On Tuesday 18th July, AOAV hosted the conference ‘A Disarming Debate: Challenging Militarism in British Academia’. This is the summary report of that event.
This event was made possible by the generous funding of LUSH Charity Pot.
- CONTEXT AND PURPOSE OF THE DAY
Last February, the UK Ministry of Defence published a new strategy to enhance collaboration between the military, industry, and academia in science and technology research, aiming to capitalise on the capabilities of UK industry and academia to strengthen such military abilities. However, a report by Demilitarise Education has also revealed that over £1 billion worth of military partnerships exist on UK university campuses, including research partnerships with arms-producing companies and monetary investments by universities in arms companies.
The pervasive influence of the military in academia, coupled with the increasing commercialization of universities – driven by reduced government funding and a focus on economic growth – arguably compromises research integrity and academic freedom. It also raises moral dilemmas and may undermine universities’ responsibility to uphold ethical principles. This phenomenon gives rise to questions of impartiality and the capacity for radicalism in an environment so socially, structurally and economically aligned with the military-industrial complex.
Acceptance of funding from the arms trade and military industries distorts the research agenda, prioritises military commercial interests and potentially compromises the objectivity and integrity of academic research, while also normalising military funding in educational environments and limiting space for critical reviews of military power.
This conference sought to address these points, asking:
- How can universities strike a balance between collaborating with the military for scientific and technological advancements, while maintaining research integrity and academic freedom?
- What ethical considerations should universities take into account when accepting funding from arms-producing companies or engaging in research projects with dual-use applications?
- How can universities foster transparency and accountability in their partnerships with the military and arms trade, particularly regarding the intended use and potential consequences of research findings?
- How does the militarisation of universities impede ‘decolonisation’ efforts?
- In what ways does the increasing commercialization of universities impact their ability to pursue radical research and contribute to society beyond meeting economic expectations and military interests?
- What steps can be taken to foster an academic environment that allows for critical analysis and unbiased evaluation of military power, despite the influence of military funding and partnerships on university campuses?
- EVENT STRUCTURE
This event took place from 9:00-17:00 on 18th July 2023 at Birkbeck College, London. The day consisted of one keynote speech and four panels, each led by a moderator and three participants. The final panel, ‘Imagine: Solutions Towards More Radicalism,’ was unique as it included a chair and two main participants who, after delivering their presentations, facilitated a conversation among all speakers from the day in order to discuss knowledge, ideas, and projects held collectively.
The keynote speech was given by Dr. Tom Sykes, a Senior Lecturer from the University of Portsmouth, and provided an overview of universities complicity in perpetuating violence through military partnerships.
Session 1 examined the militarisation of British society and the historical entanglement of the university in imperialist military projects. It discussed the necessity of challenging military partnerships should the academy hope to detach from its imperial history.
Session 2 uncovered the numerous roadblocks to doing critical academic work from within the military-industrial-academic complex. It illustrated the difficulties of accessing military institutions and the hostility researchers may face in their pursuit of such research.
Session 3 sought to map the current landscape of military investments in academia. It looked at the militarisation of science and technology research, the expansion and modernisation of military bases, and how these investments serve to obscure the possibility of peace in academic settings.
Session 4 posed the question of what radical refusal and transformation might mean in this context. It allowed for a free-flowing dialogue regarding movements that may provide hope for demilitarisation.
- KEYNOTE SPEECH
Dr. Tom Sykes delivered a keynote speech entitled ‘Priests and Despots: The Modern British University as Both Ideological and Repressive State Apparatus,’ which focused on the privatisation and managerial realisation of universities. The talk explored forms of violence, both physical and non-physical, that occur within universities, particularly affecting BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students and staff. It also discussed the complicity of universities in external violence, such as their partnerships with the military-industrial complex and fossil fuel companies, leading to environmental injustice.
Dr. Sykes criticised the ideological state apparatus (ISA) of universities, highlighting how they transmit dominant values and beliefs to society while policing thought and debate within their own circles. He pointed out the discursive strategies used by universities to justify, obscure, or evade issues related to militarization and complicity in harmful practices.
Dr. Sykes discussed faux progressives and open reactionaries within universities, who claim to be progressive but do not effectively challenge the status quo of militarization and other harmful practices. Siloing and false neutrality were identified as ways in which universities dismiss political discussions, leading to an absence of critical material questions about decolonization, human rights, and inclusivity.
Overall, Dr. Sykes raised concerns about the lack of political imagination and the contradictions present within the modern British university system due to marketization and neoliberal influences.
- THE MILITARY AND THE ACADEMY: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The first panel of the day was chaired by Dr. Iain Overton, the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence.
‘An introduction to the history of militarism and imperialism in popular culture’
Dr. Marius Kwint
Dr. Marius Kwint was scheduled as the first speaker of this session. Due to unforeseen travel delays, Dr. Kwint instead joined the final panel on the day. Dr. Kwint is a Reader in Visual Culture at the University of Portsmouth, where he contributes his expertise in historical and theoretical studies to undergraduate Art and Design courses. His research interests encompass diverse subjects such as the history of circus and popular entertainment, material culture, collecting and memory, and the intersection between visual culture and neuroscience.
Dr. Kwint’s presentation ‘An introduction to the history of militarism and imperialism in popular culture’ explored the transformation of popular culture during the Industrial Revolution and its connection to the rampant militarization of contemporary culture.
Dr. Kwint argued that to understand this current situation, one must consider the historical contributions of related movements like romantic militarism, many of which were exemplified on the stage. Dr. Kwint referenced the important work of historian E.P. Thompson during the 1960s and 70s, which sparked much research into the repression, commercialization, and moral judgments associated with popular culture during the growth of industrial capitalism and the rise of the middle classes in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The shift in popular culture during this period moved from more elite-sanctioned festivities towards more sanitised and commercialised forms of entertainment that catered to the industrial class society.
The talk delved into the role of popular theatre during this time, as it became a principal supplier of visual representations of present or recent conflicts. The messages conveyed through these performances often portrayed distant battles as struggles for British national survival, reinforcing the idea of the British Constitution as a beacon of liberty and humanitarian intervention.
Dr. Kwint introduced the concept of “legitimization” as a means for popular culture to seek favour and acceptance amid hostility from the ruling class. Commercial organisations producing popular culture often displayed extreme loyalty, royalism, and patriotism, not necessarily as an authentic expression of the people’s sentiments, but as a survival strategy to gain patronage and legitimacy. The talk highlighted how middle-class fears of disorder and violence by the masses and colonised peoples were channelled into reforms of popular culture to ensure that energies were focused on supporting the state’s repressive and imperialistic machinery. In conclusion, Dr. Kwint’s presentation shed light on the historical roots of militarization in contemporary culture and the role of popular culture in shaping and legitimising societal narratives. Understanding this historical context can provide insights into the current challenges posed by rampant militarization.
‘The importance of critical theories for anti-militarist academia’
Dr. Marsha Henry
Dr. Marsha Henry followed this presentation. Dr. Henry is an Associate Professor at the Department of Gender Studies. Dr. Henry was a founding member of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security where she served as Deputy Director from 2015-2018 and Interim Director for the academic year 2018-2019. Dr. Henry’s research is dedicated to exploring the intersections of gender and development, gender and militarization, and qualitative methodologies.
Dr. Henry spoke on the topic of ‘The importance of critical theories for anti-militarist academia’, focusing on the evolving nature of peacekeeping studies and its increasing militarization. Dr. Henry highlighted a recent shift towards problem-solving scholarship in peacekeeping studies, which focus on improving peacekeeping practices and outcomes. She argued that this problem-solving approach ignores the foundational elements of peacekeeping and fails to address issues related to colonial legacies, gender dynamics, and the militarisation of peacekeeping forces.
Dr. Henry thus emphasised the need to revisit the radical potentialities of critical theories within peacekeeping studies. She advocated for an abolitionist approach to peacekeeping, akin to calls for defunding and dismantling the police. Dr. Henry argued that peacekeeping, due to its historical foundations, operates similarly to modern police forces and other security actors, warranting critical examination and the pursuit of transformative change.
Dr. Henry concluded her presentation by highlighting the urgent need to reconnect with critical theories to challenge the militarisation of peacekeeping studies and promote a more abolitionist perspective. She urged academics and practitioners to consider the broader social and historical contexts in which peacekeeping operates and called for a paradigm shift towards dismantling oppressive structures in peacekeeping efforts.
The making of modern soldiers: eugenics and the military’
Dr. Maki Kimura
Dr. Maki Kimura delivered the final presentation of the panel, covering ‘The making of modern soldiers: eugenics and the military’. Dr. Kimura is a Lecturer in Gender and Politics at University College London. Her doctoral research focused on the system of Japan’s military sexual slavery during World War II, emphasising the voices of victim-survivors and the intersectional oppressions of gender, race, class, colonialism, and militarism. Currently, Dr. Kimura is engaged in a research study on war memorials, exploring the embodiment of traumatic pasts and the construction of memories of war.
In her presentation. Dr. Kimura explored the historical relationship between academia and the military by focusing on the issue of eugenics. Dr. Kimura began by describing her personal connection to eugenics through her research on Japan’s comfort women during World War II which revealed the government and military’s concern with controlling sexually transmitted diseases from a eugenicist perspective.
Dr. Kimura then delved into the legacy of eugenics at University College London (UCL), where the study of eugenics was institutionalised through the work of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson. Although Galton was never formally employed at UCL, his influence and financial contributions led to the establishment of eugenics as an academic discipline at the university. Dr. Kimura acknowledged the efforts of staff and students to address the university’s eugenicist history and pointed out the intersectionality to eugenics with issues of gender, race, and disability.
She then examined how eugenics impacted the recruitment and treatment of soldiers in Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Concerns about the degeneracy of the British race were heightened during the Boer War, leading to the belief that certain soldiers, particularly Irish, Jewish, and working-class men, were hereditarily inferior and not suitable for the military. This belief influenced the harsh punishment of soldiers who exhibited symptoms of shell shock, leading to their execution. Dr. Kimura emphasised that eugenics was not exclusive to Western contexts and highlighted Japan’s adoption of eugenics as it aimed to strengthen the country and expand its military might.
Dr. Kimura concluded by illustrating how eugenic ideas, originating in academia, influenced military practices and policies, leading to the manipulation of both female and male bodies to serve the militaristic agenda. She highlighted the connection between academia and the military in perpetuating eugenic thinking and its far-reaching implications on society, particularly concerning gender, race, and disability issues.
- WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR: A LACK OF CRITICAL REVIEW?
Mr. Rocco Blume, the Head of Policy and Advocacy at War Child UK and Co-Chair of Action on Armed Violence, was scheduled to chair the second panel of the day. Due to travel delays, Dr. Iain Overton stepped in to fill Mr. Blume’s place as chair on the day.
‘Motion 5 and the 2023 University and College Union Congress: What do universities have to say about war?’
Dr. Antonia Dawes
Dr. Antonia Dawes began this session. Dr. Dawes is a Lecturer in Social Justice at King’s College London. Her work explores the intersections of race, racialization, postcolonialism, and critical military studies. Dr. Dawes recently completed a Leverhulme Trust-funded project titled ‘The Military in our Midst: War Preparation and Community on Salisbury Plain,’ which examines the integration of the armed forces in civil society.
Dr. Dawes’ presentation, ‘Motion 5 and the 2023 University and College Union Congress: What do universities have to say about war?’ addressed the increasing challenges researchers face in gaining access to military institutions for research purposes. She reflected on her decade-long research on militarism and war preparation, which has become more difficult due to limited access unless researchers openly support military activities. Dr. Dawes emphasised the importance of understanding universities’ connections to war-making activities and called for exposing these connections, focusing on King’s College London as a case study.
The presentation delved into instances where KCL has been implicated in supporting militarism. It highlighted controversies, such as barring student activists during a royal visit and hosting events involving individuals with connections to the military-industrial complex. The university has significant investments in private companies, including those that profit from arms trade, and has collaborated with organisations involved in military training and defence strategies. These connections raise concerns about the impact of the military on university activities and values.
Dr. Dawes also discussed the University and College Union (UCU) Congress’s recent vote on motions condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and NATO expansion. While the anti-war motion (Motion 5) received backlash, she suggested that it could serve as an opportunity for greater engagement in practical solidarity work and emphasise the voices of Ukrainians.
The presentation then shifted to Dr. Dawes’ collaborative Leverhulme Trust-funded project focusing on military bases in Salisbury Plain. This research project aimed to explore the interaction between military and civilian communities. However, gaining access to military spaces proved challenging, and the project’s requests for collaboration were denied due to the lack of potential military recruitment inducement.
Dr. Dawes concluded by highlighting the broader implications of military recruitment practices, especially the enlistment of young people at age 16. She advocated for deeper research into the impact of military bases on surrounding civilian communities, calling for a better understanding of the relationship between universities and militarism.
‘The Militarisation and Demilitarisation of Academia: A Pluralist Approach?’
Dr. Paul Dixon
Dr. Paul Dixon spoke next on the topic of ‘The Militarisation and Demilitarisation of Academia: A Pluralist Approach?’ Dr. Dixon is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. He has completed the manuscript for a book entitled The Authoritarian Temptation: The Iraq and Afghan Wars and the Militarisation of British Democracy (2024) and wrote an acclaimed report for Forceswatch called Warrior Nation: War, Militarisation and British Democracy (Forceswatch 2018).
Dr. Dixon’s presentation covered the militarisation of academia and its impact on academic freedom and public debate. He began by discussing his contribution to a chapter critiquing the potential adoption of the British War Studies Model by France and Germany. Dr. Dixon is critical due to the close links KCL and ‘Strategic Studies’ more generally have to the Ministry of Defence.
Dr. Dixon cited Max Weber’s perspective on the military as a model for bureaucracy, emphasising hierarchical obedience to superiors. He then drew from his research on Iraq and Afghanistan to illustrate how this hierarchical model stifled critical reporting of problems on the ground and led to a culture of silence within academia and the media. Dr. Dixon highlighted the lack of critical academic voices on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing out that most critical analysis comes from journalists, whistleblowers, and non-academic authors.
Dr. Dixon identified several challenges within academia that contribute to the lack of dissenting voices. These challenges include academic rivalries and empire building, the marketization of academia, external funding from the arms industry, and the pressure to have an impact on policy and work with the military. He also raised concerns about the influence of gatekeepers within academic journals and their role in determining what research is published.
Dr. Dixon discussed the case study of war studies at King’s College London, which receives significant funding from the military and has been successful in terms of academic rankings. He argued that this success may come at the cost of academic freedom and the potential marginalisation of dissenting voices.
He referred to the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War and the role of the military in lobbying for military interventions. He then criticised how some academic books on the topic fail to address the military’s role in pushing for these wars and manipulating the debate.
Dr. Dixon also briefly touched on the problem of militarism on the political left and mentions his research on Northern Ireland, where the military attempted to shape British policy towards the IRA in the 1970s, leading to a distorted debate.
In conclusion, Dr. Dixon’s presentation highlighted the need for a pluralist approach in academia that allows for diverse perspectives and dissenting voices. He urged for more critical analysis of military interventions and for academia to fulfil its role in speaking truth to power and promoting open public debate.
‘Shaking the Archives: Between Drones, Night Raids and Epistemic Violence’
Mr. Khalil Dewan
Mr. Khalil Dewan closed off the panel with his presentation on ‘Shaking the Archives: Between Drones, Night Raids and Epistemic Violence’. Mr. Dewan is the Head of Legal Investigations at Stoke White law firm, and PhD Candidate in Law at SOAS, University of London. He has conducted investigative fieldwork on US, UK and France’s drone warfare in Syria, Somalia, and Mali, and has delivered thematic advisory on International Law with NATO’s Counter Improvised Explosive Device’s Centre of Excellence, US Military Commission Trials, Action on Armed Violence, and has assisted ICC & Universal Jurisdiction submissions.
Mr. Dewan’s presentation emphasised the importance of understanding the archives of war narratives and the epistemic violence involved. He identified three pillars of violence in knowledge: silencing critical voices, pernicious ignorance leading to harm, and the violent aspects of human rights advocacy.
Mr. Dewan delved into the challenges faced by researchers in the UK, particularly when exploring sensitive topics related to war and military activities. He cited examples of academics encountering obstacles when seeking access to information or conducting research on subjects like the British drone program, the military’s activities in Afghanistan, and violations of the law of armed conflict. He also addressed the additional layers of constraint faced by Muslim researchers within the academy. Mr. Dewan highlighted the intersectionality of just liberal violence, Islamophobia, and securitization, which can further hinder critical research.
To address these issues, Mr. Dewan proposed forming mid-range views, bringing civil-military, critical scholars, practitioners, and civic society together within academia. He called for merging roundtables, debates, and conferences to foster open dialogue and norm contestation, ultimately promoting a more inclusive and less constrained academic environment. He specifically advocated for a merge between the military and civilian academy, in order to foster greater engagement with pragmatic approaches. He stated that only this will foster more clearer understanding and engagement on issues posing complex problems in military, ethics and legal affairs.
Overall, Mr. Khalil Dewan’s talk shed light on the challenges researchers face when investigating sensitive topics related to warfare in the UK, emphasising the importance of fostering an open and critical academic space. He called for collaboration between different perspectives within academia to create a more inclusive and informed understanding of the complex issues surrounding war and military activities.
- WHO PAYS WINS: DEFENCE INVESTMENTS IN ACADEMIA
The third panel of the day was chaired by Professor Michael Spagat, a Professor of Economics at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and a Co-Chair of Action on Armed Violence.
‘Mapping the “khaki economy”’
Professor Vron Ware
Professor Vron Ware opened this panel with her presentation ‘Mapping the “khaki economy”’. Professor Ware is a writer and photographer and currently Visiting Professor at the Department of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics. She is author of several books, including Military Migrants: Fighting for YOUR Country (Palgrave 2012).
Her most recent book project entitled Khaki Countryside (MUP), co-written with Alice Cree, Antonia Dawes and Mitra Pariyar, is the culmination of more than ten years of research on the British Army “super garrison” on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The challenge is to write a readable book outside the familiar political science paradigms. Although it is focused on this particular location, the project aims to investigate the wider relationship between the armed forces and society, particularly in the light of policy changes enacted during and after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Professor Ware began by noting the problematic relationship between the military and the academy from the perspective of a researcher. As colleague Dr. Antonia Dawes explained earlier, access to the institution is either limited by the MoD media department or subject to strict conditions. However, the military is often seen as an exotic topic by other academics working outside specialised areas like War Studies. She emphasised the importance of feminist curiosity, citing Cynthia Enloe who urged researchers not only to interrogate militarisation but also to ask why certain aspects of military power are concealed and overlooked.
Professor Ware outlined the programme of reform and restructuring that they had been investigating at the military base at Salisbury Plain. She emphasised the impact of these policy changes on military families, especially the military spouse, whose support has become crucial in retaining soldiers in the workforce.
In addition to ethnographic methods of research, and in the absence of co-operation from army personnel, Professor Ware stated that her and her team have relied on official reports and data, such as those published by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). She highlighted the significance of analysing these sources creatively and conducting discourse analysis to gain insights into military expenditures and the distribution of military investments across regions.
For example, the research team had discovered that defence investment is much higher in the South West than in other parts of the country. While the presence of significant military bases across the region might account for this discrepancy, there are wider implications of this “khaki economy” at a local level. Ware suggested that academia is being pulled into a broader national project, contributing to post-Brexit defence and security initiatives. For example, the University of Exeter plays a particularly important role in co-ordinating the regional “Defence and Security Cluster”, which is the first pan-Defence and Security cluster in the UK. According to MoD documents, this is “a collaboration led by industry and academia with the support of government and its ministerial departments such as the MOD and its innovation directorate, and the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA)”.
In conclusion, Professor Vron Ware’s talk shed light on the challenges involved in researching the complex and changing relationship between the military and society. Given the problems involved in gaining access, she particularly recommended creative approaches, including analysis of official MoD reports, to gain a better understanding of the link between academia and the military.
‘The military influence on UK science and technology’
Dr. Stuart Parkinson
Dr. Stuart Parkinson delivered the panel’s second presentation on ‘The military influence on UK science and technology’. Dr. Parkinson is the Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility and co-ordinator of the organisation’s work on the military influence on science and technology. He has researched, written and campaigned on the links between universities and military organisations for over 20 years.
Dr. Parkinson’s presentation addressed the ethical issues related to science and technology in the UK, and the extent to which research and development (R&D) contributes to peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. He started by summarising the extensive funding of the UK military, debunking the notion that it is cash-strapped. Despite being a relatively small country – both in terms of area and population – the UK maintains the sixth-largest military budget globally. The British military focuses on long-range ‘force projection’ rather than territorial defence, leading to it being one of the most heavily armed militaries in the world, including with nuclear weapons.
Dr. Parkinson highlighted various science and technology programs set up by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), in areas such as artificial intelligence, space technologies, and a national cyber force with offensive capabilities. These programs demonstrate the military’s interest in exploring and mastering cutting-edge technologies for warfare.
Dr. Parkinson pointed out that, while some research funding from the military is spent within universities, the overwhelming majority of R&D occurs in industry. However, industry requires academic expertise and co-operation for military work. The military’s influence on academic research is often not transparent, and there are significant concerns about the biases it might introduce. He gave some examples of military-academic collaborations in controversial areas such as nuclear physics and autonomous systems.
Dr. Parkinson emphasised the disproportionate spending on military R&D compared to other areas. The UK allocates significant funding to the military, making it a major player in the global arms market. This focus on military R&D comes at the expense of other crucial areas such as renewable energy and poverty alleviation, raising ethical questions about priorities and resource allocation.
He concluded by highlighting the need for ethical considerations in science and technology, especially when they relate to the military. With a focus on peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability, Dr. Parkinson urged society to critically assess the impact of military-driven technology and funding on broader global challenges.
The accompanying slides for Dr. Parkinson’s presentation can be found here: https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/military-influence-uk-science-and-technology
Jinsella, the Co-founder & Executive Director of Demilitarise Education, was the final speaker of this panel. Hosting the world’s first universities and arms database and a model for comprehensive demilitarisation, Jinsella’s work has led to the uncovering of over £1 billion of UK university partnerships with the arms trade.
Jinsella’s presentation entitled ‘Demilitarise Education’ shed light on the critical role of education in shaping society and the concerning rise of militarization within academic institutions.
Jinsella highlighted the alarming trend of spending over 45 million pounds since 2012 (Peace Pledge Union) to promote military ethos in schools, contributing to the perception that violence and militarism are the only means to ensure security. She emphasised the very real possibility of peace and the innate human desire for peace which has been obscured by ‘smoke and mirrors’ in society.
Drawing attention to the crisis of imagination prevalent today, she emphasised that achieving a goal requires wholehearted belief in it, similar to how government spending reflects its belief in sustaining the global arms trade. However, this trust in higher education has eroded due to marketization, turning students into consumers rather than fostering critical thought.
Jinsella celebrated the students who took a stand against militarization on campuses, exemplified by successful protests at Nottingham Trent and rent strikes at The University of Manchester. She shared preliminary data from a survey conducted with STEM students, showing a majority preferring civilian work over military options, signalling a strong desire for a society that values life over profit.
She introduced the University and Arms Database, a transparency tool empowering students across the country to hold universities accountable for their involvement in the arms and military sector. Jinsella outlined the three-stage demilitarisation model – engagement, ratification, and implementation – centred around the adoption of the Demilitarise Education Treaty.
The treaty’s goals include transparency on military partnerships, refraining from new military collaborations, and amending ethical and career policies. Additionally, the treaty encourages universities to reinvest in sustainable sectors, ensuring a shift away from industries profiting from war.
While acknowledging the challenges of realising these objectives, Jinsella encouraged continuous efforts to chip away at the barriers hindering the potential of non-military conflict resolution. She invited feedback and collaboration, calling on academics and students to advocate for a world where education prioritises peace, critical thought, and societal purpose over mere profit. Ultimately, Jinsella’s vision is one of a transformed educational space driving broader societal transformation towards a more peaceful and responsible world.’
- IMAGINE: SOLUTIONS TOWARDS MORE RADICALISM
Dr. Chris Rossdale
Dr. Chris Rossdale is a lecturer at the School of Sociology, Politics, and International Studies at the University of Bristol. Dr. Rossdale’s research considers how our understandings of politics shift when we begin from the perspective of social movements and political resistance. Their 2019 book Resisting Militarism: Direct Action and the Politics of Subversion presents an ethnographic exploration of British anti-militarist politics.
Dr. Rossdale began their presentation by acknowledging the ongoing industrial dispute in British universities, focusing on issues such as falling pay, pension cuts, casualization, gender and race pay gaps, and high workloads. Dr. Rossdale noted that there has been little conversation about the role of militarism, the military, and the arms trade within the context of this struggle.
They emphasised the importance of connecting the struggle for better pay and conditions with the demilitarisation of universities. Dr. Rossdale argued that neoliberalism’s influence on universities makes it challenging to address private funding sources, especially from the arms trade. They urged for the recognition that workplace struggles should not be solely about improved conditions if they come at the expense of perpetuating extractive militaristic capitalism
While acknowledging the deep-rooted connections between British universities and militarism, they highlighted the significance of universities as sites of struggle and disobedience. Despite their entanglement with the arms trade, universities also foster critical thought and empowerment for those challenging established power structures. Regarding engaging with policy and the purpose of critical scholarship, Dr. Rossdale suggested that the focus should be on empowering movements rather than merely producing better arguments. They believe that militarism can be challenged not solely by well-crafted arguments but by credible disruptions and alternatives offered by movements.
Dr. Rossdale expressed hope in the increasing radicalism and awareness among students over the past years, and emphasised that it is crucial to empower students in their challenges against universities and society. They concluded by inviting further discussion on the topic of abolition. Dr. Rossdale’s presentation urged for a more holistic approach to demilitarisation, intertwining workplace struggles with wider societal movements, and empowering students to bring about meaningful change.
Challenging the UK’s military-industrial-academic complex
Dr. Tim Street
Dr. Tim Street is the Secretary of British Pugwash, an organisation which brings together scientists and others to work towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction by contributing to scientific, evidence-based governmental policy-making and by promoting international dialogue. Since 2005, Dr. Street has been engaged in peace, disarmament and social justice issues, conducting advocacy, campaign and research work with groups including: Nuclear Information Service, Campaign Against Arms Trade, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Conscience.
While the term “military-industrial complex” is well-known, Dr. Street’s presentation highlighted the often overlooked aspect of the military-industrial-academic complex, where academic institutions are entwined with the arms industry and military establishment, exerting unwarranted influence over universities’ research and activities.
He explained that after World War II, the US private economy faced recession, leading to massive military spending, which then became the core of the modern economy. Similarly, in the UK, a ‘Military Industrial Scientific Complex’ emerged between 1939 and 1955, leading to significant military engagement overseas. Today, the UK’s military establishment remains substantial, affecting the economy and society.
Dr. Street’s research on military research at UK universities has revealed how subcontracting research to universities allows the military sector to keep overheads down and profits up, highlighting the challenges of differentiating between projects with direct military use and those with socially beneficial outcomes.
In addressing the predicament, Dr. Street suggests both reformist and radical actions. He advocates for transparency and accountability in university investments and research, with the need to explore alternative funding sources and encourage careers in peacebuilding and disarmament.
Dr. Street emphasised the significance of social movements in influencing state power to achieve demilitarisation and disarmament. He encouraged collaboration among groups like British Pugwash, Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and Drone Wars to foster dialogue and raise public awareness about progressive policies.
Regarding universities, Dr. Street acknowledged the existence of spaces for debates on disarmament and anti-militarization, but notes challenges in certain social science departments that may hold narrow, liberal viewpoints and hesitate to challenge Western foreign policy fundamentals.
Dr. Street expressed concern about the resurgence of Cold War thinking and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, stressing the importance of finding peaceful resolutions to such conflicts to maintain universities as centres of free ideas and scientific discovery.
Dr. Street’s presentation called for a collective effort to address the complexities of the military-industrial-academic complex, promote peace-oriented research and careers, and nurture social movements capable of influencing state policies towards demilitarisation and a more peaceful world.
AOAV looks forward to developing further projects from this event, and to continue important work towards demilitarisation.
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