Cluster for Natural and Technical Science Arms Control Research (CNTR)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically raised awareness of the potential dangers posed by defense innovations, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare agents, and digital warfare. Even if state-of-the-art weapon systems were only used selectively in Ukraine, the use of drones, high-precision air defense systems or cyber capabilities exemplifies how much technology can influence the balance of power on the battlefield. In extreme cases, new weapons technology can disruptively reverse power relationships and create uncertainty. The latter also applies to chemical and biological weapons, even if they are merely used rhetorically for propaganda and disinformation purposes.
The goal of the Cluster for Natural and Technical Science Arms Control Research (CNTR) is to investigate these dangers, to classify them in a scientifically sound manner and, on this basis, to develop recommendations for action to strengthen arms control. To this end, the cluster integrates technical and scientific findings and expertise into the interdisciplinary discourse of peace and conflict research. Researchers from the natural and social sciences work closely together at PRIF and the Universities of Darmstadt and Giessen, in line with the recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities on the further development of peace and conflict research formulated in 2019.
At the same time, CNTR combines basic research and knowledge transfer in line with the motto of the Leibniz Association “Theoria cum praxi”. In addition to disseminating research results via publications and various other formats, PRIF is therefore developing a trend monitor together with the universities of Darmstadt and Giessen, which will provide annual information on new developments in arms control research starting in 2024.
The project is funded by the German Foreign Office for a period of four years (January 2023 to December 2026).
Two new research groups will be established as part of CNTR:
1. Use and Control of Emerging Disruptive Technologies
The Research Group “Emerging Disruptive Technologies,” established in 2023, addresses three key questions:
- How dangerous can new technological developments become from a security, ethical and legal perspective when they find their way into military use?
- How must verification measures be tailored to enable effective arms control of modern military technologies?
- How can new technologies help develop more reliable arms control and verification measures?
In order to obtain robust answers, the group is pursuing an interdisciplinary research approach, combining political science with the natural sciences. Only the combination of different perspectives can answer what can be achieved politically (and with which actors), where technological pitfalls lie, and how they can be overcome – possibly even through technology itself. Therefore, the interdisciplinary approach promises effective approaches to strengthening arms control, which is currently in a severe crisis.
The group focusses on the future and primarily looks at technologies that are considered as emerging disruptive technologies – that is, technologies which are capable of overturning previous power structures and might allow weaker challengers to overtake the militaries of previously stronger players using innovations. These technologies include hypersonic missiles, military robotics, remotely piloted as well as autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems, nanotechnology, various forms of human enhancement, cyber operations, militarily used Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, or even the military use of quantum computers.
Some of these technologies, such as hypersonic missiles, have already been deployed by at least some militaries. Other technologies, such as quantum computers, are still years or even decades away from being ready for deployment. For all of these technologies, traditional quantitative arms control efforts such as ceilings and limits are difficult or virtually impossible to implement.
The group is led by Prof. Dr. Dr. Christian Reuter (Professor in the Department of Computer Science at TU Darmstadt and head of PEASEC) and Dr. Niklas Schörnig (political scientist and economist, PRIF). The group also includes Liska Suckau (mechanical engineer and political scientist, PRIF), Thomas Reinhold (computer scientist, PRIF) and Samuel Forsythe (political scientist, PRIF). Anna-Katharina Ferl and Jana Baldus (both PRIF) are associated.
2. Biological and Chemical Weapons Arms Control
The use of chemical weapons in Syria, the attacks with nerve agents and the Russian disinformation campaign on alleged bio- and chemical weapons activities in Ukraine have once again brought these weapons to the fore as threats to peace and security. Moreover, the pandemic experience of recent years has shown the impact that even unintentional global disease outbreaks can have. It is therefore crucial to address the entire spectrum of chemical and biological hazards as part of a comprehensive peace and security policy. Particularly in conjunction with other new technologies, such as artificial intelligence or information technology, scientific and technological developments in biology and chemistry could, on the one hand, change military calculations about the usefulness of biological and chemical weapons and, on the other, open up new opportunities for strengthening international bans on both categories of weapons. In view of the close interconnection of political and technological aspects, CNTR’s research in this area is conducted on an interdisciplinary basis with strong participation of scientific expertise and in cooperation with the Department of Biology and Chemistry at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen.
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