The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | A Few Clouds

Fall of communism jeopardizes defense research

By Neil J. Ross

There is a downward pressure on defense spending, causing some worries among defense-related interests. At MIT, the announcement of 145 layoffs at the MIT-affiliated Draper Laboratories late last year was a cause for concern among Department of Defense-dependent researchers.

Draper Vice President for Administration Joseph O'Connor explained that the staff was cut across all skill levels as a result of Draper's completion of the government contract to develop the Trident II missile guidance system.

MIT's Lincoln Laboratories' work leans much more heavily towards basic research rather than procurement and deployment. Lincoln Labs may be better buffered from any cuts in military funding because of its close association to the academic world and fundamental research. Nevertheless, Walter I. Wells, assistant to the director of Lincoln Labs, admitted, "In the long run we are somewhat apprehensive."

In the 1989 fiscal year, 16.8 percent of MIT's funding, excluding Lincoln Labs, came from the Department of Defense. However, including Lincoln, the Department of Defense accounted for 59.4 percent of total research funding.

The funding crunch is of course not limited to MIT. Jeff Garberson of the public information section of Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California said, "We are hopeful but we are also realistic" about the future of military funding. Livermore will suffer a real decline in spending power of over five percent this year.

World events redirect

military thought

The problems foreseen by defense-sponsored research facilities stem from the disintegration of East European communism -- the end of the cold war as many now see it. The reduced global threat is already forcing a reduction in the defense budget, and with further liberalization from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev expected, defense researchers and contractors are bracing for a tighter market for their products and services.

However, some, like Angello Codevilla, a senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, have taken a cautious view of the events of the past year. In a speech before last week's troop agreements Codevilla stated that the military balance in Europe was not significantly different from that of 10 years ago. Codevilla did note, however, that some changes have occurred in NATO and the territories covered by the arms reduction talks.

Codevilla pointed out that it will ultimately be action by the Soviet Union that will determine the extent to which NATO is able to reduce its forces. In turn, the action of the Soviets will be determined by domestic and international expediency in Eastern Europe. In the short run, Codevilla speculated that the influence on the academic world of a slight shift in US military spending "wouldn't amount to a hill of beans."

Eastern Europe expert Richard Staar hoped that new life could be breathed into the East-West arms reduction talks and into the diplomatic cliche. "The political will is there," he said.

Staar, who is the director of International Studies at the Hoover Institution and served as ambassador to the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Talks in Vienna from 1981-1983, hinted that a major treaty might be presented at the superpower summit in June.

The events of 1989 reshaped the international political arena and forced a dramatic change in the thinking of military strategists and arms reduction negotiators. However, In a comment on the troop reductions, Richard Ullman of Princeton University's international affairs department, told The New York Times that the US administration made it easier for the Soviets to agree with the West by simply arguing from a logistical and geographical standpoint on troop numbers, rather than claiming to occupy the moral high ground.

The Disarmament Study Group of the Science Action Coordinating Committee at MIT, which was formed to express concern over the influence of the military on campus, argues that the necessary secrecy of military research places restrictions on academic freedom, and gives research an unfair bias away from more immediate social needs. Committee Chair Astrid S. Tuminez G criticized the possibility of MIT's becoming dependent on military research.

The National Coalition of Universities in the Public Interest, an information center and pressure group, maintains a record of university research with dubious military or industrial connections. Rich Cowan SM '87 of the Cambridge office singled out the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, the Materials Processing Center and the Research Laboratory for Electronics as examples of MIT centers and laboratories that receive especially large contributions from the Department of Defense. The Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Laboratory for Computer Science also receive large amounts of military funding, he said.

This is still true now even though the Soviet Union has essentially granted the countries of Eastern Europe independence. Codevilla pointed out that it would ultimately be the action of the Soviet Union which determined the extent to which NATO was able to reduce its force. Ultimately, in turn, the action of the Soviets would be determined by domestic and international expediency in Eastern Europe. In the short run Codevilla speculated that the influence on the academic world of the slight shift in US military spending "wouldn't amount to a hill of beans."