Military Nanotechnology – Dangers, Preventive Arms Control, And Challenges To The International System
Jürgen Altmann, Experimentelle Physik III, Universität Dortmund, Germany
Nanotechnology (NT), together with biotechnology, information technology, and other revolutionary technologies, will bring qualitatively new possibilities for good and for evil. Military uses are rarely included when assessing ethical, legal and societal implications. However, it is here where the bad and ugly uses of new technologies that one wants to prevent in a civilian context may be prepared in an organised manner with the resources of the states.
Today, most military research and development of NT is being done in the USA, but this could change. NT could be used in all areas of war-fighting, e.g., in computers, sensors, materials, engines, weapons. Several potential applications are particularly problematic because they would endanger arms control, military stability, or humans and society. Among these are: metal-free small arms, small missiles, body manipulation, autonomous systems, new chemical/biological weapons. Threats would not only arise from military uses, but also from qualitatively new possibilities for terrorist attacks.
The dangers could be contained by internationally agreed prohibitions. These should be tied to military missions, not to NT as such, and embedded in the general arms-control/disarma¬ment framework. They should be co-ordinated with international codes of conduct on responsible use of NT. Verification of compliance will need very intrusive inspection rights and comprehensive monitoring – at about the same level as within states. Would this be compatible with national armed forces, the functioning of which depends on secrecy about technologies to a significant degree? Would the insistence on the threat of military force as the ultimate guarantor of security prevent the required limitations? Or does mastering of the new technologies require change in the international system, with a much enhanced international criminal law and a process toward a global society with a monopoly of legitimate violence?