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Evolution of Different Dual-use Concepts in International and National Law and Its Implications on Research Ethics and Governance


This paper provides an overview of the various dual-use concepts applied in national and international non-proliferation and anti-terrorism legislation, such as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, and national export control legislation and in relevant codes of conduct. While there is a vast literature covering dual-use concepts in particular with regard to life sciences, this is the first paper that incorporates into such discussion the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540. In addition, recent developments such as the extension of dual-use export control legislation in the area of human rights protection are also identified and reviewed. The discussion of dual-use concepts is hereby undertaken in the context of human- and/or national-security-based approaches to security. This paper discusses four main concepts of dual use as applied today in international and national law: civilian versus military, peaceful versus non-peaceful, legitimate versus illegitimate and benevolent versus malevolent. In addition, the usage of the term to describe positive technology spin-offs between civilian and military applications is also briefly addressed. Attention is also given to the roles civil society and research ethics may play in the governance of dual-use sciences and technologies.

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Correspondence to Johannes Rath.

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Rath, J., Ischi, M. & Perkins, D. Evolution of Different Dual-use Concepts in International and National Law and Its Implications on Research Ethics and Governance. Sci Eng Ethics 20, 769–790 (2014).

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  • Dual use
  • Terminology
  • Biosecurity
  • Ethics
  • Governance
  • Human security
  • National security