Arms Control Approaches to Nanotechnology – The Contribution of Public International Law

Nano­tech­nology refers to the creation of tech­no­logy and the mani­pulation of matter on the nano-scale, generally between 1 and 100 nano­meter or the billionth of a meter. This new tech­no­logy affects many diffe­rent discip­lines, such as biology, medi­cine and che­mistry. Even though the biggest share of research conducted in these matters is performed by the civilian sector, there like­wise appears to be growing interest and develop­ment in its military appli­cation, which arises from the intrinsic dual use nature of nano­techno­logy. That pheno­menon can be exemp­lified by its use in the pharma­ceutical sector (peace­ful means) or for the deve­lop­ment of a futu­ristic battle suit for soldiers (belligerent means).

One of the most promi­nent legal issues brought about by nano­techno­logy is that it can be used for the develop­ment of new types of weapons (the so-called nanoweapons). This leads us to investigate the potential regu­latory problems regarding nano­technology, that is, we should examine if current inter­national conventions are adequate to deal with this emer­ging tech­nology, or if there is a need for adoption of specific treaties to frame its military use. In this sense, we will examine possible appli­cations in the framework of  existing arms control con­ventions, namely the Biological Weapons Conven­tion and the Chemical Weapons Conven­tion for, respectively, biological and chemical weapons. Examples of such nanoweapons would be the develop­ment of gene­tically engineered viruses, proteins or DNA. Besides, another way in which this can take place is via the weaponi­zation of substan­ces that are generally not regarded as weapons as such, but due to nano­techno­logy can be trans­formed into weapons. A pertinent example is gold, which on its own is not consi­dered as a substance under the annexes of the Chemical Weapons Convention, but through the miniaturization of gold particles through nanotechnology, it is capable of being mani­pulated to cause damage, that is, it can be used as a weapon.

After iden­tifying the legal loop­holes that might exist in current arms control instru­ments and exa­mining the poten­tial need for new instru­ments , we will also address inter­national humani­tarian law regarding the use of nano­weapons in armed con­flicts. Thus, we con­sider the legality of such wea­pons and whether they comply with the principles of inter­national humani­tarian law.

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German Foundation for peace Research (DSF)
German Foundation for peace Research (DSF)
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