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Bochum Verification Project

New Book

Jürgen Altmann

Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control

London/New York: Routledge, 2006 (240 pages, ISBN 0-415-37102-3)

Nanotechnology (NT) promises revolutionary changes throughout economy and society. The book presents potential military applications of NT. In ten to twenty years, there may arrive extremely small computers, robots, missiles, satellites, launchers and sensors; lighter and more agile vehicles and weapons, implants in soldiers’ bodies, metal-free firearms, autonomous fighting systems, and new types of chemical and biological weapons. These potential uses are assessed from a viewpoint of international security, considering criteria of preventive arms control. Specific limits are proposed for the most problematic applications.

Chapters: 1. Introduction 2. Overview of Nanotechnology 3. Military Efforts for Nanotechnology 4. Potential Military Applications of Nanotechnology 5. Preventive Arms Control: Concept and Design 6. Preventive-Arms-Control Considerations for Nanotechnology 7. Conclusions and Recommendations

(The book was written in the context of FONAS joint projects on preventive arms control.)

Table of Contents

List of figures ix

List of tables x

Preface xii

Abbreviations xiii

1 Introduction 1

1.1 Nanotechnology: ‘the next industrial revolution’ 11.2 Goals and overview of the study 2

1.3 Some NT history 2

1.4 Promises and risks of NT 3

1.5 Previous writing on military uses of NT 7

2 Overview of nanotechnology 19

2.1 General aspects 192.2 Molecular NT 25

2.3 Convergence of nano-, bio-, information and cognitive sciences and technology 31

2.4 Areas of NT 32

2.5 NT research and development 32

2.6 Expected NT market 37

3 Military efforts for nanotechnology 38

3.1 USA 38

3.2 Other countries 63

3.3 International comparison of military NT efforts 68

3.4 Perceptions driving an NT arms race? 69

4 Potential military applications of nanotechnology 71

4.1 Military applications of NT 71

4.2 Summary of military NT Applications 104

4.3 Potential military uses of molecular NT 105

4.4 Countermeasures against military NT systems 117

5 Preventive arms control: Concept and design 119

5.1 General considerations on preventive technology limits 119

5.2 Preventive arms control: Process and criteria 124

5.3 Design of preventive limitations 125

6 Preventive arms control considerations for nanotechnology 134

6.1 Applying the criteria to NT 134

6.2 Preventive-arms-control criteria and molecular NT 147

6.3 Summary evaluation 151

6.4 Options for preventive limits on military NT 154

6.5 Meta-aspects concerning preventive arms control 175

7 Conclusions and recommendations 177

7.1 Recommendations for preventive-arms-control action for nanotechnology 1777.2 Transparency and confidence-building measures 177

7.3 Recommendations for further research 180

7.4 Concluding thoughts 182

Appendix 1 General nanotechnology literature 187

Appendix 2 US DARPA NT-related efforts 189

Notes 197

Bibliography 207

Index 230



Nanotechnology (NT) is about analysis and engineering of structures with size between 0.1 and 100 nanometres (1 nm = 10-9 m). At this scale, new effects occur and the boundaries between physics, chemistry and biology vanish. NT is predicted to lead to stronger but lighter materials, markedly smaller computers with immensely increased power, large and small autonomous robots, tools for manipulation of single molecules, targeted intervention within cells, connections between electronics and neurones, and more. NT is generally seen as the next industrial revolution and has become a major focus of public and private research and development (R&D), with great potential benefits, but also great risks.

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.

NT applications will likely pervade all areas of the military. Very small electronics and computers, less power-consuming while much faster, using new levels of artificial intelligence, will be used everywhere, e.g. in glasses, uniforms, munitions. Large-scale battle-management and strategy-planning systems will apply human-like reasoning at increasing levels of autonomy, integrating sensors, communication devices and displays into an ubiquitous network. Stronger but light-weight materials, more efficient energy storage and propulsion will allow faster and more agile vehicles in all media. NT-based materials and explosives can bring faster and more precise projectiles. Small arms, munitions and anti-personnel missiles without any metal can become possible. Systems worn by soldiers could monitor the body status and react to injury. Systems implanted into the body could monitor the biochemistry and release drugs, or make contacts to nerves and the brain to reduce the reaction time, later possibly to communicate complex information. Autonomous land vehicles, ships, and aircraft would become possible mainly through strongly increased computing power. By using NT to miniaturise sensors, actuators and propulsion, autonomous systems (robots) could also become very small, principally down to below a millimetre – fully artificial or hybrid on the basis of e.g. insects or rats. Satellites and their launchers could become small and cheap, to be used in swarms for earth surveillance, or for anti-satellite attack. Whereas no marked change is expected concerning nuclear weapons, NT may lead to various new types of chemical and biological weapons that target specific organs or act selectively on a certain genetic or protein pattern. On the other hand, NT will allow cheap sensors for chemical or biological warfare agents as well as materials for decontamination. Most of these applications are ten or more years away.

The concept of “molecular NT” would be characterised by universal molecular assemblers, self-replicating nano-robots, super-human artificial intelligence. Applied for military purposes, fast exponential growth of armaments would become possible, with weapons on all size scales, acting against all kinds of targets, selectively or for mass destruction. In this still hypothetical scenario, even human control would be at risk.

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.

In order to support preventive limits and avoid mistrust, national NT programmes should be transparent and co-operate with each other. In military R&D of NT, confidence- and security-building measures should be concluded.

Further research is needed to study military NT uses and preventive limits in more detail, to look into their political aspects, to investigate the potential of NT for verification and to study the feasibility of molecular NT.

As the leader in military NT R&D, the USA has a crucial role. Since the most dangerous military NT applications in the hands of opponent states or terrorists could threaten also the USA, preventive limits could be in its enlightened national interest.

In the long term, preventing misuse of NT and associated powerful technologies will require very intense inspection rights and criminal law, calling for strengthening civil-society elements in the international system.