Outlook 2021 / Research on Security should be Pursued with Scholars’ Common Sense

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshimitsu Komatsu speaks during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

This is the 11th installment of a series in which intellectuals share their thoughts on political issues that the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will tackle this year. For this installment, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed Toshimitsu Komatsu, vice president of the Japan Federation of Engineering Societies. The following is excerpted from the interview.

Because I specialize in disaster reduction engineering, I rush to the scene of a disaster when one occurs. I have seen many stricken areas, which tend to remind me of the ravages of war.

Just as we need to be prepared for natural disasters, we also need to beef up our self-defense capabilities if our neighboring countries enhance their military strength. This is because diplomacy backed by power still goes unchallenged in modern global society.

And yet, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) in its “Statement on Research for Military Security” adopted in March 2017 restated its “commitment to never become engaged in scientific research for war purposes.”

The SCJ seems to still be obsessed with the ghost of this country’s prewar militarism and is reacting too strongly. Not only does the present political system vastly differ from the one back then, but the boundaries of Article 9 of the Constitution are ever-present.

Looking at public polls taken by various news organizations, most of the public approves of the Self-Defense Forces. If they recognize the necessity of the SDF, commensurate self-defense capabilities should be ensured.

Relying on expensive imports from abroad to procure defense equipment will waste taxpayers’ money. Also, given the nature of such equipment, we should strive to produce it domestically. If an academic circle that includes researchers at private companies and national organizations is turning away from research on defense equipment and its domestic production, this is tantamount to turning its back on the people.

I was engaged in drawing up the statement as a member of a study committee at the SCJ. The committee hardly discussed such issues as what “scientific research for war purposes” would mean, or whether it would include research for self-defense.

I repeatedly proposed that such issues be discussed, but this fell upon deaf ears. The study committee was operated arbitrarily, and it cannot avoid criticism for having made up its mind from the outset.

During discussions, I raised the question of whether the council means to say that the SDF is not necessary. One scholar said: “We don’t need it. We will solve all problems through negotiations.”

Looking at the issue of the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, for instance, it is obvious that no matter how sincerely Japan talks, there are cases in which such efforts will not work.

Some have pointed out that the statement has no binding power, but the SCJ wields tremendous clout at universities. In fact, many universities withheld their applications for basic research that could lead to the development of defense equipment, in response to the statement.

■ Dual-use technologies

In deciding whether they should engage in security research within the boundaries of security designed exclusively for defense, it is appropriate to leave the matter up to the common sense of each researcher and their judgment. The SCJ should not systematically block individual researchers from participating in security research. This can also be considered an infringement of academic freedom.

In recent years, the lines between civilian and military technologies have become indistinguishable. Satellite technologies are useful for military purposes, but they have also become indispensable in disaster reduction. Academic circles should actively promote their use, by properly defining these dual-use technologies. As long as they are unable to do this, Japan will lag further behind other countries in scientific and technological power.

■ Toward a nonbiased organization

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga did not appoint six candidate members recommended by the SCJ, which some said was an infringement of academic freedom.

I disagree.

The essence of the problem with the SCJ is that it does not fully represent researchers in Japan, who are said to number about 850,000. The SCJ is mostly composed of researchers from universities. The opinions of researchers at private institutes and companies, or those at governmental institutes, are hardly reflected in the council’s opinions.

The fields of science represented by its members are also uneven, making it likely that the self-righteous opinions of only a limited number of university researchers will become the council’s view. It should correct this lopsided situation, and the methods for selecting the council’s 210 members should be changed so that it is a microcosm of Japan’s academic circles.

Politics are for the sake of the people. Science is also for the sake of the people. Science and politics must maintain a certain distance from each other and maintain a guarded relationship, but they do not necessarily have to be in opposition. The SCJ cannot win the support of many other researchers, and of the people, if it just keeps lining up nice words. It should also take responsibility for the results of its actions.

— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Takeo Maeda.

■ Toshimitsu Komatsu, 72

Vice president of the Japan Federation of Engineering Societies

Born in 1948 in Oita Prefecture, Komatsu graduated from the School of Engineering of Kyushu University. He left the Graduate School of Engineering of Kyushu University after completing a doctoral course. Komatsu specializes in river engineering and disaster reduction engineering. He is a former member of the Science Council of Japan, and opposed the council’s adoption of the “Statement on Research for Military Security” in March 2017.