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Technology diffusion expands weapons proliferation threat
STANFORD -- A diffusion of technology across national borders will force the United States and other states to fundamentally alter their security policies, including reconsidering their investment in research and development, scholars said at a Stanford conference on international security trends.
"States have lost the capability to deny technology that can be used for weaponry to other states," said Janne Nolan of the Brookings Institution.
Said economist Ken Flamm of Brookings: "We can't control the flows of technology because of the economic system of the late 20th century. It's difficult to decide what is a weapon, because almost all weapons technology now is dual use."
Flamm argued that this trend has undermined security as an incentive for nation-states to invest in research and development.
Nolan and Flamm are among 16 foreign policy and arms control scholars working on a book on national security that, Nolan said, will redefine the problem of weapons proliferation in light of the new realities. The authors met with 22 other scholars to discuss the project at a two-day conference hosted by the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control. (See related story.)
During the Cold War, weapons non-proliferation primarily involved government security classification and export controls to keep other nations from gaining the raw materials and know-how for nuclear arsenals or advanced delivery systems.
Controlling access to information and materials remains feasible for some of the critical components of nuclear weapons that can be segregated from the commercial market, the scholars said. The more serious problem of control, however, involves chemical and biological agents, conventional explosives and advanced delivery systems technology to which basic access can no longer be denied, they said, because information technology has led to a progressively integrated international economy.
The technology that gives the United States a substantial superiority in conventional force warfare, for instance, is largely commercially developed technology available to anyone who buys it, scholars said.
Ironically, most of today's commercial high-technology industries are "accidental byproducts" of intense U.S. investment in defense research after World War II, Flamm said. The technologies have been developed for worldwide markets in order to achieve economies of scale necessary to compete, he said.
Word processing and telecommunications are two examples of "commercial technology that obviously have implications for the way you manage military forces," said Coit Blacker, the director of studies for the Stanford center.
Participants said they foresee funding of research and development shifting from government to commercial enterprises. U.S. spending on research and development for strictly military purposes has been declining for 30 years and is likely to fall more, several said.
In 1960, $1 of every $3 spent on scientific research globally was for U.S. defense. By 1987, the U.S. defense share was $1 out of $7; in 1991, it was $1 out of $10.
Biotechnology presents a particular control challenge, participants in the conference said. Although no effective weaponry has yet been uncovered, access to basic findings cannot be controlled by any nation, and scientists have found no natural barrier to the eventual effective engineering of biological weapons.
Countries of modest size already have the opportunity to negate U.S. security capabilities in local areas and to offset them globally by developing technological capacities of limited scope, they said. That makes the pattern of a nation's military investment more important to its potential enemies than its immediate operations.
International regulation of weapons sales and related technology through a cooperative security arrangement provides the best means of controlling proliferation, the authors said they intend to argue in a 1993 book. They suggested attaching encoded labels to weapons components, or indeed all manufactured products.
Disclosure of sales and possession would provide the basis for control, Flamm said, when coupled with inspection of products and economic sanctions in the form of denial of access to trade or trade credits.
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