At the end of May, a group of courageous students occupied the Vice-Chancellor’s office demanding divestment from fossil fuels. This action followed a long tradition of student activism, and it raised further questions for local peace group Auckland Peace Action about the involvement of the University in other morally questionable investments and research. In particular, we wanted to find out if the University of Auckland is supporting the global arms trade and war-making through its investments and research. Here’s what we’ve turned up.
Like fossil fuel extraction, weapons production is a global industry, and for an institution’s money to stay out of this industry it needs an investment policy that bars investment in weapons companies. The University of Auckland Foundation, which manages the University’s financial assets, has no such policy. Given the profitability of the weapons industry we can be certain that some of the approximately $180 million in net assets which they manage is funding weaponry and warfare. As a point of comparison, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund holds $136 million worth of stock in “Defence and Aerospace” industries including 23 companies on the list of top 100 arms companies in the world.
Several weeks ago, we made an Official Information Act (OIA) request to the University to get the details of which weapons companies the Foundation is invested in. We provided them with the Top 100 list of arms companies. One of the University’s lawyers inanely responded to us by saying that since the University hasn’t checked its information about the Foundation’s investments against the list of weapons companies we provided, the University doesn’t hold any information as to whether the Foundation is invested in these companies. Her response is ludicrous, but unsurprising to anyone familiar with making OIA requests.
It’s clear that the University wants its investments in weapons companies to remain obscured. Given the widespread indignation amongst students and staff at the University’s fossil fuel investments, their approach comes as no surprise.
Throughout the years of the Vietnam War, universities across the United States were the sites of major protests relating to military research. At Colombia University in New York City, demonstrations against war research culminated in the occupation of five buildings and shut down the campus for a semester. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “not only organised occupations, they also organised a mass picket of the university’s nuclear missile laboratories.’”
While the University of Auckland is not involved in nuclear missile research, the military-industrial complex is alive and well within the university. This takes two forms: first, funding by weapons companies of specific research projects, and second, the desire by the University to commercialise research for use by militaries across the globe.
The Mathematics Department notes that it did research for Rakon, an Auckland company that produces crystal oscillators. Rakon’s product goes into the Joint Direct Action Munition (JDAM), one of the most widely used missile guidance systems in the world, used by (among other nations) Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.
The research done by the Mathematics department specifically relates to the production of the crystal oscillators. The major issue with this kind of oscillator is thermal drift: the frequency given out changes with temperature. This isn’t usually a problem, but in military applications electronics will often be exposed to high temperatures; guided missiles, for example, produce a lot of heat for obvious reasons. If enough heat is given off, the clock signal can speed up, the electronics start making mistakes and you end up blowing up a hospital rather than the school you were aiming for. There is thus quite a lot of interest in making oscillators that are less affected by thermal drift. We believe that the research mentioned relates to writing algorithms that correct for the drift, meaning that the electronics are less affected.
In late 2015, the Listener magazine published an article about New Zealand’s weapons industry and its political lobby group, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA). It is noted in the article that Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons dealer and maker of nuclear weapons, was funding research at the University of Auckland related to the verification of unspecified software. Such computer work is central to modern military research, as war becomes increasingly dependent on digital and electronic technology. Computer science, particularly in the fields of cryptography, machine learning and numerical simulation, is becoming increasingly important for the design and operation of offensive weapons (such as drones and autonomous weapon systems) and for the operation of mass surveillance systems.
A second OIA sent to the Mathematics department dean, Dr Bernd Krauskopf, asked about funding by Lockheed Martin. The University has responded to us by saying that no money from Lockheed Martin has been received.
Along with commissioned research for weapons companies like Rakon, the University is a member of the NZDIA through Uniservices, an agency that seeks to commercialise university work. What this means is that research done by Auckland academics with potential military applications is likely to be taken up by Uniservices in an attempt to turn that research into saleable products. Uniservices can even arrange to have private corporate researchers embedded directly within the University, using university researchers and equipment to advance private enterprises.
New Zealand & the global arms trade
The weapons industry in New Zealand is estimated to be worth about $60 million in profits a year: small on a global scale, but growing in its contribution to wars and international conflicts. The University’s research work and investments are a small, but not insignificant, contribution to war profiteering. Research done by the University gives legitimacy to an industry that profits from finding better ways to kill and maim human beings. This is, quite frankly, shameful and abhorrent.
Major weapons companies operate within New Zealand getting both government contracts and free government money for research, development and business promotion. Of most concern is the annual weapons expo where 500 delegates come to buy and sell weapons and other military services. This year, the weapons expo is happening in Wellington on 10 and 11 October. Auckland Peace Action will soon be launching our campaign to shut it down with a non-violent blockade of the event. Some of you may have been involved in the blockade last year on the Auckland waterfront, and know what an amazing success it was with over 300 delegates kept out for 8 hours!
Political parties are, at this stage, unwilling to commit to stopping the New Zealand weapons industry, so we’ve got to take non-violent direct action to make real change. If you would like to find out more or get involved, please come along to our campaign meeting on Wednesday, August 16 at 6:30pm at the Peace Place, 22 Emily Place (just near the Law School) for a full run down and food!
This article was written for the University of Auckland Student Magazine Craccum, and appear in the August 7, 2017 issue.