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.