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Dual-use technology

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An civilian Unimog 406 truck painted in pastel colours in front of a forest background.
A military Unimog S 404 truck painted in camouflage in front of a forest background.
Unimog trucks are an example of a dual-use good used in both civil and military contexts.

In politics, diplomacy and export control, dual-use items refer to goods, software and technology that can be used for both civilian and military applications.[1]

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

The "dual-use dilemma" was first noted with the discovery of the process for synthesizing and mass-producing ammonia which revolutionized agriculture with modern fertilizers but also led to the creation of chemical weapons during World War I. The dilemma has long been known in chemistry and physics, and has led to international conventions and treaties, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.[2]



UAVs are considered to be a challenge for military. No drone zones are areas where drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) cannot be operated.[3][4][5][6][7]


Neptune cruise missile launch

Originally developed as weapons 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 eventually to the Moon). The development of this peaceful rocket technology paralleled the development of intercontinental ballistic missile technology; and was a way of demonstrating to the other side the potential of one's own rockets.

Those who seek to develop ballistic missiles may claim that their rockets are for peaceful purposes; for example, for commercial satellite launching or scientific purposes. However, even genuinely peaceful rockets may be converted into weapons and provide the technological basis to do so.

Within peaceful rocket programs, different peaceful applications can be seen as having parallel military roles. For example, the return of scientific payloads safely to earth from orbit would indicate re-entry vehicle capability and demonstrating the ability to launch multiple satellites with a single launch vehicle can be seen in a military context as having the potential to deploy multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles.



Dual-use nuclear technology refers to the possibility of military use of civilian nuclear power technology. Many technologies and materials associated with the creation of a nuclear power program have a dual-use capability, in that several stages of the nuclear fuel cycle allow diversion of nuclear materials for nuclear weapons. When this happens a nuclear power program can become a route leading to the atomic bomb or a public annex to a secret bomb program. The crisis over Iran's nuclear activities is a case in point.[8]

Many UN and US agencies warn that building more nuclear reactors unavoidably increases nuclear proliferation risks.[9] A fundamental goal for American and global security is to minimize the proliferation risks associated with the expansion of nuclear power. If this development is "poorly managed or efforts to contain risks are unsuccessful, the nuclear future will be dangerous".[8] For nuclear power programs to be developed and managed safely and securely, it is important that countries have domestic “good governance” characteristics that will encourage proper nuclear operations and management:[8]

These characteristics include low degrees of corruption (to avoid officials selling materials and technology for their own personal gain as occurred with the A.Q. Khan smuggling network in Pakistan), high degrees of political stability (defined by the World Bank as “likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically-motivated violence and terrorism”), high governmental effectiveness scores (a World Bank aggregate measure of “the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures [and] the quality of policy formulation and implementation”), and a strong degree of regulatory competence.[8]

Artificial intelligence


As more advances are made towards artificial intelligence (AI), it garners more and more attention on its capability as a dual-use technology and the security risks it may pose.[10] Artificial intelligence can be applied within many different fields and can be easily integrated throughout current technology's cyberspace.[10][11] With the use of AI, technology has become capable of running multiple algorithms that could solve difficult problems, from detecting anomalies in samples during MRI scans,[11] to providing surveillance of an entire country's residents.[11] Within China's mass surveillance, the government uses AI in order to distinguish citizens with less than satisfactory records among crowds.[12] Every new invention or application made with AI comes with its own set of positive and negative effects.[10] Some claim that, as potential uses for AI grow in number, nations need to start regulating it as a dual-use technology.[10]



The modern history of chemical weapons can be traced back to the chemical industries of the belligerent nations of World War I, especially that of Germany. Many industrial chemical processes produce toxic intermediary stages, final products, and by-products, and any nation with a chemical industry has the potential to create weaponised chemical agents. Chlorine is a chemical agent found within several household items such as Bleach and provides various benefits with its wide array of applications.[13] However, its gaseous form can also be used as a chemical weapon.[14]



That the July 2007 terrorist attacks in central London and at Glasgow airport may have involved National Health Service 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.[15]

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”.

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.[16]

The World Health Organization in 2010 developed a "guidance document" for what it called "Dual Use Research of Concern" (DURC) in the life sciences, regarding “research that is intended [to] benefit, but which might easily be misapplied to do harm".[17]

Along with several similar stipulations from other states and regional organisations, biosecurity education has become more important. Unfortunately, both the policy and academic literature show that life scientists across the globe are frequently uninformed or underinformed about biosecurity, dual-use, the BTWC and national legislation outlawing biological weapons.[18][19] 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.[20][21]

The US federal government (USG) developed several policy documents on DURC. In May 2024, the White House published the "United States Government Policy for Oversight of Dual Use Research of Concern and Pathogens with Enhanced Pandemic Potential",[22] "a unified federal oversight framework for conducting and managing certain types of federally funded life sciences research on biological agents and toxins." The policy superseded several prior documents, published in 2012,[23] 2014,[24] and 2017,[25] and it follows the directives established by the 2022 National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan.[26]

Night vision and thermal imaging


Night-vision devices with extraordinary performance characteristics (high gain, specific spectral sensitivity, fine resolution, low noise) are heavily export-restricted by the few states capable of producing them, mainly to limit their proliferation to enemy combatants, but also to slow the inevitable reverse-engineering undertaken by other world powers.

These precision components, such as the image intensifiers used in night vision goggles and the focal plane arrays found in surveillance satellites and thermal cameras, have numerous civil applications which include nature photography, medical imaging, firefighting, and population control of predator species.

Night scenes of wild elephants and rhinos in the BBC nature documentary series Africa were shot on a Lunax Starlight HD camera (a custom-built digital cinema rig encompassing a Generation 3 image intensifier), and recolored digitally.[27]

In the United States, civilians are free to buy and sell American-made night vision and thermal systems, such as those manufactured by defense contractors Harris, L3 Insight, and FLIR Systems, with very few restrictions. However, American night vision owners may not bring the equipment out of the country, sell it internationally, or even invite non-citizens to examine the technology, per International Traffic in Arms Regulations.[28]

Export of American image intensifiers is selectively permitted under license by the United States Department of Commerce and the State Department. Contributing factors in acquiring a license include diplomatic relations with the destination country, number of pieces to be sold, and the relative quality of the equipment itself, expressed using a Figure Of Merit (FOM) score calculated from several key performance characteristics.

Competing international manufacturers (European defense contractor Exosens Group, Japanese scientific instrument giant Hamamatsu Photonics, and Russian state-financed laboratory JSC Katod) have entered the American market through licensed importers. In spite of their foreign origin, re-export of these components outside of the United States is restricted similarly to domestic components.

A 2012 assessment of the sector by the Department of Commerce and Bureau of Industry and Security made the case for relaxing export controls in light of the narrowing performance gap and increased competition internationally,[29] and a review period undertaken by the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls in 2015 introduced much more granular performance definitions.[30]

Other technologies

PlayStation 2's graphics processor

In addition to obvious dual-use technologies there are some less obvious ones, in that many erstwhile peaceful technologies can be used in weapons. One example during the First and Second World War is the role of German toy manufacturers: Germany was one of the leading nations in the production of wind-up toys, and the ability to produce large numbers of small and reliable clockwork motors was converted into the ability to produce shell and bomb fuzes. During its early stages of release, the PlayStation 2 was considered to be a dual-use technology.[31] The gaming console had to receive special import regulations before being shipped towards the U.S. and European markets.[31] This is due to the console's and its included GPU's capability to process high quality images at high speeds, a shared trait with missile guidance systems.[31]

HoloLens 2

Microsoft's HoloLens 2

Early 2019, Microsoft announced the HoloLens 2, smart glasses that will allow consumers to experience augmented reality within the real world.[32] However, it was revealed Microsoft made a 479 million dollar deal with the U.S. government.[32][33][34] This contract would have Microsoft create and supply the U.S. Army a separate version of the HoloLens smart glasses called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).[32][33][34] The IVAS would be used to train soldiers, as well as field medics with battlefield experience within a virtual environment.[32][33][34] This version of the HoloLens allowed the soldiers to have a virtual map of their current environment, friendly units' locations, and much more.[32] An anonymous Microsoft employee published an open letter demanding that Microsoft terminate the IVAS contract.[32][33][34] Microsoft president Brad Smith had previously made a public blog post[35] outlining the company's stance on "how technology companies should work with the government, and specifically whether companies should supply digital technology to the military."



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.

In the context of sanctions regimes, dual-use can be construed broadly because there are few things which do not have the potential for both military and civilian uses.[36]

United States


The principal agency for investigating violations of dual-use export controls in the United States is the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Office of Export Enforcement (OEE).[37] Interagency coordination of export control cases are conducted through the Export Enforcement Coordination Center (E2C2). The International Traffic in Arms Regulations is the US regime that the BIS OEE enforces.



The Canadian legislation to govern the trade in dual-use technology is known as the Export and Imports Permits Act.

European Union


The European Union governs dual-use technology through the Control List of Dual Use Items.[38]

International regimes


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 at 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.

See also



  1. ^ Exporting dual-use goods. European Commission (accessed Aug 2022)
  2. ^ Webb, Amy (14 February 2022). "The Next Pandemic Could Start With a Terrorist Attack". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  3. ^ Sedletska, Natalie; Savchuk, Maksym; Ovsyaniy, Kyrylo; Schreck, Carl (2022-11-04). "How Western Tech In Iranian Drones Is Helping Russia Wage War On Ukraine". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  4. ^ "Drones, Ukraine, Russia, Iran, Western technology | Homeland Security Newswire". www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com. 2022-11-05. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  5. ^ "Weaponized drones". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  6. ^ Bajema, Natasha. "To Protect Against Weaponized Drones, We Must Understand Their Key Strengths - IEEE Spectrum". spectrum.ieee.org. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  7. ^ Booth, Rebecca Wright,Ivan Watson,Olha Konovalova,Tom (2023-03-16). "Exclusive: Chinese-made drone, retrofitted and weaponized, downed in eastern Ukraine". CNN. Retrieved 2023-06-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b c d Steven E. Miller & Scott D. Sagan (Fall 2009). "Nuclear power without nuclear proliferation?". Dædalus. 138 (4): 7–18. doi:10.1162/daed.2009.138.4.7. S2CID 57568427.
  9. ^ Kristin Shrader-Frechette (19 August 2011). "Cheaper, safer alternatives than nuclear fission". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Archived from the original on 2012-01-21.
  10. ^ a b c d Pandya, Jayshree. "The Dual-Use Dilemma Of Artificial Intelligence". Forbes. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  11. ^ a b c Feldstein, Steven. "We Need to Get Smart About How Governments Use AI". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  12. ^ Mozur, Paul (2018-07-08). "Inside China's Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  13. ^ "Uses, Benefits, and Safety of Chlorine | Chemical Safety Facts". ChemicalSafetyFacts.org. 2014-05-01. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  14. ^ Taylor, Adam (2018-04-11). "Analysis | Chlorine, sarin or something else? The big questions in the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  15. ^ Daniel Cressey (17 August 2007). "Not so secure after all". Nature. 448 (7155): 732–733. Bibcode:2007Natur.448..732C. doi:10.1038/448732a. PMC 7095479. PMID 17700663.
  16. ^ UN (2008) "Report of the Meeting of States Parties", BWC/MSP/2008/5, 12 December 2008.
  17. ^ "Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  18. ^ Mancini. G & Revill. J (2008) Fostering the Biosecurity Norm: Biosecurity Education for the Next Generation of Life Scientists, November 2008. "Centrovolta.it - Informazioni Turistiche" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Revill, James; Mancini, G.; Minehata, Masamichi; Shinomiya, N. (2009-11-18). "Biosecurity education: surveys from Europe and Japan". Conference: Inter Academy Panel Workshop on Promoting Education on Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences.
  21. ^ Revill, James (January 2009). "Biosecurity and Bioethics Education: A Case Study of the UK Context". Conference: Research Report for the Wellcome Trust Project on `Building a Sustainable Capacity in Dual Use Bioethics.
  22. ^ United States Government Policy for Oversight of Dual Use Research of Concern and Pathogens with Enhanced Pandemic Potential. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. May 6, 2024.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  23. ^ United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern (PDF). 2012.
  24. ^ United States Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern (PDF). 2014.
  25. ^ Recommended Policy Guidance for Departmental Development of Review Mechanisms for Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight (PDF). 2017.
  26. ^ National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan (PDF). White House. 2022.
  27. ^ "Meet the BBC Natural History Unit's kit-hacking specialists". Wired UK. 2014-02-06. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  28. ^ "FAQ". Tactical Night Vision Company. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  29. ^ "Critical Technology Assessment: Night Vision Focal Plane Arrays, Sensors, and Cameras". bis.doc.gov. US Department of Commerce. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  30. ^ "Export Control Reform Comes to USML Category XII". Export Law Blog. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  31. ^ a b c "Sony's High-Tech Playstation2 Will Require Military Export License". Los Angeles Times. 2000-04-17. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  32. ^ a b c d e f Haselton, Todd (2019-04-06). "How the Army plans to use Microsoft's high-tech HoloLens goggles on the battlefield". CNBC. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  33. ^ a b c d Charles Riley and Samuel Burke (25 February 2019). "Microsoft CEO defends US military contract that some employees say crosses a line". CNN. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  34. ^ a b c d News), NBC News (NBC. "Microsoft HoloLens Letter". www.documentcloud.org. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  35. ^ "Technology and the US military". 26 October 2018.
  36. ^ Davis, Stuart (2023). Sanctions as War: Anti-Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo-Economic Strategy. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-1-64259-812-4. OCLC 1345216431.
  37. ^ "OEE Home Page".
  38. ^ Servunts, Levon (25 October 2020). "Bombardier Recreational Products suspends delivery of aircraft engines used on military drones". CBC.