The role of scientific research in weapon development was explored through four case studies written in 1984 by arms control scholar Milton Leitenberg. The case studies examine the development of anti-satellite weapons; weather modification; Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs); and biological weapons research.
Military research does not cause arms races, Leitenberg argued, nor is it autonomous or self-sustaining. Rather, military R&D is driven by a deliberate political process. Weapons systems are “produced by an enormous enterprise consciously established by political decision to produce them.”
“Military R&D is guided and directed: questions are put; particular materials, effects, and performance capabilities are sought; and research funding is allocated accordingly.”
It follows that a reallocation of research funding is also a political possibility. “Particularly in the area of weapons development and procurement decisions, there seems to be extremely little, if any, ‘technological imperative’ [that would somehow compel certain technology choices],” Leitenberg wrote.
The studies were originally prepared in support of a United Nations report. That UN report was never released, the author explains, due to objections from a Soviet official who wanted references to the USSR excised. But the supporting studies have now been published on the Federation of American Scientists website. See “Studies on Military R&D and Weapons Development” by Milton Leitenberg, 1984.
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