March 22, 2007

Ethical Dilemma Over Weapons Research

Posted in history, martial arts, philosophy, politics, science at 9:57 am by Jerry

How can scientists provide knowledge for others on how to defend themselves while ensuring that this knowledge will not eventually be used for the wrong purposes?

I just read in the January/February 2007 edition of Philosophy Now an article written by Dr. John Forge. Forge is a “member of the unit for History and Philosophy of Science at Sydney University. He works in the area of science and responsibility”.

Here’s some excerpts from his article:

We must acknowledge that there is no such thing as an inherently defensive weapon, something that can only be used for the morally acceptable purpose of responding against an aggressor. Doing weapons research for defensive systems is therefore not morally acceptable, as any weapons might feasibly be used as part of an unjust war of aggression.

[…] Deterrence is a historical state of affairs: deterrence is a relationship between states and hence is ‘in history’. NATO deterred the Warsaw Pact conventional forces of Eastern Europe with tactical nuclear forces, including cruise missiles. At the end of the Cold War this situation ended because there were no longer any hostile armies in Eastern Europe. But weapons that were once used for deterrence can be re-deployed elsewhere, and for other purposes – which is what happened to the US stockpiles of cruise weapons. They were rearmed and used in the Gulf Wars.

[…] [Young scientists] should only do weapons research in times when there is an immediate threat of aggression against their country. Furthermore, they should form a collective and undertake only to do weapons research on condition that they retain a copyright or patent on their work. The work is then given out under license to state-sponsored weapons producers until the threat has passed. Any remaining weapons are to be destroyed. (p.7-8, bold is mine)

Forge didn’t mention biological weapons in this article. I wish he would have because I thought “they were the future of terrorist weapons.” And correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought medical researchers are always trying to inform themselves on the biological weapons evolving in our innate environment. And rightly so. I wouldn’t want them to wait until the beginning of a killer disease breakout.

I’m also wondering about the moral accountability among scientists. Don’t see me as somekind of doomsday fanatic. I see “Dilemma” as a challenge to us all, rather than a morbid outcome.

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