Dual-Use Research Allowed Under Strict Conditions

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The Board of Governors of the 3rd of July 2020 has approved the new policy vision regarding military and dual-use research at Ghent University.

This has big implications for research and development at Ghent University as well as research financing by the European Defense Fund in 2021. Research that can possibly be used militarily, is now possible. However, it must adhere to strict conditions:

The necessary measures must be taken to prevent misuse of the research results at a later stage.

Important: there is a strict reporting obligation: every dual-use research project or export of dual-use technology must be reported in advance to the Dual-Use Contact Point. Please do so by e-mailing the Dual-Use Notification Form to MeldpuntDU@ugent.be.

The Dual-Use Contact Point

The Dual-Use Contact Point is the university’s centre of expertise on dual-use research and it assists researchers that have questions regarding dual-use research (funding, administration, legislation, Ghent University policy, ethics approvals, practical matters, ...). Its mandate involves:

applying for the necessary export licences when dual-use goods, software, technology or research results are shared (in the context of international collaborations, licensing, publications, conferences, etc.).

Some funding agencies and scientific journals request an ethics approval from the research institution in case of dual-use research. If so, the Dual-Use Contact Point can submit the research to the Committee on Human Rights Policy and Dual-Use Research. If an ethics approval is not mandatory, but you would like an ethics advice nonetheless (Can a specific research be submitted to UGent? Is there a negative impact on human rights? How do I avoid abuse later on?), simply contact the Dual-Use Contact Point.

All further information is available at our page on dual-use research.

Decision context

Military research?

Ghent University strives for excellence in scientific research, with attention to the societal and economic applications of its research results. Because Ghent University is aware of its societal role and responsibility, it was decided in 1998 that Ghent University would not contribute to the development of technology aimed at military combat operations.

However, increasingly it is becoming difficult to differentiate between what could be considered civilian or military research. New insights and technologies developed for civilian use find their way into military applications, and vice versa. The fundamental and applied research that is funded by civilian actors (e.g. FWO, H2020), does not, as such, differ from research funded by military actors (e.g. DARPA). Research is therefore increasingly ’dual-use’, seeing as it is useful both for civilian and military applications. Some examples below.

Research into pressure mechanisms applied to psychological functioning can be useful both for victim care as well as for military operators.

Research into the impact of bird collisions with airplane engines and certain imaging technology is interesting both for commercial flight as well as combat planes.

In light of the above evolution, the previous Ghent University policy was faced with certain limitations. This is why DOZA produced some possible policy alterations intended to make clear the Ghent University policy regarding military research.

Why change the policy now?

On the one hand, substantial financial means will become available for military research. Starting in 2021, the European Commission will initiate the European Defense Fund (EDF). The EDF, which will be complementary to Horizon Europe, will make available 4.1 billion euro in funding for military research. The EDF can also fund research into dual-use goods, software and technology. Moreover, the Belgian Armed Forces will also provide a separate budget of up to 140 million euro per year for ’Research & Technology’, starting in 2022. The Armed Forces have stated that the R&T budget will be used for both civilian and military technology and applications. Besides this, in 2018 the Flemish Government also decided to provide funding for research into dual-use and military goods, software and knowledge.

On the other hand, dual-use research is also possible using research funding for civilian purposes (Horizon 2020, EFRO and FWO, among others). The lack of clear Ghent University guidelines regarding military and dual-use research, and the limited expertise in this subject matter within the existing ethics commissions, made it difficult for the university to provide the necessary support to researchers that do dual-use research.

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