Some ten years ago I wrote a short note attempting to clarify the notion of dual use, a topic that had at the time been attracting interest and which continues to do so. I distinguished three different categories of dual use items: research, technologies and artefacts. These are clearly different sorts of things. Research is an activity, while technology, as we have seen, is a form of knowledge, knowledge of the techniques for the production of artefacts, whereas artefacts are objects. Certain instances of these kinds are classed as dual use because they can have both a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ use. Ammonium nitrate, for example, is normally used as a fertilizer, but it can also be used to make so-called fertilizer bombs.12
The dual use categories are related: research aims to give us technology, which in turn produces artefacts. It is the latter that normally have the immediate impact on the individual, be this good or bad. My suggested definition of a dual use item was as follows:
An item (knowledge, technology, artefact) is dual use if there is a (sufficiently high) risk that it can be used to design or produce a weapon, or if there is a (sufficiently great) threat that it can be used as an improvised weapon, where in neither case is weapons development the intended or primary purpose. (Forge 2010: 117)
Threats differ from risks here in that they signify the intention to do something harmful, rather than the possibility that something harmful might happen. I have coupled risk with the design of (new) weapons but threats with improvised weapons. States threaten one another, as Iran and Syria are doing at present, though the threat here is usually conditional. However, in regard to dual use, I think we are more concerned at the moment with sub-state actors, such as terrorist organisations, using or adapting existing items for improvised weapons, as has been done with ammonium nitrate, than with states arming themselves with improvised weapons, as states do not usually need to improvise weaponry.
So much by way of background. There have been a number of issues about dual use that have been discussed in the literature, but what is of interest here is whether undertaking dual use research is itself morally wrong, or whether it is morally permissible—taking advantage of dual use research and developing weapons is morally wrong. In the second place, and this is not something discussed elsewhere, are we able to express the notion of dual use with reference to our taxonomy of the purposes of artefacts and is it helpful to do so? There are examples of dual use research in a number of scientific fields, but I will choose one from nuclear physics which took place during the Manhattan Project, namely research which enabled the technologies which produced the fissile material for the bombs. This research also laid the foundation for civilian reactor technology: in fact, Enrico Fermi built the first nuclear reactor to verify that a chain reaction was possible in 1942, and nuclear reactors were built in 1944 to produce plutonium (Forge 2012: 85). The difference between what goes on when an atomic bomb explodes and when a nuclear power reactor operates is that in the former case the chain reaction is uncontrolled and energy is released until the assembly blows apart, while in the latter the energy release is gradual and controlled, heating up water to drive turbines for example. Naturally-occurring uranium will not suffice for either purpose and must be enriched. The science and technology of enrichment, and under certain circumstances the artefacts produced, are dual use. It is necessary to develop the example a little more to see why this is.
Recall that naturally occurring uranium comes in two isotopes: chemically identical species of atom that have different physical properties owing to the presence of differing numbers of neutrons. In the case of uranium, the lesser abundant U-235 is much more fissile, much more apt to fission and release energy, than the more abundant U-238. A sample of uranium metal is said to be enriched if the amount of U-235 is greater than 0.7%, which is the proportion found in nature. The greater the enrichment, the greater the neutron flux, the greater the flow of neutrons in the metal, and the greater the value of the neutron multiplication factor k (see Chap. 2). It is possible in theory to make a nuclear weapon with uranium enriched to a little less than 20% but the accepted practical limit is set at 20%, what is referred to as highly enriched uranium or HEU, when 30 kg of the metal would be needed (Glaser 2017: 8). By contrast, only 2.3 kg of 95% enriched uranium is needed for the same purpose—uranium enriched to 90% or greater is known as military or weapons grade. Civilian power reactors, on the other hand, only require enrichment to about 4%. A civilian power reactor fuel rod is therefore not itself a dual use item because it cannot be used to make a bomb, unless subject to further enrichment. Weapons grade uranium is not suitable for power reactors because the extremely high neutron flux makes bomb making easy but cooling very difficult, so it is not itself a dual use item either. However, there is another sort of reactor, the research reactor, which does require HEU, and hence a sample of HEU is dual a use artefact: it can be used for research or bombs.13
Suppose a 25 kg sample N of uranium enriched to a degree greater than 20%, say 26%, is required and the necessary means to produce N set up and calibrated, and N is duly obtained.14 N is a dual use artefact because it can be used to fashion fuel rods for a research reactor, or, with some ingenuity, to make an atomic bomb. Let us ask: does N have a primary purpose and if so, what is it? The primary purpose cannot be as material for a research reactor or as material for a bomb: if N is fashioned into fuel rods and functions as such, this is not because it is material for a bomb, and if it is made into a bomb, this is not because it is material for fuel rods for a research reactor. The relation is not the same as it is between weapons as the means to harm and weapons as the means for deterrence. There is an alternative possibility. N will have a certain neutron flux, characteristic of 26% enrichment, so consider this to be the primary purpose of the artefact, to have this property. In which case both being material for fuel rods and for bombs stand as derivative purposes. Clearly, having a neutron flux of this value does not presuppose that it can be used for either fuel or for a bomb, but having a neutron flux of this (order of) magnitude is necessary for either function. Now we can ask if this is a useful way to talk about dual use, in terms of primary and derivative purposes.
I believe there are some advantages in so doing. In the first place, it provides an explication of “dual use”: thus an instance of dual use comprises two functional elements that derive from the same primary element, which is to say that the each ‘dual use’ is a derivative purpose. Research can be said to be dual use as a consequence of the primary purpose of its outcome, which in turn enables the derivative, dual use, purposes. In this way we can offer an explanation of why dual use is possible. In our example, and in accordance with the definition given above, the use of N as weapons material is the bad use and as fuel rods for a research reactor the good one. We have seen that the designer is committed to the primary purpose of the artefact that she enables in the sense that this is what the artefact does, but that her motivation can come from the desire to realise a derivative purpose—for example nuclear research for reactor fuel. Dual use is problematic because research that leads to a good use can also lead to a bad use, and the assumption is that the research is motivated by the good use. This is therefore compatible with our views about the motives and intentions of the designer.
Turning to the issue of the morality of dual use research, of research motivated by the good use, I will begin by looking at Seumas Miller’s recent contribution (Miller 2018
). Miller also sees the problem with dual use research in terms of weapons development, and gives a number of examples, including one from the nuclear industry. The weapons he has in mind are all weapons of mass destruction, which raises the stakes beyond the possibility of IEDs made with ammonium nitrate. Miller formulates a principle which forbids this kind of weapons research: he calls this the No Means to Harm (NMH). He says “Roughly speaking, this is the principle not to provide malevolent persons with the means to harm; a principle which is ultimately derived from the more basic principle: Do no harm” (Miller 2018
: 13). NMH is in the ‘spirit’ of WRMR, though I would have liked to see his derivation from the harm principle, which we saw is not particularly easy or straight-forward. Like many others, Miller sees dual use research as giving rise to dilemmas, as follows:
Option 1-Scientists morally ought to conduct research into nuclear fission since it enables the provision of a much needed source of power for civilian purposes.
Option 2-Scientists morally ought not to conduct research into nuclear fission since it led to the creation of the atomic bomb and, ultimately, nuclear weapons capable of destroying humanity (Miller 2018: 12).
Option 2 could be better expressed, though one gets the point. But what is the basis of the obligation to work on the beneficial outcome, is there a principle which obliges scientists to prevent harm or convey benefit?
If there were no such principle, nor any other reason to work on the beneficial aspect of the project, then there would be no dual use moral dilemma: the research would be proscribed on the basis of NMH and there would be no contending principle that promotes and justifies the work. This is precisely the implication of my account of the matter: I see no dilemmas here at all. This, of course, is a consequence of the moral framework adopted in this book which does not prescribe any action that is supposed to bring about good outcomes. I note that Miller does not put forward any such principle either. It is possible to adopt a different moral framework which does oblige people to bring about good outcomes as well as avoid bad ones, such as CP, and dual use dilemmas will only arise in such a context. Dual use research is not weapons research so it is not a main focus of interest here. But the position put forward in Chap. 3 implies that there is a sound moral reason not to conduct dual use research, because it risks weapons development, and since there is no other reason to undertake such work, no moral rule, the present account implies that dual use research is morally wrong.