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.