- Posted by Sebastian Suciu
- On August 10, 2018
“I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals.”
Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, April 2000
This article assesses concerns about the potential development of new weapons and risks of mass destruction made possible by nanotechnology – the rapidly evolving field of atomic and molecular engineering.1 It will argue that such concerns are valid and will need to be addressed by the international arms control and non-proliferation regime. The paper concludes with an appeal for such an engagement to begin sooner rather than later. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are already banned from outer space under the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Before long, there may be need for an ‘inner space’ treaty to protect the planet from devastation caused – accidentally, or by terrorists, or in open conflict – by artificial atomic and molecular structures capable of destroying environments and life forms from within.
The Nanotechnology Revolution
Nanotechnology is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometres, esp. the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules.” A nanometre is one billionth (one-thousand millionth) of a metre. Although the potential of atomic engineering on the scale of 1-100 nanometres was foreseen for decades, most famously in a 1959 lecture by the US physicist Richard Feynman,2 serious research was only made possible in the 1980s, primarily through the ability of a new microscope – the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) – to ‘click’ and ‘drag’ on individual atoms.3 Numerous universities in North America, Europe and Asia quickly established teams to investigate the possibilities of the new research.
By January 2000, the US government had become sufficiently impressed with the early results to launch a National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)4, with initial funding of $497 million. While other governments are also investing in a range of nanotechnology research5, the US effort is by far the most substantial – and hyped. Launching the programme, President Bill Clinton enthused: “Imagine the possibilities: materials with ten times the strength of steel and only a small fraction of the weight; shrinking all the information housed at the Library of Congress into a device the size of a sugar cube; detecting cancerous tumors when they are only a few cells in size. Some of our research goals may take 20 or more years to achieve, but that is precisely why there is an important role for the federal government.”6
A White House Fact Sheet – entitled ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative: Leading to the Next Industrial Revolution’ – virtually salivated over the prospect of an atomically re-designed world:
“The emerging fields of nanoscience and nanoengineering – the ability to manipulate and move matter – are leading to unprecedented understanding and control over the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. These developments are likely to change the way almost everything – from vaccines to computers to automobile tires to objects not yet imagined – is designed and made. … Nanotechnology is the builder’s new frontier and its potential impact is compelling: this Initiative establishes Grand Challenges to fund interdisciplinary research and education teams…that work for major, long-term objectives.”7
The Bush administration’s first NNI budget request, for FY 2002, was for $518.9 million, increased by Congress to $604.4 million. The request for the coming fiscal year is $679 million. The range of US government partners involved reflects the technology’s potential breadth of application.8 The second largest recipient is the Department of Defense, with $180 million of funding dedicated to elaborating a “conceptual template for achieving new levels of warfighting effectiveness” reflecting “the increasingly critical nature of technological advances”.9 None of the funding is currently earmarked specifically for developing new weapons. Studies are, however, already underway (e.g. the research on new types of armour, considered below) and likely to be undertaken to assess the kind of nanotechnological systems which US forces may confront, or equip themselves with, in the future. Such weapons, at least in principle, could include WMD, either in terms of entirely new means of mass destruction, or nanotechnological enhancements to existing WMD.
The incentive for an adversary to pursue the military application of atomic engineering – either on a battlefield or on a massively destructive scale – may, ironically, be increased by the evident enthusiasm of the US military for the new possibilities. As with other advanced technologies, the defensive and offensive utility of nanotechnology is hard to distinguish; from an adversary’s point of view, it may even be dangerous to try. Here, for instance, is a recent news story on ‘nanoarmour’ for US troops:
“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to create military uniforms that can block out biological weapons and even heal their wearers as part of a five-year contract to develop nanotechnology applications for soldiers, the US Army announced… MIT won the $50 million contract to create an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, or ISN. The ISN will be staffed by around 150 people, including 35 MIT professors… The unique lightweight materials that can be composed using nanotechnology will possess revolutionary qualities that MIT says will help it make a molecular ‘exoskeleton’ for soldiers. The ISN plans to research ideas for a soft – and almost invisible – clothing that can solidify into a medical cast when a soldier is injured or a ‘forearm karate glove’ for combat, MIT said. Researchers also hope to develop a kind of molecular chain mail that can deflect bullets. In addition to protecting soldiers, these radically different materials will have uses in offensive tactics, at least psychologically. ‘Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armour and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls,’ ISN director Ned Thomas said in a release.”10
Imagine, one might add, the psychological impact on people around the world, first of realising that such a dramatic extension of militarisation into the nanosphere is beginning, then of wondering where such a process might end. Why stop at armour, short of new weapons – and, if it does lead to new weapons, what on earth will they be?
Fact and Fiction
Nanotechnology has become firmly established as a subject of popular interest, largely through visions of a ‘return to Eden’, and even an escape from mortality, offered in countless science fiction novels, films and television series, and a number of best-selling science books, prominent among them Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler and The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil. Such works are generally derided by professional nanotechnologists, keen to caution against inflated expectations and thus possible disillusionment on the part of governments, funders and industry. Even the vision of nanotechnology purveyed by such professionals, however, is replete with expressions of confidence in its long-term capacity to transform the modern world – for the better, of course.
In September 2001 – a month synonymous with the destructive misuse of modern technology – Scientific American published a special issue on progress and prospects in the new ‘science of the small’. The issue, featuring articles from prominent nanotechnology advocates and practitioners, differing only in the intensity of their enthusiasm, outlines developments in four main areas of research: computer circuitry11, new construction ‘supermaterials’12, medical diagnostic and therapeutic applications13, and ‘nanorobotics’14.
All these areas overlap, just as nanotechnology itself merges with two other ‘frontier’ disciplines, genetic engineering and robotics. More grandly, nanotechnology is viewed as a potentially significant step toward the ‘unification’ – at least in terms of a central research and development agenda – of physics, chemistry and biology. As the introduction to the special issue of Scientific American, entitled ‘Megabucks for Nanotech’, noted: “Because the development of tools and techniques for characterising and building nanostructures may have far-reaching applicability across all sciences, nanotechnology could serve as a rallying point for physicists, chemists and biologists.”
But does this allure mean scientists are more or less likely to be wary of the potential for harm their work may entail? What ‘far-reaching applicability’ could ‘nanostructures’ have for repressive governments, high-tech militaries, or terrorist organisations?
The dark side of nanoscale engineering has long been acknowledged outside the laboratory, both in works of science fiction and by prominent evangelists for the new faith, some of whom (see below) have suggested safeguards and protections. The extent or even existence of the threat, however, has been largely ignored or discounted in the official decisions and statements of governments, funders, industry and academe. This in turn adds to the difficulty of seeking to persuade the overstretched and under-resourced arms control diplomatic community to begin to consider its possible interest in the subject.
In the wake of September 11, however, a serious reappraisal of official attitudes toward nanotechnology is urgently required. The assumption, perhaps held most deeply in the US, is that nanotechnology can and should be enlisted in the campaign against terrorism, and that the risk of misuse is far outweighed by the likely gains. But to what extent is this more than an assumption?
Nanotechnology and Mass Destruction: an Overview of the Current Debate
Processes of self-replication, self-repair and self-assembly are an important goal of mainstream nanotechnological research. Either accidentally or by design, precisely such processes could act to rapidly and drastically alter environments, structures and living beings from within. In extremis, such alteration could develop into a ‘doomsday scenario’, the nanotechnological equivalent of a nuclear chain-reaction – an uncontrollable, exponential, self-replicating proliferation of ‘nanodevices’ chewing up the atmosphere, poisoning the oceans, etc. While accidental mass-destruction, even global destruction, is generally regarded as unlikely -equivalent to fears that a nuclear explosion could ignite the atmosphere, a prospect seriously investigated during the Manhattan Project – a deliberately malicious programming of nanosystems, with devastating results, seems hard to rule out. As Ray Kurzweil points out, if the potential for atomic self-replication is a pipedream, so is nanotechnology, but if the potential is real, so is the risk:
“Without self-replication, nanotechnology is neither practical nor economically feasible. And therein lies the rub. What happens if a little software problem (inadvertent or otherwise) fails to halt the self-replication? We may have more nanobots than we want. They could eat up everything in sight. … I believe that it will be possible to engineer self-replicating nanobots in such a way that an inadvertent, undesired population explosion would be unlikely. … But the bigger danger is the intentional hostile use of nanotechnology. Once the basic technology is available, it would not be difficult to adapt it as an instrument of war or terrorism. … Nuclear weapons, for all their destructive potential, are at least relatively local in their effects. The self-replicating nature of nanotechnology makes it a far greater danger.”15
Assuming replication will prove feasible, K. Eric Drexler also assumes the worst is possible: “Replicators can be more potent than nuclear weapons: to devastate Earth with bombs would require masses of exotic hardware and rare isotopes, but to destroy life with replicators would require only a single speck made of ordinary elements. Replicators give nuclear war some company as a potential cause of extinction, giving a broader context to extinction as a moral concern.”16
There are, of course, multiple levels of concern below that of a final apocalypse. Use and abuse are, unavoidably, the twins born of controlled replication. Nanosystems proliferating in a precisely controlled and pre-programmed manner to destroy cancerous cells, or deliver medicines, or repair contaminated environments, can also be ‘set’ to destroy, poison and pollute.17 The chain reactions involved in thermonuclear explosions are precise and controlled, as much or more than the dosages in chemotherapy treatment. In the science of atomic engineering, the very technologies deployed to allay concerns of apocalyptic malfunction loom as the likely source of functional mass destruction.
Notwithstanding their vividly expressed concerns, both Kurzweil and Drexler portray the risk of mass- or global-destruction as a containable, preventable problem – provided nanotechnology is pursued as vigorously as possible in order to understand the real risks. In April 2000, however, an article in Wired magazine by Bill Joy, a leading computer scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, painted a far bleaker picture:
“Accustomed to living with almost routine scientific breakthroughs, we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology – pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before. … What was different in the 20th Century? Certainly, the technologies underlying the weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, biological, and chemical – were powerful, and the weapons an enormous threat. But building nuclear weapons required, at least for a time, access to both rare…raw materials and highly protected information; biological and chemical weapons programs also tended to require large-scale activities. The 21st century technologies…are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. … Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.”18
Joy identifies and addresses two key issues: if the danger is so great, 1) why hasn’t the warning been adequately sounded before now, and 2) what can be done to avoid the abyss? His answer to the first question19 is shocking and, given his own commercial success, confessional:
“In truth, we have had in hand for years clear warnings of the dangers inherent in widespread knowledge of GNR [genetics, nanotechnology and robotics] technologies – of the possibility of knowledge alone enabling mass destruction. But these warnings haven’t been widely publicized; the public discussions have been clearly inadequate. There is no profit in publicizing the dangers. … In this age of triumphant commercialism, technology…is delivering a series of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenally lucrative ever seen. We are aggressively pursuing the promises of these new technologies within the now-unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold financial incentives and competitive pressures.”
In seeking ways back from the brink, Joy’s starting point is the folly of distinguishing between military and non-military – or, more broadly, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – nanotechnology. There is, of course, a distinction between malicious and benign intent, but the difference does not affect the inherently dangerous and/or uncontrollable nature of atomic fabrication and engineering. In view of the vast promise, both financial and scientific, involved, the tendency is to seek a technological fix, a nanotechnological equivalent to a missile defence system, to ward off any demons the same technology may conjure up. In dismissing this option, Joy draws the only remaining conclusion available:
“In Engines of Creation, Eric Drexler proposed that we build an active nanotechnological shield – a form of immune system for the biosphere – to defend against dangerous replicators of all kinds that might escape from laboratories or otherwise be maliciously created. But the shield he proposed would itself be extremely dangerous – nothing could prevent it from developing autoimmune problems and attacking the biosphere itself. Similar difficulties apply to the construction of shields against robotics and genetic engineering. These technologies are too powerful to be shielded against in the time frame of interest; even if it were possible to implement defensive shields, the side effects of their development would be at least as dangerous as the technologies we are trying to protect against. These possibilities are all thus either undesirable or unachievable or both. The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.”
As he doubtless expected, Joy’s article was widely portrayed by nanotechnology enthusiasts and practitioners as Luddite exaggeration bordering on unmanly hysteria. Gary Stix, special projects editor at Scientific American, noted scornfully that “the danger comes when intelligent people” take “predictions” of nanotechnological catastrophe “at face value”. A “morose Bill Joy”, Stix wrote, had “worried…about the implications of nanorobots that could multiply uncontrollably. A spreading mass of self-replicating robots – what Drexler has labelled ‘gray goo’ – could pose enough of a threat to society, he mused, that we should consider stopping development of nanotechnology. But that suggestion diverts attention from the real nano goo: chemical and biological weapons.”20 This parodies Joy’s article, however, which considers a range of negative consequences potentially flowing from the basic fact of the nanotechnology revolution, namely that the “replicating and evolving processes that have been confined to the natural world are about to become realms of human endeavour”.21 That we may not be eaten by ‘gray goo’ does not mean we should ignore other dire prospects. As for the ‘real nano goo’, Joy sees in nanotechnology the potential to dramatically enhance the mass-destructive capacity of chemical and, particularly, biological weapons, in a manner akin perhaps to the qualitative leap from atomic to thermonuclear weapons. It is precisely in the CBW area that nanotechnology is likely to pose its first major arms control challenge.
The analogy with the development of thermonuclear weapons is also instructive in the context of the possible abandonment of a field of scientific work – however uncharted and challenging the territory – on moral grounds, or out of fear of the total destruction which may follow. In 1949, the scientific General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) drew up a report on the possible development of hydrogen bombs by the United States military. The general report, adopted by eight physicists including the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, stumbled on the verge of recommending that the attempt not be made: “It is clear that the use of this weapon would bring about the destruction of innumerable human lives… Its use…carries much further than the atomic bomb itself the policy of exterminating civilian populations. … We all hope that by one means or another, the development of these weapons can be avoided.” A supporting document, however, submitted by I.I. Rabi and Enrico Fermi, took the final step. The destructive capacity of the hydrogen bomb, they argued, “makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.”22
So, for Joy, is nanotechnology. For most scientists, however, the case is rather that of physicists in the 1930s, aware but sceptical of the prospect of the large-scale release of energy from the atomic nucleus23, but almost without exception committed to exploring the exciting new world, and professional opportunities, opened up by quantum mechanics.24Even after the discovery of fission in 1938, many prominent physicists, including Niels Bohr25, were extremely dubious that a practical, deliverable weapon could be built. The thing to do was to press on, work hard to make sure of the facts, and hope the bomb would prove impossible.
Part of the motivation for pressing on, of course, was fear of Hitler getting the bomb first. But, assuming the risks of nanotechnological mass destruction became more widely accepted, what would the comparable fear be today? Pre-eminently, terrorism. Terrorists, however, can only hope to acquire new means of mass destruction in the same way they pursue nuclear, chemical and biological WMD – by pilfering and diverting from a highly-developed knowledge-base and infrastructure. In Joy’s view, precisely such a ‘gift’ is presently being assembled and wrapped, generously funded and uncritically supported, and in the almost complete absence of mainstream political or wider democratic scrutiny or participation. ‘We’ are sowing the wind we all may reap.
Options for an Inner Space Treaty
There are two basic options for designing a possible arms control approach to the mass-destructive potential of nanotechnology. Both, of course, will be stillborn in the absence of a recognition by government, business and science – the ‘strategic triad’ of contemporary decision-making – that serious dangers exist. Such initial pressure for action cannot realistically be expected to come from within the structurally reactive and reflective arms control diplomatic community.
Let us assume, however, that growing public concern and increasingly troubling scientific results combine to push the issue onto a future agenda. We are immediately confronted with a decisive choice, so familiar to followers of myriad disarmament and non-proliferation discussions: what is our goal, abolition or regulation? Is the fundamental danger what ‘others’ might do with ‘our’ technology, or is the real problem the technology itself? It is possible to construct an arms control regime based on the logic of either conclusion; but it is not possible to merge both approaches.
Given the huge investment now flowing into nanotechnology, allied to the vast practical and financial gains on offer and the correspondingly large numbers of scientists likely to be employed in the new field, the probability is that a regime of control and restraint will acquire a compelling logic, banishing the ‘chimera’ of abolition to the shadows. If so, a rough transposition of the Outer Space Treaty – allowing only for obvious changes of reference and context – could quickly yield the broad brush parameters of an Inner Space Treaty seeking to ensure the peaceful exploitation, rather than the non-exploitation, of the nanosphere. (See the Appendix – ‘Version A: Treaty on Principles Governing the Nanotechnological Activities of States in Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space’ – for a tentative sketch of an accord along these basic lines.)
Such a treaty would mark a giant political leap forward from today’s effectively unregulated mass of governmental, academic and commercial projects. The critical issue would then become one of effective practical implementation. How, for example, could the nature, scope, intention and possible application of inner-space research be ascertained and verified? How would violations be detected and transgressors corrected? Where would the line be drawn, and by whom, between defensive and offensive military nanotechnology? How could adequate monitoring and inspection of commercial nanotechnology be reconciled with the demands of competitiveness and confidentiality?
Such dilemmas and tensions are currently dogging the debate over the best means of strengthening the chemical and biological weapons regimes. Indeed, as mentioned above, the incursion into chemistry and biology of increasingly sophisticated techniques and processes of atomic and genetic engineering is already promising to destabilise many traditional arms control strategies and remedies. Until this new engineering revolution takes firmer shape, with its capacities and limits more clearly defined, how can we construct a regime of control and restraint around it, either in the CBW-area or under the remit of a new ‘inner space’ accord? But if we wait for the results of “a wonderful free-for-all of discovery”26to become clear, then what are the chances of introducing timely and effective controls, rather than securely locking the empty stable?
As a radical alternative, what would an abolitionist treaty look like? (See the Appendix – ‘Version B: Treaty on the Prohibition of Nanotechnological Exploration and Engineering of Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space’ – for a tentative sketch of such a ban.) Instead of reserving the nanosphere for peaceful human exploitation, it would seek its preservation as a natural ‘wilderness’ environment, treating any exploitation as a criminal violation of sanctuary.27 Again, though, if the elaboration of such a radical and ambitious regime waits on events, it will soon be overtaken by them, irremediably swamped by the sheer scale of ongoing nanotechnological colonisation, mining, drilling, construction, etc.
Indeed, is there yet time for either version of an ‘inner space’ regime to be drawn up and introduced? Although some damage has already been done, it still seems fair to describe the nanotechnology revolution as in its infancy. The fact, as Oppenheimer once stated, that scientists have “known sin”28, is no reason – as Rabi and Fermi bravely argued with regard to the H-bomb – for the ‘sinning’ to continue, or reach a new level.
The danger of new means of mass destruction emerging from the development of nanotechnology is, by definition, as yet neither present nor clear. By the time it is, it may be too late to either eliminate or control. While there is no realistic possibility of early arms control negotiations to tackle the threat, the international community should at least take cognisance of the issue – in all its aspects, to use the appropriate diplomatic term for far-reaching, open-ended and open-minded deliberation.
As part of its establishment by a United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva was provided with a wide-ranging list of items for possible pursuit. One of the items, dormant ever since, was: ‘New Types of Weapons of Mass Destruction and New Systems of Such Weapons’. Action to prevent the emergence of new means of mass destruction has, thus, a place already set for it at the diplomatic table.
Given its current tensions and deep stalemate, the CD is an impractical suggestion as a forum for initiating preliminary discussions on the international security implications of nanotechnology. The real issue, however, is not where but whether such discussions take place. In the name of our common humanity, and for the sake of our common and beautiful home, they must.
Notes and References
1. Given the potential scale of devastation brought into view by nanotechnology, it is tempting to move beyond the designation weapons of mass destruction and coin a new phrase – weapons of global destruction (WGD) – to better describe and convey the threat. I have shied away from doing so, however, for four reasons: 1) it may be possible to develop nanotechnological, or nanotechnologically-enhanced, weapons capable of causing mass destruction on the scale of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, but not global destruction in the sense of irreparable, comprehensive annihilation of life on the planet; 2) it may conversely be the case that the irreparable, comprehensive annihilation of life on the planet could be inadvertently caused by nanotechnological devices, entirely outside of a military or terroristic context; 3) the threat posed to the planet by the three current categories of mass destruction – particularly nuclear weapons – is so severe that a new label connoting a qualitatively more severe threat is, certainly at this stage, premature and misleading; and 4) nanotechnology is likely to play a key role in rendering even more dangerous and repellent all three existing categories of mass destruction, particularly biological weapons, making distinctions between nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on the one hand, and nanotechnological weapons on the other, spurious and unhelpful. It may be, of course, that nanotechnology, if unchecked, will form part of a process of technological innovation leading to a spectrum of weapons better understood and described as WGD than WMD.
2. ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’, lecture by Richard Feynman to the American Physical Society, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), December 29, 1959. Feynman, who worked at Los Alamos during World War II, makes no reference in his lecture to the possible military applications of atomic engineering, stressing with customary optimism the potential benefits: “I am not afraid to consider the final question as to whether, ultimately – in the great future – we can arrange the atoms the way we want; the very atoms, all the way down! … Up to now, we have been content to dig in the ground to find minerals. We heat them up and do things on a large scale with them, and we hope to get a pure substance with just so much impurity, and so on. But we must always accept some atomic arrangement that nature gives us. … What could we do with layered structures with just the right layers? What would the properties of materials be if we could really arrange the atoms the way we want them? … I can’t see exactly what would happen, but I can hardly doubt that when we have some control of the arrangement of things on a small scale, we will get an enormously greater range of possible properties that substances can have, and of different things that we can do.” Emphases in the original. For the full text of the lecture, see the California Institute of Technology, http://www.its.caltech.edu/~feynman.
3. The scanning tunnelling microscope was developed in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer at the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich. Binning and Rohrer received the Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention in 1986. In 1990, Donald Eigler and Erhard Schweizer, using an STM at IBM’s Almaden Research Laboratory in San Jose, California, arranged 35 xenon atoms to spell out three letters. The letters, naturally, were I, B, and M. In the years since, Eigler has been engaged in ‘drawing’ ever-more substantial atomic ‘pictures’. An extraordinary ‘STM image gallery’ of ‘works’ by Eigler and his colleagues can be viewed at http://www.almaden.ibm.com/vis/stm/catalogue.html.
4. See http://www.nano.gov for the official NNI website.
5. According to the US National Science Foundation (NSF), global government spending on nanotechnology in FY 2001, excluding the United States, was $835 million, up from $316 million in 1997, the first year the NSF provided an estimate. See Gary Stix, ‘Little Big Science’, Scientific American, special issue on nanotechnology, September 2001 (http://www.sciam.com).
6. Speech by President William J. Clinton at the California Institute of Technology on January 21, 2000. In his remarks, the President invoked the optimistic ghost of Richard Feynman: “Caltech is no stranger to the idea of nanotechnology – the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level. Over 40 years ago, Caltech’s own Richard Feynman asked, ‘what would happen if we could arrange atoms one by one the way we want them?'”
7. ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative: Leading to the Next Industrial Revolution’, White House Fact Sheet, January 21, 2000. The Fact Sheet lists seven “potential breakthroughs” anticipated over the next quarter-century: “the expansion of mass storage electronics to multi-terabit capacity that will increase the memory storage per unit surface a thousand fold”; “making materials and products from the bottom-up, that is, by building them up from atoms and molecules”; “developing materials that are 10 times stronger than steel but a fraction of the weight”; “improving the computer speed and efficiency of miniscule transistors and memory chips by factors of millions”; “using gene and drug delivery to detect cancerous cells by nanoengineered…contrast agents or target organs in the human body”; “removing the finest contaminants from water and air to promote a cleaner environment and potable water”, and; “doubling the energy efficiency of solar cells”. In addition to this sweeping vision of technology on the march, the Fact Sheet promises that the “impact nanotechnology has on society from legal, ethical, social, economic, and workforce preparation perspectives will be studied”. However laudable this sense of broader context, however, the language is strikingly auto-suggestive, in effect directing the studies to consider what the impact of a massive government investment in nanotechnology is likely to be, rather than whether such an investment should be made.
8. There are currently ten US government partners in the NNI. In descending order of funding received in FY 2002, they are: National Science Foundation ($199 million); Department of Defense ($180 million); Department of Energy ($91.1 million); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA – $46 million); National Institutes of Health ($40.8 million); National Institute of Standards and Technology ($37.6 million); Environmental Protection Agency (EPA – $5 million); Department of Transportation ($2 million); US Department of Agriculture ($1.5 million); Department of Justice ($1.4 million). The major recipient – the NSF – is entrusted to conduct a wide range of basic research under the heading ‘Nanoscale Science and Engineering’. The major categories of this research are: biological sciences; computer and information science and engineering; engineering; geosciences, and; mathematics and physical science.
9. FY 2002 budget request, http://www.nano.gov/2002budget.html.
10. ‘MIT to make “nanotech” Army wear’, Tiffany Kary, CNET News.com, March 14 (2:39 PM), 2002. For the MIT press release quoted in the report, see ‘Army selects MIT for $50 million Institute to use nanomaterials to clothe, equip soldiers,’ March 13, 2002, http://www.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2002/isn.html. For a US Army summary, see ‘Army teams with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to establish Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology’, News Release R-02-011, March 13, 2002. MIT has also published twenty ‘questions and answers’ concerning the project. Question 18 – “What is your response to critics who say universities are being turned into think tanks for the military?” – is answered as follows: “As a vast training bed that captures lessons learned exceptionally well, runs whole bases dedicating to educating men and women, and produces soldiers who are inspired by our nation’s values and ideals, there is much that the military can share and shares in common with our nation’s universities. It is in everyone’s best interest that the military and academic institutions collaborate. It is also in everyone’s best interest that ideas from academia, the entertainment industry and the military be improved through the rigors of scientific research.” See ‘Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology (ISN): Questions and Answers’, MIT News Release, March 13, 2002, http://www.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2002/isnqa.html.
11. Charles M. Lieber, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Circuit’, Scientific American, September 2001. After much sober analysis, the article finishes with a flourish: “Although substantial work remains before nanoelectronics makes its way into computers, this goal now seems less hazy than it was even a year ago. As we gain confidence, we will learn not just to shrink digital microelectronics but to go where no digital circuit has gone before. Nanoscale devices that exhibit quantum phenomena, for example, could be exploited in quantum encryption and quantum computing. The richness of the nanoworld will change the macroworld.”
12. George M. Whitesides and J. Christopher Love, ‘The Art of Building Small’, Scientific American, September 2001.
13. A. Paul Alivisatos, ‘Less is More in Medicine’, Scientific American, September 2001. Cautious and tentative throughout, the paper ends with an intoxicated survey of prospects: “What…marvels might the future hold? Although the means to achieve them are far from clear, sober nanotechnologists have stated some truly ambitious goals. One of the ‘grand challenges’ of the National Nanotechnology Initiative is to find ways to detect cancerous tumors that are a mere few cells in size. Researchers also hope eventually to develop ways to regenerate not just bone or cartilage or skin but also more complex organs, using artificial scaffoldings that can guide the activity of seeded cells and can even direct the growth of a variety of cell types. Replacing hearts of kidneys or livers in this way might not match the fictional technology of Fantastic Voyage, but the thought that such medical therapies might actually become available in the not so distant future is still fantastically exciting.” At no point does Alivisatos address the potential misuse of these techniques and methods.
14. K. Eric Drexler, ‘Machine-Phase Nanotechnology’, Scientific American, September 2001.
15. Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 141-142. Emphasis in the original.
16. K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation, Anchor Books, 1986, p. 174.
17. The same potential for misuse, of course, applies across the spectrum of modern biotechnologies based on genetic engineering and modification. The risk of unintended consequences – a supercrop producing superweeds, for example – is itself considerable; the potential for intended consequences – qualitatively new biological weapons – is perhaps even greater. For details of the debate over the impact of biotechnology on efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, see Jenni Rissanen, ‘BWC Report’, Disarmament Diplomacy No. 62, pp. 18-32.
18. ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’, Bill Joy, Wired, April 2000 (http://www.wired.com).
19. I don’t interpret Joy as placing the entire onus for sounding the alarm on scientists. Nevertheless, he does stress the obviously especial responsibility of practitioners in a new field to provide honest assessments of risk and dangers to their paymasters – whatever the risk and dangers to their careers. Once the field is well-established, scientists’ qualms or concerns are much easier to ignore – why, after all, did they not say so before? This was certainly the well-documented experience of many physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, lobbying frantically after the bomb was built to prevent its unannounced use against a Japanese civilian target – a scenario which, to most of them, would have sounded nightmarish beyond crediting at the outset of the Project. In contrast, there is clear, though contested, evidence, that the majority of scientists working under the direction of the Nazi regime – most importantly, Werner Heisenberg – deliberately used their influence to persuade the authorities not to engage in serious weapons work. Whatever the exact motivation and sequence of events, the broader point is that a unique window of opportunity can sometimes open in the formative stages of a major new technological enterprise for scientists to lobby either for or against its pursuit, and so to help determine, perhaps critically, the scale and intensity of the endeavour. For discussion of the radically different situation and approaches of atomic physicists in America and Germany in World War II, see Robert Jungk, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, Penguin Books, 1970 edition, especially pp. 175-191 & pp. 201-217; Thomas Powers, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb, Da Capo Press, 2000, especially pp. 478-484; and Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Touchstone, 1988, especially pp. 749-788.
20. Gary Stix, ‘Little Big Science’, Scientific American, September 2001.
21. ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’, Bill Joy, Wired, April 2000.
22. For the report, supporting documents and debates of the GAC, see Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, pp. 776-770. A sceptical response to Fermi and Rabi’s description of the H-bomb as “necessarily an evil thing in any light” would be to say that the non-use of thermonuclear weapons since 1949 proves such a dramatic characterisation to have been overblown. The prospect of global destruction through a full-scale nuclear conflict has not yet been lifted, however, and is sufficiently appalling to make a 53-year time period startlingly insignificant. The only point at which one could conclude that the cloud had passed would be with the advent of a nuclear-weapon-free world – an objective to be sought in part because of the irreducible moral illegitimacy of thermonuclear weapons. Fermi and Rabi would perhaps regard considerations such as the purported success of deterrence, or the prevention of Cold War meltdown into full-scale conflict, as good examples of the kind of “light” in which the issue should not be considered.
23. Up to his death in 1937, Ernest Rutherford, the leading pioneer of modern atomic physics, believed in the impracticality even of generating useable energy directly from atoms. As quoted in a famous article in The Times on September 12, 1933, Rutherford noted that bombarding heavy elements with neutrons and other particles “was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine”. See Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, p. 27.
24. In his survey of the attitude of physicists in the 1930s to the possibility of atomic weapons, Robert Jungk names only one scientist who walked away from a bright professional future. Jungk quotes the English crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale as arguing that scientific “responsibility cannot be shirked” for the “criminal or evil” application of research, “however ordinary the work itself may be”. He then writes: “Only a few scientific investigators in the Western world have in fact acted on this principle. Their honesty obliged them to risk their professional future and face economic sacrifices with resolution. In some cases they actually renounced the career they had planned, as did one of Max Born’s young English assistants, Helen Smith. As soon as she heard of the atom bomb and its application, she decided to give up physics for jurisprudence.” The case is doubly interesting given Born’s decision, upon leaving Nazi Germany, to remain a physicist but refuse to take part in any active weapons work. In the opinion of the author of this paper, Smith ranks as one of the unsung heroes of the history of scientific conscientious objection. See Jungk, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, p. 261.
25. Bohr believed an atomic bomb, at least of devastating effect, would be rendered impractical by the scale of the effort involved in producing sufficient quantities of the kind of uranium, the naturally rare isotope U-235, required. According to Edward Teller, Bohr told scientists at Princeton University in 1939 that “it can never be done unless you turn the United States into one huge factory”. Visiting Los Alamos in 1943, Bohr admitted he had been both wrong and right: wrong in that he hadn’t foreseen the production of highly-fissionable plutonium from burning commonplace uranium (U-238); right in the scale of industrial effort required to produce sufficient quantities of both plutonium (used to destroy Nagasaki) and U-235 (used to destroy Hiroshima). See Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, p. 294. It is salutary to consider what comparable assumptions may be built into the thinking of prominent scientists today who see no compelling cause for concern about the capacity of nanotechnology to produce new means of mass destruction. In one respect, the situation is perhaps more frightening, as a much lesser military-industrial effort than the Manhattan Project may be required to produce and deliver nanotechnological WMD. Might there not also be the possibility of an equivalent to plutonium: a sudden discovery which makes, for example, uncontrollable nanorobotic proliferation eminently more feasible?
26. ‘The Art of Building Small’, George M. Whitesides and J. Christopher Love, Scientific American, September 2001.
27. This formulation clearly suggests the violatory quality of all atomic experimentation and energy production involving penetration into the atomic interior, i.e. bombardment of the nucleus. The logical extension of an Inner Space Treaty premised on a defence of atomic sanctuary would indeed be the abolition of all nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and nuclear research activities – just as the exploitation of the atomic and molecular interior for engineering purposes is a logical extension of the exploitation of that environment in pursuit of military, scientific and industrial advantage.
28. Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 3, 1948, Oppenheimer remarked: “In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin.”
Dr. Sean Howard is editor of Disarmament Diplomacy and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB), Canada. The author thanks Lee-Anne Broadhead, Rebecca Johnson and Lorna Richardson for their support and advice in developing the paper.
Appendix: Two Sketches for Draft Inner Space Treaty Texts
Caveat: Introductory Note
The Appendix is based on the contention that a treaty seeking to guarantee the exploitation of atomic and molecular space for engineering projects of exclusively peaceful purpose (Version A, below) can be provisionally sketched out on the basis of a rough transposition of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) seeking to regulate and preserve outer space for purposes of peaceful exploration and commercial activity. In the case of a treaty seeking the blanket prohibition of nanotechnology (Version B, below) the OST is self-evidently inadequate, instructive only to illustrate the gulf between a regulatory and abolitionist measure.
There are, of course, important ways in which the OST would provide a partial or inadequate basis for even a ‘peaceful uses’ treaty. Crucially, the scale and spectrum of facilities involved in the case of nanotechnology would be vastly greater – more akin, indeed, to the range encountered in advanced biochemistry (with which, as we have seen, nanotechnology is already interlinked). Correspondingly, valuable language and concepts could doubtless be transposed from the Chemical Weapons Convention – i.e. its seventh article, on National Implementation Measures – or the draft Protocol drawn up for the Biological Weapons Convention.
Instructive analogies with other accords – i.e. the 1977 Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques – will surely occur to a readership far more versed than the author in the body and practice of relevant international law. The sketches which follow are designed only to stimulate debate, and even attract criticism, rather than be taken as a working basis for professional discussions.
Version A: A Peaceful Uses Treaty
Note: the title and text of the Outer Space Treaty is provided in italicised square brackets. For details of the status and implementation of the OST, see the United Nations Office for Outer Space affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna, http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/treat/ost/ost.html.
Treaty on Principles Governing the Nanotechnological Activities of States in Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space
[Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies]
The states parties to this Treaty,
Inspired by the great prospects opening up before humanity as a result of its entry into inner space – the atomic and molecular nanosphere – in pursuit of peaceful objectives of exploration and engineering,
[Inspired by the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man’s entry into outer space,]
Recognising the common interest of all humanity in the progress of the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space for peaceful purposes,
[Recognising the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,]
Believing that the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,
[Believing that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,]
Desiring to contribute to broad international cooperation in the scientific as well as the legal aspects of the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space for peaceful purposes,
[Desiring to contribute to broad international cooperation in the scientific as well as the legal aspects of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,]
Believing that such cooperation will contribute to the development of mutual understanding and to the strengthening of friendly relations between states and peoples,
Recalling resolution [NUMBER], entitled ‘Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Nanotechnological Activities of States in the Exploration and Engineering of Inner Space’, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on [DATE],
[Recalling resolution 1962 (XVIII), entitled ‘Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space’, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 1963,]
Recalling resolution [NUMBER], calling upon states to refrain from developing, testing or deploying any atomically-engineered objects carrying nuclear, chemical, biological, or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, or from installing such weapons in any apparatus or device in any environment whatever, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on [DATE],
[Recalling resolution 1884 (XVIII), calling upon states to refrain from placing in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or from installing such weapons on celestial bodies, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 October 1963,]
Taking account of United Nations General Assembly resolution 110 (II) of November 3, 1947, which condemned propaganda designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, and considering that the aforementioned resolution is applicable to the nanotechnologically explored and engineered environment of inner space,
[Taking account of United Nations General Assembly resolution 110 (II) of November 3, 1947, which condemned propaganda designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, and considering that the aforementioned resolution is applicable to outer space,]
Convinced that a Treaty on Principles Governing the Nanotechnological Activities of States in Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space will further the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
[Convinced that a Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, will further the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,]
Have agreed on the following:
Article I: Purpose of Nanotechnology and Objective of Treaty
The nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner (atomic and molecular) space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all humanity.
Inner space shall be free for exploration and engineering by all states without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of the nanosphere.
There shall be freedom of nanotechnological investigation in inner space and states shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation.
[The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all states without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.
There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and states shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation.]
Article II: International Status of Inner Space
Inner space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
[Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.]
Article III: Inner Space and International Law
States parties to the Treaty shall carry on nanotechnological activities in the exploration and engineering of inner space in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding.
[States parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding.]
Article IV: Inner Space as Non-Weaponised Environment
States parties to the Treaty undertake to refrain from developing, testing or deploying any atomically-engineered objects carrying nuclear, chemical, biological, or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, or from installing such weapons in any apparatus or device in any environment whatever.
Inner space shall be used by all states parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of atomically-engineered military installations and fortifications, and the development, deployment and testing of any type of nanotechnological weapon, shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for nanotechnological research or for any other peaceful purposes with respect to atomic-engineering shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of inner space for engineering purposes shall also not be prohibited.
[States parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.
The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all states parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited.]
Article V: Early-Warning of Danger or Abuse
States parties to the Treaty shall immediately inform the other states parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any nanotechnological objects or phenomena they discover in inner space which could constitute a danger to life or health in any environment.
[… States parties to the Treaty shall immediately inform the other states parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any phenomena they discover in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts.]
Article VI: Responsibility for Appropriate and Prudent Activity
States parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national nanotechnological activities, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national nanotechnological activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The nanotechnological activities of non-governmental entities shall require authorisation and continuing supervision by the appropriate state party to the Treaty. When nanotechnological activities are carried on by an international organisation, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organisation and by the states parties to the Treaty participating in such organisation.
[States parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorisation and continuing supervision by the appropriate state party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organisation, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organisation and by the states parties to the Treaty participating in such organisation.]
Article VII: Liability for Inappropriate or Imprudent Activity
Each state party to the Treaty engaging in or responsible for nanotechnological activities is internationally liable for damage to another state party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons caused by the atomically-engineered objects or components being thus developed, tested or deployed.
[Each state party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and each state party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another state party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air or in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.]
Note: Article VIII of the Outer Space Treaty, on ownership of objects launched into outer space, omitted as inapplicable. Article VIII below thus refers to Article IX of the OST, Article IX to Article X, etc.
Article VIII: Cooperation & Consultation
In the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space, states parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in inner space with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other states parties to the Treaty. States parties to the Treaty shall pursue nanotechnological studies of inner space and conduct exploration of the nanosphere so as to avoid harmful contamination or adverse changes in any environment resulting from the introduction of atomically-engineered matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose. If a state party to the Treaty has reason to believe that a nanotechnological activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in inner space would cause potentially harmful interference with nanotechnological activities of other states parties in the peaceful exploration and engineering of inner space it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment. A state party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that a nanotechnological activity or experiment planned by another state party in inner space would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and engineering of inner space may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment.
[In the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, states parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other states parties to the Treaty. States parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose. If a state party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other states parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment. A state party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another state party in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment.]
Article IX: Observation of Activity
In order to promote international cooperation in the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space in conformity with the purposes of this Treaty, the states parties to the Treaty shall consider on a basis of equality any requests by other states parties to the Treaty to be afforded an opportunity to observe nanotechnological activities and experiments undertaken and conducted by those states. The nature of such an opportunity for observation and the conditions under which it could be afforded shall be determined by agreement between the states concerned.
[In order to promote international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in conformity with the purposes of this Treaty, the states parties to the Treaty shall consider on a basis of equality any requests by other states parties to the Treaty to be afforded an opportunity to observe the flight of space objects launched by those states. The nature of such an opportunity for observation and the conditions under which it could be afforded shall be determined by agreement between the states concerned.]
Article X: Notification and Transparency of Activities
In order to promote international cooperation in the peaceful nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space, states parties to the Treaty conducting nanotechnological activities and experiments in inner space agree to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable, of the nature, conduct, locations and results of such activities and experiments. On receiving the said information, the Secretary-General of the United Nations should be prepared to disseminate it immediately and effectively.
[In order to promote international cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, states parties to the Treaty conducting activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, agree to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable, of the nature, conduct, locations and results of such activities. On receiving the said information, the Secretary-General of the United Nations should be prepared to disseminate it immediately and effectively.]
Article XI: Inspection of Facilities
All nanotechnological facilities, installations, equipment and devices shall be open to inspection and review by representatives of other states parties to the Treaty on a basis of reciprocity. Such representatives shall give reasonable advance notice of a projected visit, in order that appropriate consultations may be held and that maximum precautions may be taken to assure safety and to avoid interference with normal operations in the facility to be visited.
[All stations, installations, equipment and space vehicles on the moon and other celestial bodies shall be open to representatives of other states parties to the Treaty on a basis of reciprocity. Such representatives shall give reasonable advance notice of a projected visit, in order that appropriate consultations may be held and that maximum precautions may be taken to assure safety and to avoid interference with normal operations in the facility to be visited.]
Article XII: Disputes and Clarification
The provisions of this Treaty shall apply to the activities of states parties to the Treaty in the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space whether such activities are carried on by a single state party to the Treaty or jointly with other states, including cases where they are carried on within the framework of international intergovernmental organisations.
Any practical questions arising in connection with activities carried on by international intergovernmental organisations in the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space shall be resolved by the states parties to the Treaty either with the appropriate international organisation or with one or more states members of that international organisation, which are parties to this Treaty.
[The provisions of this Treaty shall apply to the activities of states parties to the Treaty in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by a single state party to the Treaty or jointly with other states, including cases where they are carried on within the framework of international intergovernmental organisations.
Any practical questions arising in connection with activities carried on by international intergovernmental organisations in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be resolved by the states parties to the Treaty either with the appropriate international organisation or with one or more states members of that international organisation, which are parties to this Treaty.]
Note: remaining Articles (XIV-XVII) detailing technical procedures for signature, ratification, entry-into-force, amendments, official languages, etc, omitted.
Version B: A Non-Exploitation Treaty
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nanotechnological Exploration and Engineering of Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space
The states parties to this Treaty,
Convinced of the prospect of new and enhanced means of mass destruction opening up before humanity as a result of the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space (the atomic and molecular nanosphere),
Recognising the common interest of all humanity in prohibiting atomic engineering of the nanosphere and thus preserving inner space as a natural environment incapable of posing a threat to international peace, security and survival,
Believing that the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space cannot be justified on any grounds or for any purposes whatsoever due to the inherent risks of catastrophic consequences, intentional or otherwise,
Convinced that national or international legal regulation of nanotechnological research and development cannot hope to prevent the colonisation of inner space or the accumulation of knowledge and expertise posing an unacceptable risk of accidental deformation or deliberate perversion of the nanosphere with massively damaging and destructive consequences,
Convinced that the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space poses a grave and irreducible threat to all of humanity and the biosphere, and is thus necessarily an evil thing considered in any light, standing in all circumstances in flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations,
Believing that international cooperation in enforcing and monitoring the prohibition on the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner space will contribute to the development of mutual understanding and to the strengthening of friendly relations between states and peoples in the overarching cause of peace and the integrity of the natural environments of the Earth,
Recalling resolution [NUMBER], entitled ‘Declaration of Political and Legal Principles Prohibiting the Nanotechnological Activities of States in the Exploration and Engineering of Inner Space’, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on [DATE],
Recalling resolution [NUMBER], calling upon states to refrain from engaging in any activities involving or likely to lead to the atomic engineering of any objects or devices in the nanosphere whatever, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on [DATE],
Taking account of United Nations General Assembly resolution 110 (II) of November 3, 1947, which condemned propaganda designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, and considering that the aforementioned resolution is applicable to inner space,
Convinced that a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nanotechnological Exploration and Engineering of Inner (Atomic and Molecular) Space will further the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Have agreed on the following:
Article I: Purpose and Scope of the Prohibition on Nanotechnology
States parties to this Treaty undertake to refrain under any circumstances from engaging in, supporting, or encouraging any activities under their control and jurisdiction involving or relating to the nanotechnological exploration and engineering of inner (atomic and molecular) space.
Inner space shall be free from nanotechnological exploration and engineering by any state or entity, thus ensuring its preservation as a natural environment, the health and integrity of which is fundamental to the existence and survival of all environments and forms of life on Earth.
Article II: Inner Space as International Protectorate
Constituting as it does the natural, integral and fundamental basis of all existent matter and life, inner space is not subject to appropriation or claim of national or commercial sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
Article III: Implementing Organisation
In addition to the legal obligations of compliance and implementation incumbent on all states parties to this Treaty, overall international responsibility for supervising, facilitating, supporting and coordinating the enforcement of the prohibition against nanotechnology shall lie with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Nanotechnology (OPN), open to participation by all states parties and possessing the structure, remit and procedures set out in Implementation Annex to this Treaty.
Article IV: Verification
In addition to the supplementary assurance provided by national technical means of certifying compliance with this Treaty, verification of the prohibition against nanotechnology shall be primarily guaranteed and confirmed by a global system of verification systems operated by the OPN. The scientific, technical, procedural and organisational details of the scope and extent of the verification regime are set out in the Verification Annex to this Treaty.
Article V: Early-Warning of Nanotechnological Activity
Irrespective of the international implementation and verification mechanisms established in the Annexes to this Treaty, states parties shall immediately inform the OPN of any discovered or suspected nanotechnological research or activity, preparations to conduct such research or activity, or the presence in any form or environment of discovered or suspected objects or phenomena atomically-engineered or produced in deliberate or accidental contravention of the prohibition contained in this Treaty.
Article VI: State Party Responsibility for Compliance
States parties to the Treaty shall bear international legal responsibility for fully complying with all terms and conditions contained therein with regard to the prohibition of any national nanotechnological activity, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities. The proficiency and competence of the discharge of state party responsibilities under this Treaty shall be subject to the review, verification and certification of the OPN.
Article VII: State Party Liability for Non-Compliance
Each state party to the Treaty responsible for implementing the prohibition on nanotechnological activities contained therein is internationally liable for damage to another state party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons caused by atomically-engineered objects or components developed, tested or deployed under its control and jurisdiction, either by governmental agencies or non-governmental entities. The OPN will immediately convene to consider appropriate action against any state failing to effectively implement the prohibition contained in this Treaty, taking into account the wilfulness or otherwise of such failure, with the option of referring the matter expeditiously to the United Nations Security Council.
Article VIII: Cooperation & Consultation
In undertaking their responsibilities to enforce and maintain the prohibition contained therein, states parties to this Treaty shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in pursuit of implementation and defence of the integrity of inner space with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other states parties to the Treaty. Maximum transparency and cooperation are essential corollaries and necessary extensions of the effective eradication of the threat to peace and survival posed by nanotechnology. Such transparency and cooperation can also assist in strengthening trust and friendship between states.
Article IX: Challenge Inspections
All states parties to this Treaty are subject to challenge inspections of facilities formally used to undertake and conduct nanotechnological research and development, and/or of sites not already subject to national or international monitoring. State parties have the right to lodge with the OPN, for prompt consideration, complaints against unnecessary, unwarranted or malicious inspection requests.
Note: technical procedures for signature, ratification, entry-into-force, amendments, official languages, etc, not here specified.
© 2002 The Acronym Institute.