Weapons & whales: The Pentagon pours money into German university research
The US Department of Defence has given US$21.7 million in funding to a handful of German universities and research institutes since 2008 for projects covering a whole range of subjects from military explosives to tracking whales, according to analysis.
The investigation from German magazine, Der Spiegel, and translated by DW, found over 260 research grants had been issued by the Pentagon to the universities. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich received the largest amount, bringing in US$3.7 million for 23 different projects.
Most projects were within the fields of natural science and technology, the majority of which held potential for military applications. One project at LMU involved finding a substitute for the widely used military explosive RDX. Researchers received US$1.72 million to help fund their work.
The Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research received US$973,000 between 2013 and 2017 to develop an infrared-based system that enabled the detection and tracking of whales. While clearly of scientific value, Der Spiegel believes this technology could also be employed in submarine operations.
While German institutes are not banned from receiving money from the United States, there are some state laws that muddy the waters when it comes to universities accepting military money.
Education regulations state that universities should be committed to peaceful goals and fulfill their special responsibility for sustainable development, which some interpret as a clear requirement to reject military funding.
Universities in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, were recipients of Pentagon grants despite a state law requiring them to “contribute to a sustainable, peaceful and democratic world” as well as being “committed to peaceful goals.”
So far the universities have deflected any blame, saying they are not directly involved in weapon research, despite many their areas of work being adaptable for military use.
The US military is quite open about their reasoning, stating in several project descriptions that it is interested in research that is “related to the improvement of army programs and operations or has such a potential.”
Other documents outline the objective of “maintaining technological superiority in the scientific fields relevant to the needs of the Air Force” as well as the goal of preventing “technological surprises for our nation” and develop such surprises “for our opponents.”