Emerging Technology, International Security, and International Law

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October 18, 2016

Anthony Musa

On October 6, 2016, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), together with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland, hosted an event on the disruptive impact of 3D printing, synthetic biology, and autonomous systems on international security, including disarmament and nonproliferation, and international law.

The event was moderated by Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the Conference on Disarmament Sabrina Dallafior, and featured three expert speakers with a unique understanding of the role emerging technologies play in international security. Kerstin Vignard, chief of operations at UNIDIR, discussed the issue of increasing autonomy in weapon systems, including their potential to take the decisions to target and kill humans. Vignard raised the key issue of whether existing disarmament machinery was sufficient for addressing these emerging issues.

Dr. Filippa Lentzos, senior research fellow at King’s College London, discussed the potential dangers posed by synthetic biology, including how it could possibly be used for illicit activity. Mr. Robert Shaw of CNS reviewed the rapidly evolving industry of 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing), including the potential for states to use the technology to violate international sanctions and export controls.

A theme common to the presentations was the importance of engaging industry, academia, and other producers of emerging technologies in multilateral policy and regulatory development, particularly in these relatively early stages.

The event, held at UN Headquarters in New York, was well attended, with a packed room of delegates, and successfully connected industry experts, diplomats, and scholars to build a greater understanding of how emerging technologies can be used to disrupt international peace and security.  The event also illustrated CNS’s continuing collaboration with UNODA, including, inter alia, UN High Representative for Disarmament Mr. Kim Won-soo’s January 2016 visit to CNS’s Monterey location as well as the participation by UNODA’s Mr. Christopher King in its Baden Diplomatic Workshop on Emerging Disruptive Technologies in May.

Co-sponsored by:

Confederazione Svizzera, Confederaziun svizra, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)

Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS)

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS)

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