry is already adept at drawing down funds from the Union’s budget. The report said that it is “mostly large defense companies, the very same who have participated in the definition of EU-sponsored security research which are the main beneficiaries.” The leading recipients of these grants to date include Verint, an Israeli maker of surveillance equipment, and the German and French firms Fraunhofer and Thales.
Although Israel is not formally a member of the European Union, it has been a participant in the EU’s science activities since the 1990s. A recent paper by the Quaker Council on European Affairs noted that Israel “appears to be standing out” in its ability to receive funding earmarked for security research. The Quakers expressed concern about how companies that have supplied weapons used against Palestinians and provided services to illegal settlements in the West Bank are among the recipients of EU research grants. The report said: “Israeli industries that profit from the occupation in Palestine should not be eligible to apply for EU funding.”
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