Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 461–486 | Cite as

The Just War Theory and the Ethical Governance of Research

Original Paper


This article analyses current trends in and future expectations of nanotechnology and other key enabling technologies for security as well as dual use nanotechnology from the perspective of the ethical Just War Theory (JWT), interpreted as an instrument to increase the threshold for using armed force for solving conflicts. The aim is to investigate the relevance of the JWT to the ethical governance of research. The analysis gives rise to the following results. From the perspective of the JWT, military research should be evaluated with different criteria than research for civil or civil security applications. From a technological perspective, the boundaries between technologies for civil and military applications are fuzzy. Therefore the JWT offers theoretical grounds for making clear distinctions between research for military, civil security and other applications that are not obvious from a purely technological perspective. Different actors bear responsibility for development of the technology than for resorting to armed force for solving conflicts or for use of weapons and military technologies in combat. Different criteria should be used for moral judgment of decisions made by each type of actor in each context. In addition to evaluation of potential consequences of future use of the weapons or military technologies under development, the JWT also prescribes ethical evaluation of the inherent intent and other foreseeable consequences of the development itself of new military technologies.


Just War Theory Research ethics Nanotechnology Emerging technology Governance 



The collection of empirical data on technological trends, foresight, policymakers and stakeholder discussions and ethical and social science literature was supported by the EU in the ObservatoryNano project no. 218528. Comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article by Marcel Becker and Wim Pelt and an anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Malsch TechnoValuationUtrechtThe Netherlands

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