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:

  1. How dangerous can new technological developments become from a security, ethical and legal perspective when they find their way into military use?
  2. How must verification measures be tailored to enable effective arms control of modern military technologies?
  3. 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.

The group is led by Prof. Dr. Peter R. Schreiner, PhD (Professor of Organic Chemistry at Justus Liebig University Giessen) and Dr. Una Jakob (PRIF).

CNTR has its own website: CNTR is on Twitter and Mastodon.

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Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Technische Universität Darmstadt
Technische Universität Darmstadt