Another major political issue to be considered in the balance of power is how nanotechnologies may affect the military and the future arms race. Augmenting human performance has obvious attractions, such as improving stamina, strength and the ability to deal with multiple situations and process information more effectively.
Technological Advances and the Military
History also shows us that technology advances have lead to the military developing smaller, more mobile and more powerful weapons, surveillance systems and other military equipment. While these may be developed under the auspices of safeguarding freedom and ensuring security, such devices if they continue to follow current trends could give rise to an arms race similar to that of nuclear weapons.
Regulations to Prevent an Arms Race
To prevent an escalation there must be internationally agreed regulations. For instance, nanotechnology could one day make surveillance devices and weapons that are virtually undetectable and have advanced remote control capabilities, which raises issues of where the dividing line lies between ensuring security and infringing human rights. As a result, unilateral actions of one country on another could become more targeted and more difficult for the international community to police. Safe-guarding these technologies will be crucial- preventing their sale or distribution to, or theft by, other organisations.
Military-Based Nanotechnology Programmes in the United States
At present the main country publicly declaring that it is developing military uses of nanotechnologies is the US. In 2001 the US invested 125 million USD in nanotechnology initiatives for the Department of Defense (DoD). The proposed budget for 2005 includes 276 million USD for the DoD and 1 million USD for homeland security (together this is approximately 28% of the total nanotechnology budget). For example, the Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) at MIT was established in 2002 with a five-year 50 million USD contract from the US military and is looking at producing a battle-suit that provides improved protection, monitors vital signs and (at the same time) is lighter than conventional equipment.
Military-Based Nanotechnology Programmes in the United Kingdom
The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is also funding some military aspects of nanotechnology including new structural materials, electronic devices and quantum interference, however this is on a much smaller scale (approximately £1.5 million per annum). This research is mainly carried out through the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and its Corporate Research Programme, although the MOD recognises that close collaboration with academic research is essential to keep abreast of developments in nanotechnology that could have applications in defence.
Military-Based Nanotechnology Programmes in Sweden
Sweden is investing 11 million euros over 5 years in nanotechnology research for military purposes through FOI (the Swedish Defence Research Agency). The funding is divided between 7 research projects (involving universities, major defence companies and some high-tech start-up companies) and focussed during the first two years on feasibility studies before entering an application-oriented phase.
Military-Based Nanotechnology Programmes in the European Union
The EU has recently published a call for proposals and supporting activities in the scope of the preparatory action on “the enhancement of the European industrial potential in the field of security research”. While this does not specifically mention nanotechnologies, many of the areas have implicit nanotechnology connections (such as sensors, tracking devices) under the project themes of “Improving situation awareness” and “Protecting against terrorism (including bio-terrorism and incidents with biological, chemical and other substances)”. There is a budget of 65 million euros from 2004-2006, which is a precursor to a much larger Security Research Programme that will start in 2007.