Photo/IllutrationMembers of the Science Council of Japan committee debate the relationship between academic research and security issues in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Feb. 4. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A Science Council of Japan (SCJ) committee has proposed continuing a ban on military research by universities and other institutes, a stance based on remorse over such studies under Japan’s wartime government.

The proposal, hammered out on March 7 after a series of meetings, will likely be adopted as the council’s official statement after a vote in a general assembly session in April.

Speculation has been rife over whether the SCJ, the country’s representative body of scientists, would stick with the traditional ban after the current government increased subsidies for military-related research.

Atsushi Sugita, professor of political science at Hosei University who chaired the committee on the relationship between academic research and security issues, said the SCJ expects a deeper debate on the pros and cons of military studies to be undertaken by universities and research organizations.

But he said, “We should rather expand research for civilian purposes.”

The statement will be the SCJ’s first in 50 years regarding its position on military research. The previous two, issued in 1950 and 1967, unequivocally banned research for military purposes.

The proposed statement acknowledged that it has become increasingly difficult to draw a clear line between civilian and military research in recent years.

Based on this understanding, the committee raised questions about participating in the government’s military research projects, warning that such studies could give the government more sway over academic institutions.

The SCJ committee began meeting in June last year after the Defense Ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency started providing research subsidies to universities and other organizations in 2015.

The agency’s budget request for such subsidies shot up to 11 billion yen ($96 million) in fiscal 2017, compared with 600 million yen earmarked for fiscal 2016.

Many experts agree that the distance between academic and military research has narrowed since the government began considering the promotion of research and technologies for dual purposes.

The proposed statement emphasizes academic freedom, citing Japan’s prewar history of the government mobilizing scientists for military research.

It states the agency’s research subsidies program “is fraught with problems” because it could give the government greater latitude to interfere in academia.

The committee called on universities and academic societies to be cautious about military research programs. It urged them to conduct ethical reviews and devise policy guidelines for the issue.

Some researchers in telecommunications, civil and other engineering fields showed understanding for taking part in dual-purpose research, according to the committee. But many in other fields raised alarms over a possible change in the SCJ’s position banning military research.

The SCJ was established in 1949 based on lessons learned from the scientific community’s involvement in Japan’s war effort before and during World War II.