Cluster for Natural and Technical Science Arms Control Research (CNTR)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically raised awareness of the potential dangers posed by defense innovations, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare agents, and digital warfare. Even if state-of-the-art weapon systems were only used selectively in Ukraine, the use of drones, high-precision air defense systems or cyber capabilities exemplifies how much technology can influence the balance of power on the battlefield. In extreme cases, new weapons technology can disruptively reverse power relationships and create uncertainty. The latter also applies to chemical and biological weapons, even if they are merely used rhetorically for propaganda and disinformation purposes.
The goal of the Cluster for Natural and Technical Science Arms Control Research (CNTR) is to investigate these dangers, to classify them in a scientifically sound manner and, on this basis, to develop recommendations for action to strengthen arms control. To this end, the cluster integrates technical and scientific findings and expertise into the interdisciplinary discourse of peace and conflict research. Researchers from the natural and social sciences work closely together at PRIF and the Universities of Darmstadt and Giessen, in line with the recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities on the further development of peace and conflict research formulated in 2019.
At the same time, CNTR combines basic research and knowledge transfer in line with the motto of the Leibniz Association “Theoria cum praxi”. In addition to disseminating research results via publications and various other formats, PRIF is therefore developing a trend monitor together with the universities of Darmstadt and Giessen, which will provide annual information on new developments in arms control research starting in 2024.
The project is funded by the German Foreign Office for a period of four years (January 2023 to December 2026).
Two new research groups will be established as part of CNTR:
1. Emerging Technologies and Arms Control
Arms control is in a serious crisis, and even more so: the use of the latest technologies such as hypersonic missiles, drones or even the military use of artificial intelligence make a new qualitative arms race and the extensive proliferation of state-of-the-art weapons technology seem likely. In order to contribute to the analysis of military potentials, the assessment of risks and the development of new options for arms control, but also to the disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, scientific expertise is necessary. The problem is exacerbated by the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and (semi)autonomous weapons. At the same time, however, new technologies can also help to develop effective counter-strategies and more reliable instruments for arms control and verification. In order to be able to systematically assess the risks and opportunities of new technologies, scientific and technical expertise, particularly from the computer sciences and physics, is being integrated in PRIF in cooperation with the Technical University of Darmstadt.
2. Biological and Chemical Weapons Arms Control
The use of chemical weapons in Syria, the attacks with nerve agents and the Russian disinformation campaign on alleged bio- and chemical weapons activities in Ukraine have once again brought these weapons to the fore as threats to peace and security. Moreover, the pandemic experience of recent years has shown the impact that even unintentional global disease outbreaks can have. It is therefore crucial to address the entire spectrum of chemical and biological hazards as part of a comprehensive peace and security policy. Particularly in conjunction with other new technologies, such as artificial intelligence or information technology, scientific and technological developments in biology and chemistry could, on the one hand, change military calculations about the usefulness of biological and chemical weapons and, on the other, open up new opportunities for strengthening international bans on both categories of weapons. In view of the close interconnection of political and technological aspects, CNTR’s research in this area is conducted on an interdisciplinary basis with strong participation of scientific expertise and in cooperation with the Department of Biology and Chemistry at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen.