Universities and The New Cold War

“Purdue is advancing a broad defense innovation capability, distinguished by its depth, breadth, and speed, with the goal of contributing to our nation’s third offset strategy of innovation by integration of existing strengths and forming new partnerships. The depth in quality and creativity of Purdue research centers is, and will remain, our strongest asset. The breadth responds to the need expressed by multiple DoD customers for a ‘total package’: new, integrated solutions (technologies, transition), new talent (graduates highly trained in relevant problems), and new modes of knowledge access (personnel exchange, training, distance education). 

Purdue University researchers conducted over $40M of sponsored research in the 2014-2015 academic year and, in doing so, educated hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students in cutting edge technologies.” https://www.purdue.edu/research/defense-innovation/

“NDIA, in partnership with Purdue University, will host a comprehensive program on hypersonic systems. Together with government, industry, and academia, NDIA will present the technical foundations of hypersonic systems, the current approach to rapidly developing hypersonic capabilities, and the warfighter, policy, and acquisition perspectives on delivering a sustainable operational capability” "2019 Hypersonics Capabilities Conference," NDIA 100,  ndia.org.

The National Defense Industry Association NDIA is an association of defense industry contractors who lobby for increased military expenditures. Its members are described as “informed opinion leaders” dedicated to improved national security.

Purdue’s Discovery Park launched in 2001 with a grant from the state of Indiana and expanded by a $25 million Lilly Endowment as a nanotechnology center. Today it is a $1.15 billion research and learning complex that combines Purdue’s expertise in science, engineering, technology, and biology, with connections to the corporate world. As its website suggests: “Leveraging Lilly Endowment’s investment, Discovery Park has created an innovative environment where major global challenges are examined objectively, generating new ideas and directions for future generations.”

One of Discovery Park’s core strengths is “Global Security.” Key research on this subject is designed to respond to security threats, global instability, defense needs, terrorism, nuclear deterrence and proliferation, basically responding to “the most pressing security and defense challenges facing the nation and the world.”

Chief Discovery Park scientist, Professor Tomas Diaz de la Rubia posted an essay entitled “The New Future of Warfare” (Purdue University Discovery Park Vice President’s Blog, (October 1, 2018). In it he addressed the emerging salience of new military technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI) and war. De la Rubia speculated that future wars will not be fought on battlefields but rather in cities or in cyberspace. New AI weapons of war in the hands of presumed enemies could constitute an existential threat to the survival of the United States. Discovery Park, he indicated, is already engaged in vital research on biomorphic robots, automatic target recognition for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, automatic targeting for drones, and other technologies. In short, a core Discovery Park mission includes the preparation for and implementation of war. And this is necessary because as Professor de la Rubia argued: 

“It has become apparent that the U.S. is no longer guaranteed top dog status on the dance card that is the future of war. In order to maintain military superiority the focus must shift from traditional weapons of war to advanced systems that rely on A.I.-based weaponry. The stakes are just too high and the prize too great for the U.S. to be left behind. All the more reason to call upon Purdue University and its inestimable capacity to weave together academia, research, and industry for the greater good. We’re stepping up to secure our place in the future of our country, and there’s much more to come!” He warned that China had announced that it would overtake the US by 2030 in the global artificial intelligence market.

Recently, the NDIA and Purdue University hosted a conference on “hypersonics,” the development of high speed weapons systems, stimulated by a $2.4 billion allocation in the 2020 defense budget. According to a Purdue press release, the university has one of the most comprehensive hypersonic research capabilities. University President Mitch Daniels declared that the university was “…ready to establish itself as the ‘university hub’ of hypersonic research and development.” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb declared that “Hypersonics systems are our state’s number one defense priority, and I’m glad we can bring industry leaders together at Purdue University to showcase what Indiana can offer.” (“NDIA, Purdue Launching Inaugural Hypersonics Capabilities Conference to Advance Transformational Military Capabilities,” Purdue Research Foundation News, July 29, 2019).  Some comments suggested also that this new military research agenda would lead to greater economic development in the Greater Lafayette area. One particularly bizarre spokesperson justified the Purdue commitment to high speed warfare by referring to the mission of the Morrill Act of 1862 establishing land-grant universities (Dave Bangert, “Purdue ‘Doubling Down” on Military Research on Hypersonic Flight, Weapons,”  Lafayette Journal and Courier, July 30, 2019).

These statements illustrate that Purdue University, a large land-grant university, increasingly is committing its skills to research, development, training, and the production of the instruments of war. Such commitments have been made with little discussion in the broader university community. 

Important theoretical questions are not being raised. For example, is war inevitable? Are other countries a threat to the United States? Should we conceptualize the world in the twenty-first century as one in which the United States and China are competitors and threats to each other? Should the United States commit itself to remaining the number one power in the world, however that is defined? Or should research prioritize human development and conflict resolution rather than “security? Is there a relationship between poverty, hunger, environmental devastation, the spread of weapons and war and violence? One wonders if more of government and corporate resources should be allocated to these many issues, rather than to ill-conceived, notions of national “security.” And, finally, do collaborative efforts between universities, such as Purdue, with defense contractors and the Department of Defense best serve the needs of national security, conflict reduction, research, or education? And, in the end, does not this collaboration between the military, the university, and industry constitute a huge robbery of the wealth of society at the expense of social and economic development, ecological survival, and the prospects of peace? 

President Eisenhower in 1960 warned about an unwarranted growth of the influence of the military/industrial complex in American society. Today he would characterize the danger as the military/industrial/academic complex. It includes the shifting of the research and education missions of higher education away from human development to war-making. 

These qualitative changes in university priorities are being made largely in non-transparent decision-making ways. But when challenged, the military/industrial/academic complex tends to defend its existence by claiming war is inevitable. And to secure support, when questioned, self-identified experts construct narratives of enemies; whether they be the Communists, the terrorists, China, the Cubans, the Venezuelans, artificial intelligence, or all of the above. As Andrew Bacevich so compellingly has argued, ever since the end of World War Two, the United States has created a “permanent war economy.” Given the increasing financial challenges universities face in the twenty-first century, collaboration with this permanent war economy becomes attractive to university administrators.

For more on the concept of the military/industrial complex see:


For a discussion about competing paradigms in the study of international relations see: