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A Look at KCL’s Relationship With the Ministry of Defence

Multiple departments at King’s College London have had long-standing relationships with the Ministry of Defence. These partnerships have come under recent attack from the investigative journalism page, DeclassifiedUK, prompting Roar to take a closer look at the transparency of information around these subjects. 

On Tuesday, 8 November, the twitter account @declassifieduk made public a set of uncovered documents from 2013 outlining an agreement between King’s College London (KCL) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

This news received mixed reviews on Twitter: many of the replies accused the university of training students to infiltrate the Middle East in order to represent British interests. Some people used the tweet as a platform to give their opinion on the British education system. Whatever the Twitter discourse, there is certainly more to the story of the relationship between KCL and the MoD then is immediately obvious from this one contract.

The military education course which the tweet refers to is delivered by the Defence Studies Department in the School of Security Studies; before looking at the information revealed by DeclassifiedUK, it is important to provide some context for these courses.

What does the School of Security Studies entail?

The School of Security Studies encompasses a huge range of research and study programmes on war, security, and defence. The school has three departments: the Department of War Studies, King’s Institute for Applied Security Studies, and the Defence Studies Department. The school generally is very open about its connections with government and private organisations, either in educational, consultancy, or research contexts. The Defence Studies Department runs a postgraduate programme with the Joint Service Command and Staff College, and the Royal College of Defence Studies in order to provide training and education for “UK armed forces”, “civil servants”, and “international allies”. The Department’s training has been cited by multiple security organisations, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s Centre for the Study of Intelligence. Full report available here.

More recently, the King’s Institute for Applied Security Studies announced a new partnership with the MoD in January 2022 in order to provide “agile and innovative teaching to military officers, public servants and security professionals from the UK and the UK’s international partners”. On the subject of this partnership, a spokesperson for the School of Security Studies told Roar:

“King’s College London was awarded a new Ministry of Defence (MoD) contract in 2022 to deliver defence and security education at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. This contract builds on a 25-year partnership between King’s and the UK Defence Academy, aimed at enhancing educational provision for UK service personnel, civil servants and international partners.”

Where are the criticisms coming from?

This partnership has been commented on by a number of critical investigative journals. In particular, two far-left publications, the Monthly Review Online and MintPress News have both published articles, from August 2022 and April 2021 respectively, accusing the Department of War Studies of training spies to push a NATO agenda via control over social media and news outlets. The reliability of these publications is important to note; MintPress in particular has come under fire for conjecture and a lack of transparency akin to sites such as Shadowproof and InfoWars. The Monthly Review garners much more support in media discourse; it is one of, if not the, longest running socialist magazine in the United States, inaugurated by Albert Einstein in 1949. The magazine has several publishing branches with organisations such as JSTOR and New York University. However, the publication is still very biassed in its left-wing leanings.

Additionally, DeclassifiedUK- the organisation which initially tweeted about the MoD contract in November 2022- has published about the university’s links to the MoD before. In relation to the high-profile Julian Assange freedom of the press case, DeclassifiedUK identified that Dr. Nigel Blackwood– a key witness for the US prosecution team in the case- is a reader at KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry: another part of the university which was contracted by the MoD in 2013. Declassified does provide compelling evidence as to the lack of transparency around this contract, as well as the recently revealed 2013 contract. However, in the Julian Assange case, it is worth pointing out that Dr. Blackwood’s recent published work focuses around mental disorder and antisocial behaviours, especially in prison settings; he certainly has the credentials to back up his testimony.

What do these contracts mean?

Essentially, these contracts mean that the Ministry of Defence funds research initiatives and pays professors at KCL to provide education support at its military bases. In relation to DeclassifiedUK tweet, a School of Security Studies spokesperson told Roar that: “This contract, which ended a few years ago, was part of an annual outreach programme run by the Ministry of Defence for international partners chosen by the MoD. King’s provided academic support, which included inviting academics to lecture partners on oversight and how the UK approaches defence and national security policy.”

These contracts in themselves are fairly normal: the MoD has a number of supplier and contractor partnerships with organisations at home and abroad.

The extent to which this would constitute ‘government interference’ depends on who you ask. KCL is contracted with a number of companies for its research centres, among them AstraZeneca and Siemens Healthineers. The university conducts research governance, ethics, and integrity checks, and it abides by international regulations including government export controls and the National Security and Investment Act.

Roar concludes that although the Ministry of Defence contracts have not always been explicitly made available online, the university does not attempt to hide its partnerships with the government. While media sites such as the Monthly Review and DeclassifiedUK play important roles as government watchdogs, it is necessary to take into account the biassed slants of these publications when forming one’s own opinion. Actions such as the public announcement of the new MoD contract in January 2022 with the Defence Studies Department, and the responsiveness of the School of Security Studies to Roar inquiry goes a long way towards reassuring students and members of the public that these contracts do not imply untowards dealings with the military. That being said, Roar recommends that its readers stay informed on where the university sources its funding, as transparency and clarity of information is an important standard to adhere to.

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