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Dual use research

Picture dual use research

Dual-use products can be used to develop highly potent technological weapons, while at the same time being used for completely civil purposes – it is for this reason they are called dual-use products.

Examples of such products include various chemicals, nuclear material and highly technological machine tools. Other examples include medicine, microorganisms (including genetically modified organisms) and technology for the production of such products (including computer software).

The export of (certain) dual-use products is thus regulated not because they are dangerous by definition (such products fall under rules on biosafety), but because they can be used to develop weapons or other destructive objects. Legislation in this area assumes that trade in the majority of cases will be allowed; it is only in exceptional cases that permission is denied. This occurs when there is reasonable suspicion that the products might be used for the wrong reasons.

Swedish and European regulations

In Sweden, the primary regulation in this area consists of Law on control over products with dual-use and over technical assistance (SFS 2000:1064) and the Ordinance on control of products with dual-use and of technical assistance (SFS 2000:1217). These follows Regulation (EC) No 428/2009 of 5 May 2009 setting up a Community regime for the control of exports, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items. Permission for export as well as regulations is issued by the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls, ISP. When potentially serious international threats arise, there exists an obligation for authorities (including universities) to alert the coordinating authority, in Sweden the National Board of Health and Welfare, about the threat.

In the US there is a notion of "deemed export” which means that one equates the transfer of technology and information to a foreign citizen who visits the US with export. Thus a license is needed to do this, for example in teaching. No such system is in place in Sweden, since export here involves transfering technology to a recipient outside the EU. Some exceptions exist: sanctions towards Iran and North Corea. These applies to such material that can be used for nuclear weapons and missiles. But it is also forbidden to give technical assistence related to such materials, which might be applicable to the teaching situation.

Major conventions

In Sweden, the ISP has implemented the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), which came into effect 29 April 1997. The CWC forbids the use and possession of chemical weapons, and contains rules for the destruction of chemical weapons and the facilities used for their production. Furthermore, the CWC mandates the inspection of the chemical industry to prevent any new production of chemical weapons. This inspection consists of the declaration of certain chemical industry facilities, inspections, and export regulation regarding non-CWC countries.

There is also a Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), although it lacks a verification regime (supervising authority).

Last, see United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 which obliges all member states to refrain from supporting by any means non-state actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.

The researcher’s responsibility

While researchers have a legislated responsibility to not spread the above-mentioned products without permission, it has been discussed whether they have a moral responsibility to take further measures. In 2005 in association with the BTWC, an extensive discussion took place regarding the possibility of establishing codes of conduct. In 2002, the WMA produced the Declaration of Washington on Biological Weapons for doctors. The InterAcademy Panel has issued a Statement on Biosecurity, which presents a number of researcher obligations. A Code of Ethics against Misuse of Scientific Knowledge, Research and Resources has come from the International Union of Microbiological Societies (see here also Ethics of synthetic biology from European Group on Ethics and Statement on Realising Global Potential in Synthetic Biology from InterAcademy Panel). One of the most active players is National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, in the US, whose Proposed Framework for the Oversight of Dual Use Life Sciences Research have gained considerable following. Last, some journals have agreed upon some basic principles for how to deal with the publication of potentially dangerous knowledge ('Uncensored exchange').

Last updated: 2020-04-12

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CODEX, Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics, BMC, Husarg. 3, Uppsala | Webmaster | Accessibility statement