The article “Science panel rethinks arms R&D ban” in the May 31 edition noted that the “government is pushing for more civilian-military dual-use technology,” which is an important and increasingly complex topic and one that requires careful rules and oversight before actions are taken.
In the U.S., the Department of Defense is a major funder of unrestricted, unclassified research, such as the work on packet switching conducted long ago which enabled the internet. It was dual use, but not classified. New ideas prosper and advance faster in an open environment of scientific inquiry. Other defense research can be classified and not only removed from the accumulating pool of scientific knowledge but can be a source of legal punishment if disclosed.
Most major universities in the U.S. avoid classified research. Particular difficulty emerges in gray areas. For example, in the U.S. there was a gray category of “sensitive but unclassified.” This is particularly unhelpful for scientists and science.
In the Japanese government’s tradition of gyosei shido (administrative guidance), gray areas are often preserved for flexibility. However, this category should be avoided through clear and clean rules as it handicaps both science and security.
A science-based advisory mechanism such as the role played by the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. is essential to keep the focus on science and not on politics, which, though well-intended, may be quite damaging. As Japan drives down this path, it is essential that first it consider in detail the rules of the road.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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