As published in the Jewish Chronicle
This week and last, the Jewish Chronicle has published details of research into military and “dual use” technology carried out jointly by members of British universities and their colleagues in Iran.
This is a matter of deep concern, not least because much of this work has concerned Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones. Iran’s sophisticated weapons industry sells attack drones to Putin’s Russia, which has used them, to deadly effect, against targets in Ukraine.
Some of the published papers arising from collaborations that the JC has cited are explicit about their subjects’ military application; others, such as those dealing with futuristic UAV communication and control systems based around lasers have, at best, a dual civilian and military use.
Either way, to have allowed them to take place was extremely unwise. The Foreign Secretary has told the House of Commons that the Government is “looking into them”.
His inquiries may well establish that the collaborations breached UK sanctions, imposed in an attempt to curb Iran’s ambitions to become a nuclear-armed state.
However, the deeper question that has to be answered is how these collaborations came about in the first place.
Universities are supposed to have rigorous procedures governing the ethics and legality of academic research, while the government runs an Academic Technology Approval Scheme, which it claims is one of several “robust measures” meant to maintain what it calls “research security”.
Officials insist this is “constantly under review”, and that it “protects UK research from misappropriation and diversion to military programmes of concern”.
Somehow, however, a slew of projects that may end up helping Iran’s extremist regime improve its already lethal drones slipped through the net, and at least one of them, involving a senior researcher at Imperial College, London, was actually funded by Iran’s science and technology ministry.
Other projects saw UK-based scientists working with Iranians at universities which are on the UK sanctions list, because of their role in developing nuclear weapons.
There is simply no point in having a sanctions regime unless it is enforced, and allowing Iran to benefit from access to members of elite British institutions and their high-quality laboratories to research topics of military use is an error that may one day haunt us.
Not only is Iran a constant source of menace in the Middle East, with its proxies such as the Houthis in Yemen and Hizbollah in Lebanon inflicting frequent damage on the UK’s allies, its relationship with Russia, Europe’s most aggressive power, grows closer by the month.
It is far from inconceivable that the technology developed as a result of collaborations such as those exposed by the JC may one day lead to the injury or death of British soldiers or civilians. They have to be stopped immediately.