The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law

Manuscripts and Articles

Volume 2, July 2002

For “Just Results”:
Questioning National Missile Defense Research in Alaska

Norman K. Swazo*, Ph.D.


*Professor of Philosophy & Department Chair, Department of Philosophy & Humanities, University of Alaska, Fairbanks


I. Summary of Issue

With the election of the Bush Administration there is added commitment to research and development of a national missile defense system (NMD). The Bush proposal is quite in contrast to the limited, two-site missile defense system proposed by the Clinton Administration. It is expected that some of this missile defense research and development will occur partly with the services of science and engineering faculties at US research universities. Given that initial planning includes selection of prospective sites for deployment of the system, and given that possible sites in Alaska are under consideration (Kodiak for X-band radar, Fort Greeley for interceptor silos), it is not surprising that missile defense research and development projects are to be carried out in Alaska. The state’s research institution of higher education—the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF)—specifically UAF’s well-reputed Geophysical Institute (GI), is ably positioned to participate in such R&D. One of the research units of the GI is the Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR), described as “the largest land-based research rocket range in the world and the only high-latitude range in the United States”, established for “auroral and middle-to-upper atmospheric research”.[1] It can be argued that any institution of higher education that commits its faculty to participation in classified research linked to national missile defense has to be concerned about whether such research yields “just results”. In this paper I will engage this issue with reference to what is for some in Alaska a seemingly innocuous proposal, dubbed the “Arctic Missile Signature Program” (AMSP). My extended argument yields these conclusions:

(1) Any cost-benefit analysis associated with proposed research such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program surrenders significant moral and legal obligations for which research scientists are accountable.

(2) “Duty” for scientists engaged in missile defense research is specified in its performance by applicable international law, e.g., the ABM Treaty.

(3) Full and unambiguous compliance with the ABM Treaty most effectively achieves national security, notwithstanding the Bush Administration’s decision to withdraw unilaterally from the treaty.

(4) Scientists who undertake arctic missile signature research are compelled to evaluate their “scientific” activity relative to the probable consequences (costs) that would ensue from the US’s violation of, or unilateral withdrawal from, the ABM Treaty—an assessment now clearly in order in light of President Bush’s decision unilaterally to withdraw (effective 13 June 2002).

(5) The Arctic Missile Signature Program as proposed by scientists at the UAF Geophysical Institute is unlawful under the terms of the 1997 Second Agreed Statement to the ABM Treaty.

(6) An institution of higher education such as UAF ought to proscribe faculty participation in research and development of a national missile defense system.

(7) Research scientists who engage in a project such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program compromise their research integrity and neglect their scientific responsibility in the context of applicable international law.

Having stated the position in outline, I now turn to the extended argument.


II. The “Global/Local” Policy Nexus

Proponents of national missile defense argue that protection of the entirety of the US, including Alaska and Hawaii, requires deployment of defenses in Alaska. Post-Cold War assessments of the threat of a missile attack upon the US are concerned about surprise, covert delivery of a nuclear (or biological or chemical) payload from “rogue nations” such as North Korea or Russia’s loss of control over elements of the former USSR nuclear arsenal to accidental or terrorist launch against US targets, civilian or military. Air Force Lieutenant General Lester L. Lyles, director of the Missile Defense Agency (formerly the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization), stated in February 1999 that “the NMD system is intended to use a ground-based interceptor launched from a site from within the United States (North Dakota or Alaska) to strike reentry vehicles above the atmosphere”.[2] A security assurance against a threat from the Russian landmass in particular requires a capacity to evaluate missile signatures under “arctic” conditions of launch and correlative defense deployments.[3]

The expectation that a research university such as UAF participate in missile signature research raises the unavoidable question of how scientists and engineers engaged in any such project are properly to construe their scientific responsibility and research integrity. In the case of national missile defense the issue is complex, because this category of classified research is all too likely to be undertaken by a science and engineering faculty who do not maintain the requisite critical distance afforded by ethical criteria of assessment. Their assessment of the question will reasonably reference a mission to solve applied geophysical problems and to develop related technologies. But, more often than not, the assessment issues from a more or less informal cost-benefit analysis that centers on the more immediate and tangible benefits associated with federal funding for missile defense research. In the case of proposed research such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program, the tangible benefits may include otherwise unavailable opportunities in space physics research, access to high-tech equipment, enhanced communications bandwidths for radar facilities, higher use of otherwise underutilized infrastructure such as the Poker Flat range, etc., all of this manifest in a hefty multi-million dollar contract.[4] These benefits or “values” are especially attractive to a research institute having a recurrent budget that is about 90% external funding, and especially important for a research faculty having significant grant-writing expectations as part of their workload and as a criterion included in tenure/promotion peer review. Taken by themselves in the context of the institutional mission and a normal research agenda, these benefits provide good reason to consider acceptance of a Department of Defense contract for classified research.

However, the policy decision taken by a research university cannot rest solely here, given that acomparative value assessment is in order. Consider that the wider context of the current public policy debate on national missile defense that is engaged by scholars in international ethics and international law can be—and often is—readily dismissed as irrelevant to the narrower cost-benefit approach taken by geophysical research scientists and their administrators. Here I wish to argue that any cost-benefit analysis associated with proposed research such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program surrenders significant moral and legal obligations for which research scientists are accountable. Research scientists are accountable especially if such analysis excludes the at-large policy discussions emanating from the domain of international ethics and international law.

Policy analysis has rightly been said to be “a normative pursuit” insofar as analysis combines attention to facts and values. Policy analysts may not, however, routinely consider the normative presuppositions of their contributions to political decision-making. In fact, policy analysts are methodologically committed to largely quantitative value assessments, i.e., to cost-benefit analyses that do not explicitly or routinely engage questions of “justice” even though such analyses in practice represent an implicit commitment to consequentialist ethics—that is, to an approach seeking to optimize resource utilization relative to designated benefits and costs that are important to some set of interested parties. It is significant, therefore, to have the recent report that “Policy analysts are increasingly inclined to believe that cost-benefit analysis, at least as developed so far, does not provide a method to incorporate a philosophically defensible concept of justice into aggregate decision contexts”.[5]

Clearly, national missile defense is an issue of considerable public and professional debate, with arguments for or against such a system taking into account both a set of facts and a set of value assumptions. At issue in present context is whether a research program such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program yields “just results”, i.e., results (matters of fact) that are defensible when evaluated by the relevant standards of justice (value commitments). The claim here is that in the case in which AMSP does not promise or deliver just results, AMSP is a morally objectionable undertaking. Standards of justice here necessarily include treaty law as well as customary international law, inasmuch as these conventions are intended to preserve the peace, add to stability in the international legal order, and prevent instability in arms control. Consistent with the well-known recommendation in global policy analysis to “think globally” while “acting locally”, even a project such as AMSP stands to be evaluated as a local action having global implications within some pertinent time frame. “Local” values cannot but be superseded by “global” values in a case in which the “national-state” interest is not comprehensively coordinate with the human and planetary interest represented by the international legal order. This latter claim is especially critical given that Alaskan state legislators adopted a resolution in May 1997 “requiring” the U.S. President to assure Alaska of protection against foreseeable foreign aggression, “including deployment of a ballistic missile defense system to protect Alaska”. The state legislature resolved further “that Alaska’s safety and security take priority over any international treaty or obligation”.[6] (Alaska is the only state in the nation to have adopted such a resolution.)

The proposed Arctic Missile Signature Program as a local action certainly has its tangible benefits as identified by the geophysics research community (noted above), benefits that are clearly relevant given that they are perceived to be consistent with the UAF/Geophysical Institute mission and thus instrumental to achieving expressed institutional goals. There are those in this community of scientists, moreover, who argue that (premise 1) research contributing to the defense of the nation is an honorable pursuit, that (premise 2) AMSP contributes to the defense of the nation, and that (conclusion) therefore participation in the classified research of AMSP is an honorable pursuit. The claim that AMSP contributes to the defense of the nation depends on the veracity of the claim that a national missile defense system contributes to the security of the nation. Thus, on this argument, arctic missile signature research has extrinsic value even as national missile defense has extrinsic value relative to security of the nation, itself ostensibly anintrinsic value (for now to be granted, given the logic of statecraft and its principle of sovereignty, but clearly subject to challenge from arguments that privilege the human planetary interest without surrendering to the geopolitical frame of value identification).

Let us consider in the first place, then, that an argument in favor of national missile defense will find a research project such as the AMSP justifiable on those grounds. But the prior question is precisely whether the grounding argument is itself cogent. Said otherwise, only if a national missile defense system is justified is AMSP justified (excepting here the case in which such classified research is in fact directed at monitoring and verification activities already permitted by extant treaties). Brown and Klintworth observe that “No-one, least of all the US itself, disputes that a US NMD deployment would violate the ABM Treaty as it stands”.[7] Thus, it is easy to understand why President Bush chose to withdraw from the ABM Treaty rather than seek amendment to it. As it stands, Article I of the ABM Treaty prohibits an ABM defense that encompasses the entire national territory, Article III limiting ABM system deployment to the national capital.[8] In other words, given the absence of a properly negotiated amendment to the ABM Treaty by the US and Russia and successor states of the former USSR, the legality of arctic missile signature research on behalf of the US government (Department of Defense) is itself legally questionable. Unilateral withdrawal has consequences both legal and moral that are not eliminated simply because the US decides to abandon the treaty. Arctic missile signature research becomes questionable insofar as this project represents a component of national missile defense research preliminary to the political decision to deploy, a decision taken well before the Bush announcement of intent to withdraw from the treaty. Scientists who undertake arctic missile signature research are compelled, therefore, to evaluate their “scientific” activity relative to the probable consequences (costs) that would ensue from the US’s violation of, or (now realized) unilateral withdrawal from, the ABM Treaty. President Bush provided notice of his intent to withdraw unilaterally from the ABM Treaty, that withdrawal effective as of 13 June 2002. This decision, however, does not eliminate the need for ethical evaluation; on the contrary, that need is heightened. Thus, to the extent that research scientists do not engage these ethical issues, to that extent is their scientific integrity compromised.

It is important that research scientists bear in mind that notwithstanding the collapse of the former USSR and President Bush’s action, it can be argued that the ABM Treaty remains binding upon the US. For example, as a sign of contestation and balancing of presidential power, there has been some movement within the US Senate itself to consider the question of whether the Senate has any say in Bush’s decision, given the Senate’s role in treaty ratification. Beyond that, however, there is the fact that in September 1997 the United States, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding in which (Article I) they constituted themselves “the Parties to the [ABM] Treaty” and (Article II) clarified as a matter of lawful agreement that “The USSR Successor States shall assume the rights and obligations of the former USSR under the Treaty and its associated documents”.[9] This legal commitment is sustained even in the face of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in March 1999,[10] which declared it US policy to deploy a national system of missile defense. It is sustained further despite Bush’s decision, if not as a matter of positive law then surely as a matter of customary international law governing the observance of treaties, and including the agreed upon means for amendment to them.

The point here is that adherence to the ABM Treaty is said to have extrinsic value even as national missile defense is said to have extrinsic value relative to the intrinsic value of national security. But here, then, we have conflicting extrinsic values, and this conflict calls for a comparative assessment of these values if a policy decision is to be morally defensible. As Ellis advises, “If two extrinsic values have as their only purpose to promote the same intrinsic value, yet conflict with each other, then the conflict between them can be resolved by determining which one will most effectively promote the intrinsic value at stake”.[11] Here the discussion shifts to a dispute about facts, i.e., whether (1) full and unambiguous compliance with the ABM Treaty, thus also by implication rescission of the decision to withdraw, or (2) deployment of a national missile defense system “most effectively” achieves national security.


III. Scientific Duty and International Law

The concept of scientific responsibility surely takes into account an estimate of consequences that follow from missile signature research in the arctic, but the concept also takes into account those relevant duties the performance of which research scientists are to undertake and for which performance they are to be held accountable. In the present case, duty is specified in its performance by applicable international law. This law, though positive, nevertheless presupposes a commitment to an international morality, to the creation of a world order and constituted world peace in which correlative rights and duties are essential to a sustained moral community. Scientists participating in the proposed arctic missile signature program engage in research not merely qua scientists but qua civil servants. This is a fact all too often ignored given the tendency of scientists to disregard the political context of defense appropriations and such projects funded “in the service of the nation-state.” Yet, in becoming civil servants in the context of classified research scientists do not surrender their moral autonomy except through negligence or ignorance. On the contrary, the combination of scientific knowledge and civil service so construed underscores even more emphatically their obligation to exercise critical citizenship. As critical citizens scientists are obligated to ask themselves: “Are there instances in which my duty (and thus someone else’s right) conflicts with what I want?”[12] It is important to note here that by referring to what is wanted we are distinguishing between what Ellis calls “necessary” and “less necessary” benefits, such that in present case it is dubious that the tangible benefits from arctic missile signature research (e.g., as identified by the UAF/Geophysical Institute research community) indeed are necessary benefits. International law represented by the ABM Treaty (and START II) specifies those rights to national security that citizens of the signatory states have thereby, but also the duties that citizens qua civil servants have imposed upon themselves thereby. Citizens qua civil servants—the research scientists who act qua servants of the state—no less than “the government” have the duty of facilitating rather than obstructing or withdrawing from compliance with legal agreements such as the ABM Treaty (and START II). This imperative is set aside only if there is “good reason” not to remain compliant with extant treaties (thus even to withdraw unilaterally); and any proffered good reason cannot be of “merely prudential or self-interested value” if it is to be genuinely of moral value. Bush’s decision lacks moral value precisely because it was made on the basis of a self-interest narrowly construed.


IV. NMD’s Prohibitive Cost

Let us consider that diplomatic discussions on the ABM Treaty must by law include not only Russia but also the other successor states that are signatories. (Thus far the Bush Administration has acted as if the USA and Russia are the only signatories to the treaty.) Consider further the scenario in which the US and the Successor States to the former USSR do not act explicitly to amend the ABM Treaty and instead let it terminate (effective 13 June 2002 by Bush’s decision), thereby technically enabling (but not thereby justifying) the deployment of a system of national missile defense in the United States. Research and development for such a system today entails a significant investment of resources that is scandalous in the face of any assessment of opportunity costs. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., for example, has warned of pressing too far or too soon with such a system, given that “There is a long history of missile defense systems that have simply failed or have not provided the security we sought.”[13] “[W]hen we led the world in deploying land-based ballistic missiles with multiple re-entry vehicles”, says Biden, “we set off a costly arms race that we later concluded was a threat to crisis stability. A generation later, we are still trying to correct that mistake by bringing into force the START II treaty that bans those missiles. Ironically, if we should press ahead imprudently with a ballistic missile defense, the START process may be one of the first casualties.”[14] Biden’s warning has been on target, given the Russian promise to abandon START II concurrent to US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

It has been noted that the Gulf War situation “led to the intensified pursuit by all three U.S. military services of a half-dozen overlapping tactical and theater missile defense programs at an estimated future procurement cost of more than $50 billion. Concurrently, increased congressional pressure developed for a firm commitment to deployment by 2003 of a limited national ballistic missile defense designated to permit early expansion to a layered defense at a cost estimated by the Congressional Budget Office of between $31 billion and $60 billion by the year 2010, independent of operations and maintenance costs”.[15] With US expenditures on theater and national missile defense exceeding $120 billion, “without fielding a single effective system”, the opportunity costs are excessive even for someone taking a consequentialist approach to the policy question. Surely scientific responsibility at this point requires that even geophysical scientists consider some estimate of the consequences of such a prospective major casualty represented by (1) nullification of the ABM Treaty and (2) loss of the START II agreement. A proposed US unilateral withdrawal from the provisions of the ABM Treaty, including here research and development in missile defense that Russia and Successor States already perceive to be inconsistent with the treaty, threatened Russia’s abrogation of START II prior to Bush’s announcement of withdrawal.[16] The event in which START II is abandoned would be an event entailing an arms race between the US and Russia (not to mention China), a consequence that both the ABM Treaty and START II have until now helped to halt—and this statement has merit even accounting for the recent Bush-Putin summit seeking reductions in strategic nuclear weapons on both sides.

The fact is that in the “Second Agreed Statement” signed in September 1997, the US committed itself to preserving the ABM Treaty, to preventing its circumvention, and to enhancing its viability.[17] The US agreed further not only not to deploy an ABM system that would pose “a realistic threat to the strategic nuclear force of another Party”; the US agreed also not to engage in any testing that would “give such systems that capability”. Proposals for national missile defense, including testing that is part of research and development, are clearly inconsistent with the 1997 agreement and, therefore, unlawful when undertaken. If a project such as the proposed Arctic Missile Signature Program constitutes testing that is part of such R&D, then this project is clearly inconsistent with the 1997 agreement and, therefore, unlawful. In point of fact, the Arctic Missile Signature Program constitutes such testing. Arctic missile signature research is, therefore, unlawful under the terms of the 1997 agreement. This proposed project is all the more inconsistent with the provisions of the ABM Treaty if the testing at the Poker Flat Research Range is intended to make this a test range for ABM launches with “deployment of radars of a type tested in an ABM mode”. The treaty and the 1978 Agreed Statement recognize only two test ranges for the US—“in the vicinity of White Sands, New Mexico, and on Kwajalein Atoll”.[18]

Finally, insofar as at issue here is scientific responsibility and research integrity, it is incumbent upon research scientists at the UAF Geophysical Institute who would commit themselves to participation in missile signature research to consider the positions on national missile defense taken by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). UCS “strongly opposes US deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system because the security costs incurred by deploying such a defense would far outweigh its potential security benefits”.[19] Yet, and more important in the present context of argument, UCS is fully cognizant of the international legal issues as well as the technical-scientific assessments of NMD effectiveness. UCS’s evaluation accounts for the fact that “Russia has made it clear…that it is opposed to modifying the [ABM] treaty and that its compliance with the existing START arms-reduction treaties is contingent on continued US compliance with the ABM Treaty”. Authorities associated with UCS and the MIT Security Studies Program, such as Dr. Andrew Sessler (“former director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and past president of the American Physical Society”), are unequivocal not only that national missile defense “won’t do the job”; they conclude that “the current NMD testing program is not capable of assessing the system’s effectiveness against a realistic attack”.[20] In like manner, John Pike, director of the Space Policy Project of the Federation of American Scientists, has remarked that “we continue to be in a condition of mutual assured destruction, under which, for better or worse, the original logic of the ABM Treaty continues to hold”.[21] Moreover, says Pike, the current debate about national missile defense has “a lot more to do with service bureaucracy and corporate contractor politics with Congress [think here, e.g., Boeing, Lockheed-Martin] than it has to do with national security. Given the fundamental irrationality of what we’re doing, it would be the height of folly for us to start rearranging time-tested institutions, such as the ABM Treaty, in a fit of absent mindedness”.

Clearly it is important to give scientists their due authority. However, the extent of that authority is subject to review. For example, Alfred Tauber, Director of the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University, has observed that “science is essentially pluralistic, accepting detracting, as well as integrating, criticism as part of its very code…In this regard science is a bulwark of liberal, democratic society…In respecting that science does indeed seek truth by such principles, we must we wary of confusing its ostensible, and in my opinion largely attained, moral goals from the exceptional cases of dogmatic attitudes or fraudulent practices that threaten to subvert the ideal.”[22] Note here that in its ideal practice science is accepting of detracting criticism. That detracting criticism, I submit, is especially necessary in the face of fraudulent practices that occur in the context of classified research. For those who are uninformed of a major issue of scientific fraud in NMD testing, I offer the following relevant datum for consideration in present context.

Dr. Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy in the Security Studies Program at MIT, recently peer reviewed published data available from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization’s “Integrated Flight Test-1A”. In a statement with supporting technical documentation transmitted to the White House in May 2000, Professor Postol reports that he “discovered that the BMDO’s own data shows that the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) [the anti-ballistic missile interceptor] will be defeated by the simplest of balloon decoys.” Worse for proponents of NMD, Professor Postol examined documentation “that shows that the BMDO in coordination with its contractors attempted to hide this fact by tampering with both the data and the analysis from the IFT-1A experiment. In addition,” Dr. Postol wrote, “it appears that the BMDO modified the configuration of the IFT-2, 3, and 4 follow-on flight tests to hide the program-stopping facts revealed in the IFT-1A.”[23] Professor Postol’s documentation included Department of Defense Inspector General Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) documents. In these documents the DCIS investigative team reported, “We conclude…that there is absolute irrefutable proof that TRW’s [a leading defense contractor] discrimination technology does not work. We know that this is the strongest statement that can be made regarding our position relative to TRW’s discrimination technology. We invite POET [BMDO’s internal analysis team, Phase One Engineering Team] to thoroughly review this report, make their own calculations, and ask them to either validate our findings or refute them scientifically…Our report clearly demonstrates and scientifically proves the inadequacies and misrepresentations by TRW concerning their discrimination technology.”

The above-cited evaluations raise serious question about research integrity in national missile defense research and development sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency/BMDO. It is eminently reasonable, and acting in defense of academic freedom, to be concerned about prospective involvement in classified research by a university faculty when research integrity can be compromised as a result of a sponsoring agency tampering with data and analysis and then being fraudulent in the public representation of that data and analysis. Professor Postol, a scientist having both Department of Defense and Department of Energy security clearances, is one example of a faculty member who has not been well defended by his university’s administration when confronted by Defense Department officials because of his “whistleblowing” on behalf of scientific integrity.

The foregoing statements from the relevant scientific community having authority to judge the effectiveness of proposed system components for national missile defense contribute to resolving the comparative assessment of extrinsic values that is at issue here. We noted earlier that a problem of conflicting extrinsic values in present case shifts to a dispute about whether (1) full and unambiguous compliance with the ABM Treaty or (2) deployment of a national system of missile defense most effectively achieves national security. The scientific-technical assessment of effectiveness rendered by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Federation of American Scientists, and scientists from the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, combined with highly probable escalated instability in arms control that is projected to ensue, leads to affirmation of disjunct (1) rather than disjunct (2)—Either (1) full and unambiguous compliance with the ABM Treaty most effectively achieves national security OR (2) deployment of NMD most effectively achieves national security. It is not the case that deployment of NMD most effectively achieves national security. Therefore, full and unambiguous compliance with the ABM Treaty most effectively achieves national security. The relevant moral and legal point is that in the conflict of the two extrinsic values at issue, the deployment of a national missile defense is a disvalue.


V. The Argument from Academic Freedom

Having thus engaged the consequentialist and deontological aspects of the question before us, I now turn briefly to one additional argument that I shall call “the argument from academic freedom”. Some in the academic community, appealing to the principle of academic freedom, do not sanction any proscription of or limitation upon scientific research. Academic freedom, they argue, entails the free pursuit of scientific research irrespective of “political” influences such as the debate over national missile defense. In present case the claim is that whereas national missile defense is a political issue outside the concern of a university and its mission as such, a project such as the proposed Arctic Missile Signature Program is a scientific research project engagement in which is protected in the academy by the principle of academic freedom. An institution of higher education violates this principle if it proscribes or limits any scientific research, including a project such as AMSP. Because a research university in particular ought not violate the academic freedom of its research faculty, therefore the University of Alaska administration (thus, by implication, other research universities) ought not proscribe or limit any scientific research, including classified research projects such as that involving arctic missile signature research.

The foregoing argument manifests a degree of naïveté about government-sponsored research, neglecting to take into account two undeniable facts: (1) all government-sponsored research is itself an outcome of a political process of appropriation and allocation of resources among competing interests; (2) The Arctic Missile Signature Program is itself a project linked to a politically driven interest in national missile defense, especially given those interests in NMD expressed by Alaska’s representatives to the U.S. Senate (Sen. Ted Stevens in particular) and U.S. House of Representatives and the R&D arm of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing corporations. It is, quite simply, false to assert that AMSP is a purely scientific project.

As for the argument from academic freedom as such, without doubt academic freedom has been and remains a cornerstone of the American academy’s self-concept. This principle has been championed in the US chiefly by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). A faculty formally affiliated with AAUP through collective bargaining (such as at UAF) will, of course, seek to preserve the AAUP standard in practice even as the University of Alaska Board of Regents policy sustains the principle. While the AAUP “Statement of Principles” on academic freedom recognizes that “Freedom of research is fundamental to the advancement of truth”, the Statement also grants that “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole”.[24] Further, the Statement construes academic freedom to carry with it “duties correlative to rights”, and here duty includes responsibility “when undertaking government-sponsored research”. The AAUP Statement is silent on the question of whether there are circumstances in which an institutional limitation or denial of participation in government-sponsored research may be consistent with academic freedom.

An argument to this effect, however, may be adduced. This argument takes as its major premise the AAUP Statement’s acknowledgment that institutions of higher education are conducted forthe common good, this common good to be distinguished from (though it may incorporate) the interest of the individual faculty member and the interest of the institution. This premise implies that in a conflict between the common good and such interests, it is the common good that is to be privileged. In the present case the common good is equivalent to “the national security”, broadly construed. It has been argued above, on grounds both consequentialist and deontological, that the national security is not effectively served by a national missile defense system, including here R&D for such a system. Hence, research and development of a national missile defense system does not effectively serve the common good. This implies that faculty research interests in national missile defense R & D (including here the Arctic Missile Signature Program) conflict with the institution’s responsibility to conduct itself in the reasonable pursuit of the common good. This conflict is to be resolved by privileging the common good over the national missile defense research interests of the faculty. Therefore, an institution of higher education may and ought to proscribe faculty participation in research and development of a national missile defense system. In doing so, the institution of higher education balances duty with right, gives duty its place, and so acts on behalf of academic freedom and its legitimate construal.

Indeed, academic freedom is never absolute but is instead relational, having meaning in the context of some assessment of the common good. Thus, the mission of an institution of higher education, especially of a research university concerned with the advancement of scientific knowledge, has integrity relative to that common good. Institutional integrity measured by the degree to which the common good is pursued and achieved entails reasonable limits upon scientific research. Indeed, there is ample reason to concur with Robert S. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of the Departments of Physics and Philosophy at Boston University, when he says that “If we know what we want, then knowledge of facts will help us, either to achieve our goal or to tell us that it cannot be achieved. So science, if conceived as knowledge of the relevant facts, will inform us about the means to our ends, but it does not thereby shed light on the wisdom of those ends.”[25] The debate about ends, about the wisdom of the ends pursued, is a debate to be undertaken as an act of critical citizenship. Research scientists, as noted earlier, are subject to public scrutiny precisely insofar the ends of science are matters of value and not matters of fact per se, hence subject to “detracting criticism” in the interest of the common good.


VI. Conclusion

The foregoing discussion leads to the conclusion that on both consequentialist and deontological grounds a classified research project such as the Arctic Missile Signature Program is a morally objectionable engagement, and that, therefore, research scientists who engage in such a project compromise their research integrity and neglect their scientific responsibility in the context of applicable international law. While it could be argued that (a) research scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute who commit to participation in the proposed Arctic Missile Signature Program act in a way consistent with the resolution of the Alaska State Legislature as well as the US Congress’s adoption of a policy to deploy a national missile defense, (b) that UAF as the research institution of the State of Alaska acts in the service of the state to the extent that it commits to a policy permitting classified research related to national missile defense, the fact is that such an argument does not have sufficiently countervailing weight when measured against the competing claims of international law. As the Council for a Livable World Education Fund has remarked, “it has been argued by the Constitution and 200 years of practice that while the Senate must give its advice and consent to a treaty to bring it into effect, it is up to the President to carry out, modify or terminate the treaty”.[26] That is, it is the President who has the constitutional authority on the question of how the US satisfies its obligations of international law—and on this point the President is committed by legal agreement that the Standing Consultative Commission is responsible for promoting and implementing treaty objectives. The Commission has not, through the requisite mutual agreement of the US and Successor States of the former USSR, amended the ABM Treaty in any way permitting national missile defense. Until it does so, international law represented by the treaty stands to be sustained rather than circumvented or abrogated, even accounting for President Bush’s declaration of unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.

Moreover, notwithstanding President Bush’s recent strident pronouncements on US obligations under treaty law, the US government is bound by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which entered into force in January 1980, eight years after the ABM Treaty was concluded. Article 26 of the Convention, expressing the universally recognized principle of pacta sunt servanda, states that “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed in good faith”.[27] Further, Article 27 of the Convention declares that “A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty”. Given Article 27, the Alaska State Legislature’s resolution requiring that the safety and security of the state take priority over any international treaty or obligation simply fails to comprehend the federal government’s responsibility under international law, as if the resolution could somehow mandate the federal government’s abrogation of the ABM Treaty. In fact it cannot. As Frederick Kirgis remarks, US courts “would not permit a state of the union to force the United States to breach its international obligation to other countries under the [treaty or other international] agreement. The state or local law would be struck down as an interference with the federal government’s power over foreign affairs”.[28]

Those who would cite a new threat to Alaska as a legitimate reason for the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty ignore Articles 61 and 62 of the Convention. According to Article 61, “A party may invoke the impossibility of performing a treaty as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from it if the impossibility results from the permanent disappearance or destruction of an object indispensable for the execution of the treaty”. This condition has not obtained by any measure, despite President Bush’s decision to withdraw from the treaty. The nuclear arsenals of the signatories to the ABM Treaty yet threaten mutual assured destruction, so that Article 61 cannot be invoked in the face of that fact. START I and START II were undertaken precisely because the strategic weapons arsenals remain excessive. Article 62 of the Convention provides for the relevance of a “fundamental change of circumstances” warranting termination or withdrawal from a treaty. Two conditions must obtain: (a) “the existence of those circumstances constituted an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty”; and (b) “the effect of the change is radically to transform the extent of obligations still to be performed under the treaty”. The available intelligence estimates of the threat of an attack upon the US territory by rogue states such as North Korea do not represent a threat that radically transforms US obligations under the ABM Treaty. Neither the Clinton nor Bush proposal for national missile defense is assessed to be effective against the most likely threat, viz., a missile carrying a biological or chemical payload.

The extended argument expounded here clarifies the relevant obligations of research scientists in Alaska in the face of any proposed national missile defense research agenda. The ABM Treaty stands to be sustained rather than circumvented by research and development of such a system or abrogated by yet other means. This is no less the obligation of the research scientist, who cannot responsibly abdicate the general duty to exercise critical citizenship and to assure the achievement of “just results” essential to scientific responsibility and research integrity.


[1] Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Accreditation Self-Study Report, 2001

[2] Richard L. Garwin, “Effectiveness of Proposed National Missile Defense Against ICBMs from North Korea”, The Garwin Archive, March 17, 1999;

[3] For those not familiar with the technical aspects, I note that a missile signature is a measure of a missile’s “visibility” to surveillance that includes visible, infrared, and radar imaging, whether that surveillance is space-based, ground-based, or airborne. It is an “intelligence assessment” that takes into account variant meteorological conditions (terrestrial, earth-limb, celestial) that affect “radar propagation” and “interceptor infrared-seeker performance” in missile tracking (along a trajectory that includes boost/ascent, post-boost, and re-entry). Missile signature intelligence is central not only to the proposed NMD, but has been central to monitoring and verification consistent with extant “missile regimes” that implement non-proliferation and arms control treaty provisions (e.g., START II, the ABM Treaty). For more technical information, see the website for the American Missile Signature Center, at

[4] These are the benefits identified by Professor Roger Smith, Director of the UAF Geophysical Institute, at a faculty meeting held on April 18, 2001.

[5] Ralph D. Ellis, Just Results: Ethical Foundations for Policy Analysis (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998)

[6] “Defense of Alaska from Nuclear Attack”, Senate Joint Resolution 30, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau Alaska, May 6, 1997

[7] Gary Brown & Gary Klintworth, “The US Missile Defense Program: Vital Shield or Modern-Day Maginot Line?”, Research Paper 16, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, 5 December 2000.

[8]U.S. Department of State, Archive Site,

[9]U.S. Department of State, Archive Site,

[10] S.257, Cochran-Inouye National Missile Defense Act of 1999; HR 4.

[11] Ellis, op. cit., p. 13

[12] Ibid., p. 98

[13] Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., ”Foreword”, in Stephen W. Young, Pushing the Limits: The Decision on National Missile Defense (Washington D.C.: Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers & the Council for a Livable World Education Fund, July 2000)

[14] Ibid., p. v. Brown and Klintworth cite a figure of $17 billion expended between 1985 and 1990 for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) initiated by the Reagan Administration in 1983 which had “highly ambitious objectives” that “proved quite unrealizable”. The FY2000 budget for NMD amounts to $2.9 billion, with budgets for NMD R&D projected to increase annually under the current Bush Administration.

[15] Alton Frye, Morton H. Halperin, Stanley R. Resor, John B. Rhinelander, “Additional and Dissenting Views”, Arms Control and the U.S. Russian Relationship: Problems, Prospects, and Prescriptions, Council on Foreign Relations & the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom Task Force on U.S.-Russian Arms Control, October 1996, p. 72

[16] See Leon Sloss, “Ballistic Missile Defense Revisited”, Occasional Paper (Washington D.C.: The Atlantic Council), January 1999

[17] U.S. Department of State, Archive Site,

[18] U.S. Department of State, Archive Site,

[19] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Positions: National Missile Defense”;

[20] Union of Concerned Scientists, News Releases, “Scientific Panel Says National Missile Defense Won’t Work: New Study Shows Simple Countermeasures Will Defeat System”, April 11, 2000;

[21] John Pike, “The Role of the ABM Treaty and National Missile Defense”, Carnegie Endowment Conference on START II, Missile Non-Proliferation, and Missile Defense: Seminar Overview, February 1996;

[22] Alfred I. Tauber, ed., Science and the Quest for Reality (New York: NYU Press, 1997), p. 5

[23] Source: Dr. Theodore A. Postol; personal communication and transmittal of the said documents.

[24] American Association of University Professors, Policy Documents & Reports, 1995 Edition

[25] Robert S. Cohen, “Ethics and Science”, in Alfred I. Tauber, ed., Science and the Quest for Reality (New York: NYU Press, 1997), pp. 347-362, at pp. 350 & 351

[26] Council for a Livable World Education Fund, “Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty’s Legal Status”, February 3, 1999.

[27] UN Doc A/Conf 39/8, UKTS 58 (1980), 8 ILM 679;

[28] Frederick L. Kirgis, “International Agreements and U.S. Law”, American Society of International Law Insight, May 1997;


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