4. The Standard Justification (28/6/14)
I have defined weapons research as an endeavour that seeks to define new or improved weapons and their ancillary structures. Weapons research is expensive, and the resources that are devoted to it could be used for seemingly more useful ends, such as medical or other kinds of research. And the same is true for other forms of military spending, for instance, on weapons systems themselves. So there is a sense in which all military spending requires justification that is not called for when it comes to health care, education, food production and other things that make people’s lives better. However, military spending, including spending on weapons research, is normally assumed to be justifiable, with budgets routinely approved. And the reason for this is that there is a presumption in favour of defence: defence is necessary and weapons research is an integral part of defence. I call this the “Standard Justification” for weapons research, and I here I will give some evidence that this is indeed so, not that I would expect many to disagree.
The main body in the US devoted to setting up high-level weapons research is called Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Notice that, in common with armed forces the world over, the word “defense” appears in its name. DARPA’s mission is
…to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use. (www.darpa.mil)
Notice the reference here to the prevention of harm, specifically the prevention of harm due to others having technologically surprising ‘high-tech’ (by implication) weapons. The rationale for spending on armaments and for maintaining standing armies, has (almost) always been for defence, for the prevention of harm to ‘our side’. And so it is for weapons research, as is clear from the mission statement from DARPA. (DARPA was set up in 1958 after the launch of Sputnik. In 2012 Russia set up what has been referred to as its own ‘DARPA’, called the Defense Research Agency, with the brief to catch up with the military technologies of the West.)
According to DARPA at any rate, weapons research is conducted in order to prevent harm by others who have themselves conducted weapons research and come up with new systems that could surprise our side. From this perspective, there are others in the world who conduct weapons research for the purpose of aggression, and who therefore need to be deterred or defended against. However, if the mission statements of weapons research institutions of those ‘others’, of the Russian, Chinese, Iranian, North Korean, etc., or indeed for British, French, German, Israeli institutions were canvassed, then it would be no surprise to learn that they too were focussed on defence, deterrence and prevention. No such institution advertises itself as producing weapons for unilateral aggression. If this were really true, if all weapons research is dedicated to defence, deterrence and the prevention of harm in the sense that this is their only purpose and role, then none of its products would ever be used to actually harm anyone. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, the United States, and all other states would only undertake weapons research and acquire weapons for defence, and since no one will therefore take on the role of the aggressor, the products of weapons research will never be used. Weapons research will then be a pointless, or risky, activity, but maybe not something that is wrong. I deny this, and will try to convince you too.