I recently enrolled in a Master's program in electrical engineering at a public research university in the midwestern United States. I am currently focusing on power distribution and transmission, as it seems like there are only a small number of well-defined channels between such things and militarism (compared to, say, controls engineering).
Unexpectedly, I was approached about a PhD opportunity by a mechanical engineering professor, and will be discussing the matter with him further.
However, I am not really sure how to make known the sorts of projects and actors I will not work with. It is only fair to him that I be upfront about these things, but for a variety of reasons I am not really sure how to articulate my boundaries (a pre-condition for even considering his offer).
In my mind, it would be quite reasonable to tell someone "I would not like to be involved in any project directly benefiting Defense, Aerospace, Surveillance, Autonomous Vehicles; those kinds of things" (adding "that stuff makes me uncomfortable", if necessary; I have no desire to discuss the matter or proselytize). This is somewhat euphemistic in that I try to avoid explicit "-isms", but paints a pretty clear picture of behavior I will not support, when presented together.
That being said:
It's a pretty plainly political declaration, even if I try to be somewhat euphemistic and non-confrontational about it. Such things have a chance of offending the other party, but I don't think there's a real way to mitigate this.
I am worried about even mentioning these things, particularly over email, with foreign-born professors--especially Middle Eastern or Chinese professors (see, for example, this NYT article on the "hunt"(!) for Chinese spies from Nov 2021. And it is not exactly a secret that various sectors of the US state keep close tabs on Middle Eastern groups/individuals).
This latter point is of particular importance. There are a significant number of Middle Eastern and Chinese professors in the department. There's also plainly a well-exercised apparatus for surveilling and harassing ambiguously-defined "national enemies". So this is an essential consideration, since there are certainly people who will find my position to be radical. Consequently, it would be quite irresponsible for me to say such things if there is even a nonzero chance they would cause anyone else to receive undue attention.
My concern applies more broadly than this particular PhD offer; there are a small number of other situations in which this information about myself is relevant: looking for research to contribute to, or trying to learn about employment prospects. It would also be untrue to say that I am only interested in electrical power, because I would be happy to contribute to any number of productive projects.
It's conceivable that the conditions in the US simply aren't right at the moment for such things to be mentioned in these settings, and that my best course of action may just be to keep my nose down and focus solely on the electrical power industry. But after being approached specifically for my math background as a potentially-ideal PhD candidate for this professor's needs, I am tempted to see whether my horizon can be at all broadened.