Militarizing Nanotechnology

The ever-expanding field of nanotechnology has begun to spill over into some dangerous territory. Given the enormous defense budget allocated to the United States military and its related programs, in conjunction with nanotechnology’s cost-cutting tendencies, military officials are salivating over its prospects. Specifically, this technology has been instrumental in evolving weaponry into dangerously compact, resourceful gadgets. In turn, American citizens should be alarmed because this will, undoubtedly, transform the manner in which domestic surveillance is conducted; will prompt a new breed of nanotechnology-based arms races; and may be a precursor to deadly biological weaponry.

The American government has already proclaimed a blanket distrust of her populace by planting surveillance devices in cities around the country. Currently, surveillance technology identifies vehicle crossing an intersections, monitors many sections of urban environments, and, worst of all, the elected officials have continually authorized the federal government to discard Fourth Amendment protections and spy on American citizens through the USA PATRIOT Act. Hiding under the guise of “security,” the American government has destroyed the concept of privacy and has become intimately involved in citizens’ daily personal lives. As it exists currently, “the subject and unwitting sender is the target of the surveillance and the receivers are the police.”1 Already resembling what has the feel of a police state, the enhanced surveillance prospects inherent in nanotechnology and its advancements possess the potential to drive a stake through the heart of privacy. Moreover, other countries will inevitably attempt to mimic the successes, creating a new breed of arms race.

The inevitable progression inherent in technological advancement all but guarantees the replication of nanotechnology and its potentials into an arms race. The American military has already conducted successful experimentation implementing nanotechnology into a drone format. Essentially, “we’re continuing to fuel a drone arms race that guarantees widespread proliferation.”2 Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, drone technology has exploded, creating a battlefield consisting of backpack sized killing machines. Nanotechnology threatens to shrink drones to the size (and shape) of insects, and “response to advancing technologies will undoubtedly affect the conduct of hostilities on the future battlefield.”3 This technology, additionally, has the capability to uniquely circumnavigate international treaties that address battlefield conduct.

A potential loophole to the countless international treaties concerning nuclear non-proliferation, chemical, and biological warfare lurks inside nanotechnologies. Whereas biological warfare treaties prevent the usage of agents that could cross borders and annihilate populations, nanotechnology is capable of unleashing swarms of killer drones cloaked as, for example, bees. The current treaties “may prove insufficient to prevent proliferation, and we should not shy away from new international treaties as necessary.”4 Nanotechnology in bee-sized drones would, ultimately, constitute a more sophisticated drone for which no international treaty exists. Of course, this is because technology advances more rapidly than peaceful agreements among civilized nations. The open window of technological advancement creates uncontrolled, dangerous advances in military weaponry.

Overall, the current state of domestic surveillance is a host of egregious constitutional violations. If nanotechnology is allowed to wed itself to military programs, the explosion in surveillance, both domestically and internationally, threatens the stability of the American nation. Furthermore, the inevitable transition of nanotechnology into military weaponry will destabilize entire nations as a new form of an arms race is born. A worthwhile solution is a deeper investigation into the world of nanotechnology and military use and international treaties banning this technology in weapons creation.

  1. Andrew D. Selbst, Contextual Expectations of Privacy, 35 Cardozo L. Rev. 643, 694 (2013).
  2. Connor Friedersdorf, Like a Swarm of Lethal Bugs: The Most Terrifying Drone Video Yet, The Atlantic.com (Feb. 19, 2013), http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/02/like-a-swarm-of-lethal-bugs-the-most-terrifying-drone-video-yet/273270.
  3. Eric T. Jensen, The Future of the Law of Armed Conflict: Ostriches, Butterflies, and Nanobots, 35 Mich. J. Int’l L. 253, 258 (2014).
  4. Evan J. Wallach, A Tiny Problem with Huge Implications – Nanotech Agents as Enablers or Substitutes for Banned Chemical Weapons: Is a New Treaty Needed?, 33 Fordham Int’l L.J. 858, 885 (2010).

Author: Michael Conforti

Michael Conforti is a third year law student and the Managing Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. Prior to law school, Michael attended Pennsylvania State University and obtained a B.A. in International Relations with minors in Journalism, Spanish, and Japanese. Michael has interned as a Proskauer Rose Fellow with the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, assisting low-income residents in an array of legal matters, and is currently the law clerk for Carol Forte, Esq. at Blume Forte Fried Zerres & Molinari. After graduation, Michael has accepted employment as the law clerk for Justice Walter Timpone at the New Jersey Supreme Court. In his spare time, Michael enjoys food and sports.