Dual-use technology

Dual-use technology

Dual-use is a term often used in politics and diplomacy to refer to technology which can be used for both peaceful and military aims. It often refers to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but that of bioweapons is a major issue as well. The scientific reviews (e.g. "Science") keep watch of the DURC (dual-use research of concern) which are able to threaten the security.

Many types of nuclear reactors produce fissile material, such as plutonium, as a by-product, which could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon. However, nuclear reactors can also be used for peaceful, civilian purposes: providing electricity to a city, for example. As such, a nation which wanted to develop a nuclear weapon could build a reactor, claiming it would be used for civilian purposes, and then use its plutonium to construct a nuclear weapon. Other nuclear power station designs, such as fusion reactors or liquid-salt Thorium reactors do not suffer from this dual-use issue since they do not produce trans-Uranic elements such as plutonium as by-products.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union spent billions of dollars developing rocket technology which could carry humans into space (and even eventually to the moon). The knowledge gained from this peaceful rocket technology also served in the development of intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

The International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor dual-use technology in countries who are signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to make sure that fissile material is not diverted to military functions. In recent events, both Iran and North Korea have been accused of having nuclear weapons programs based on dual-use technology.

Lax biosecurity at laboratories is worrying researchers and regulators that potential select agents may have fallen into the hands of malevolent parties. It may have been instrumental to the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States. Universities sometimes flout regulations, complacent as to the dangers in doing so. Though the majority of breaches are benign, the hybridization of hepatitis C and dengue-fever viruses at Imperial College London in 1997 resulted in a fine when health and safety rules were not observed.[citation needed] A research program at Texas A&M University was shut down when Brucella and Coxiella infections were not reported. That the July 2007 terrorist attacks in central London and at Glasgow airport may have involved NHS medical professionals was a recent wake-up call that screening people with access to pathogens may be necessary. The challenge remains to maintain security without impairing the contributions to progress afforded by research.[1]

Most industrial countries have export controls on certain types of designated dual-use technologies, and they are required by a number of treaties as well. These controls restrict the export of certain commodities and technologies without the permission of the government. The principal agency for dual use export controls in the United States is the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security.

There are several international arrangements among countries which seek to harmonize lists of dual-use (and military) technologies to control. These include the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group, which looks chemical and biological technologies, the Missile Technology Control Regime, which covers delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction, and the Wassenaar Arrangement, which covers conventional arms and dual-use technologies.

More generally speaking, dual-use can also refer to any technology which can satisfy more than one goal at any given time. Thus, expensive technologies which would otherwise only serve military purposes can also be utilized to benefit civilian commercial interests when not otherwise engaged such as the Global Positioning System.


Dual-use biology

The advance of the life sciences and biotechnology has the potential to bring great benefits to humankind through responding to societal challenges. However, it is also possible that such advances could be exploited for hostile purposes, something evidenced in a small number of incidents of bioterrorism, but more particularly by the series of large-scale offensive biological warfare programmes carried out by major states in the last century. Dealing with this challenge, which has been labelled the `dual-use` dilemma requires a number of different activities. However, one of the essential ingredients in ensuring that the life sciences continue to generate great benefits and do not become subject to misuse for hostile purposes is a process of engagement between scientists and the security community and the development of strong ethical and normative frameworks to compliment legal and regulatory measures that are being developed by states.[2]

Biology and dual-use education

Reports from the project on building a sustainable culture in dual use bioethics suggest that, as a result of perceived changes in both science and security over the past decade, several states and multilateral bodies have underlined the importance of making life scientists aware of concerns over dual-use and the legal obligations underpinning the prevention of biological weapons. One of the key mechanisms that have been identified to achieve this is through the education of life science students, with the objective of building what has been termed a “culture of responsibility”. Certainly at the 2008 Meeting of States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), it was agreed by consensus that: States Parties recognized the importance of ensuring that those working in the biological sciences are aware of their obligations under the Convention and relevant national legislation and guidelines.... States Parties noted that formal requirements for seminars, modules or courses, including possible mandatory components, in relevant scientific and engineering training programmes and continuing professional education could assist in raising awareness and in implementing the Convention.[3]

With several similar stipulations from other states and regional organisations, there is evidence to suggest that the concept of biosecurity education has become increasingly salient in the contemporary security discourse. Unfortunately however, there is an emerging understanding in both the policy and academic literature that life scientists across the globe are frequently uninformed or under-informed on issues such as biosecurity, dual-use, the BTWC and national legislation outlawing biological weapons.[4][5] Moreover, despite numerous declarations by states and multilateral organisations, the extent to which statements at the international level have trickled down to multifaceted activity at the level of scientists remains limited.[6][7]

Educational Module Resource

The Bradford Disarmament Research Centre along with the National Defence Medical College in Japan and the Landau Network Centro Volta in Italy have developed an Educational Module Resources (EMR) designed to support life scientists and educators in learning about biosecurity and dual use issues but also in building educational material for teaching of students. The EMR consists of 21 lectures, accompanying notes for the lecturer and direct links to the references and videos; it is intended to be a resource that can be used by a lecturer in order to develop one or more lectures, seminars, role-plays or other teaching aids suitable for the course he or she is presenting. We would like to emphasise that the educational module resource is not a Teaching Module rather it is a 'Module Resource'.Conscious that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, our educational module resource is designed to be 'modified and tailored in order to fit the requirements of different local educational contexts'.[8]


  1. ^ Daniel Cressey (17 August 2007). "Not so secure after all". Nature 448 (7155): 732–733. doi:10.1038/448732a. PMID 17700663. 
  2. ^ Bradford Disarmament Research Centre Dual use BIoethics homepage: http://www.brad.ac.uk/bioethics/
  3. ^ UN (2008) “Report of the Meeting of States Parties”, BWC/MSP/2008/5, 12 December 2008.
  4. ^ Mancini. G & Revill. J (2008) Fostering the Biosecurity Norm: Biosecurity Education for the Next Generation of Life Scientists, November 2008. http://www.centrovolta.it/landau/content/binary/Fostering%20the%20Biosecurity%20NormFinal.pdf
  5. ^ Minehata. M and D. Friedman (2009) Biosecurity Education in Israeli Research Universities. Research Report for the Wellcome Trust Project on Building a Sustainable Capacity in Dual Use Bioethics. http://www.brad.ac.uk/acad/sbtwc/dube/publications/Israel_BioSecReport_Final.pdf
  6. ^ Revill. J (2009) "Biosecurity Education: Surveys from Europe and Japan" presentation to the National Academies of Science [US] Workshop on Promoting Education on Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences, Warsaw, November 2009. http://dels.nas.edu/bls/warsaw/NAS%20PAPER%20FINAL%20sent.pdf
  7. ^ Revill. J (2009) Biosecurity and Bioethics Education: A Case Study of the UK Context. Research Report for the Wellcome Trust Project on `Building a Sustainable Capacity in Dual Use Bioethics. http://www.brad.ac.uk/bioethics/Monographs/
  8. ^ Bradford Disarmament Research Centre, the National Defence Medical College (Japan), Landau Network Centro Volta Educational Module Resources (EMR) http://www.brad.ac.uk/bioethics/EducationalModuleResource/

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