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December 04, 2006

Military nanotechnology book

J├╝rgen Altmann has written a book "Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control" which has an abstract at this link.

From the abstract:
Military R&D of NT is beginning to expand, with the USA far in the lead. Arguments for such R&D stress the increased military capabilities expected from NT; risks from military applications – to international security, to civilian societies – are rarely taken into account. This work provides a first assessment of potential military applications of NT with a view towards preventive arms control.

Military R&D of NT in the USA spans the full range from electronics via materials to biology. While much of this is still at the fundamental level, efforts are being made to bring applications to the armed forces soon. With above $ 200 million per year, one quarter to one third of the Federal funding for NT goes to military R&D, and the USA outspends the rest of the world by a factor 4 to 10.

For assessing and containing the risks of new military technologies, the concept of preventive arms control is used. Considerations about limitation should start whenever a special problem becomes obvious using criteria covering international law, stability and humans/environment/society. By balancing benefits, risks and costs, including considerations of verification, recommendations for limitations are to be derived.

In the first criteria group, new conventional, chemical and biological weapons would jeopardise existing arms-control treaties; armed autonomous systems would endanger the law of warfare. Secondly, stability could decrease with small distributed battlefield sensors and in particular with armed autonomous systems. Arms racing and proliferation have to be feared with all applications. In the third criteria group, the strongest dangers to humans would ensue from armed mini-/micro-robots and new chemical/biological weapons used by terrorists. Negative effects on society could follow indirectly if body manipulation were applied in the military before a thorough societal debate on benefits, risks and regulation.

To contain these risks, preventive limits are recommended in seven areas. They do not focus on NT as such, but include NT applications in a broader, mission-oriented approach. Distributed sensors below several cm size should be banned. Metal-free small arms and munitions should not be developed, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces should be kept and updated as new weapons systems would arrive. A moratorium of ten years for non-medical body manipulation should be agreed upon. Armed autonomous systems should optimally be banned, with limits on unarmed ones; if the former is not achievable, at least for the decision on weapon release a human should remain in the loop. Mobile systems below 0.2-0.5 m size should be banned in general, with very few exceptions. A general ban on space weapons should be concluded, with exceptions for non-weapons uses of small satellites. The Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions should be upheld and strengthened.


The ban on mobile systems below 0.2-0.5 meters in size, does not seem possible or realistic to me. Attempting to get an agreement for a ban on space weapons will probably work for a decade, but when technology and access to space improves I think any ban will be violated. But it is worth discussing and trying to get some agreements to try to keep things orderly.

Other reading:
My essay on military nanotechnology

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