No one has been more vocal about Chinese nanotech involvement than Russian émigré Lev Navrozov, president of the Center for the
Survival of Western Democracies and author of several columns and a book 
dealing with what he calls the Chinese desire to preserve its present form of government by any means possibleincluding world
domination. As Navrozov explains it, "The national student movement, associated with Tiananmen Square, endangered the Chinese
dictatorship more than any group in Soviet Russia two years later. Yet the Soviet dictatorship fell. What a lesson for the
Chinese dictators! We know authentic information about the Tiananmen Square movement from Zhang Liang's publication "The
Tiananmen Papers," a 514-page collection of Chinese government documents. It is clear that the dictators of China saw how
absolutism was endangered in China and understood that the only way to prevent future Tiananmens was to annihilate the source
of subversion, viz., the West."
Thus, according to Navrozov, Chinese leaders view the West as threat to their own survivaland Chinese dreams of world
domination will remain dreams only so long as U.S. and other nuclear forces remain impervious to certain destruction. If an attack
against the West were launched now, China would be devastated by a massive counterattack employing land-, sea-, and air-launched
nuclear weapons. Because of this, says Navrozov, the will of Chinese leaders is being held hostage to the Cold War stalemate known
as MAD, or mutual-assured destruction. "To avoid the fate of Soviet leaders," says Navrozov, "the Chinese dictators began in 1986
to develop post-nuclear superweapons in seven fields, and molecular nano super-weapons have become the eighth field of Project 863.
(Curiously, the Chinese government's official
863 Program homepage currently lists annual project reports
for 1999, 2000, and 2001but nothing more recent.)
"Post-nuclear superweapons, such as molecular nano superweaponsas strategically superior to nuclear weapons as firearms were
to spears and bows, or as nuclear weapons are to conventional firearms," Navrozov continues, "are expected to solve the
Chinese dictators' problem of annihilation of the West without Western nuclear retaliation. Molecular nano superweapons are
expected to be able to destroy the Western means of nuclear retaliation (such as submarines deep underwater)."
The Chinese strategyagain according to Navrozovis simple: "China's government-controlled "capitalist corporations"
have been penetrating into the entrails of the Western economies, absorbing the latest science and technologyor sometimes
entire Western corporations, induced to operate in China on cheap local labor." Indeed, offshoring/outsourcing/visa-worker
replacement of U.S. white-collar information technology jobs is a major issue in both Silicon Valley and the United States as a
wholeand many of these vanishing American jobs are finding their way to China. Navrozov believes that Chinese leaders hope
to combine nanointelligence gained from Western corporations and perhaps government-funded labs with China's own, considerable
research efforts to gain a decisive nanoadvantage which can be used to intimidate or destroy all Western powers combined.
He points to a document announcing an "international symposium on molecular nanotechnology and self-assembly of
metallo-nanosystems" sponsored by, among others, the People's Liberation Army and the National Defense Science and Engineering
"If the United States developed molecular nano superweapons at least at the same time as China," says Navrozov, seeming to wax
hopeful for an instant, "peace would be ensured through a new mutual assured destructionnot with nuclear, but molecular
nanotech means of retaliation." His mood, however, soon turns gloomy: "But the U.S. progress on molecular nano weapons is
virtually zero: the possibility of molecular nano superweapons has been denied by the U.S. government-funded National
Nanotechnology Initiative, just as the "China threat" has becomefor reasons of commerceunmentionable in the United
States in the 21st century. Why else would there be no official mention of efforts by the largest dictatorship in world history
to develop molecular nano weapons?"back to article index
Understandably, Navrozov's view of the future is dim: "To predict the future, one must delve into the history of China, which was
in some respects freer than the West of the time of the Inquisition, for example, but in other respects was more ruthless than
the West ever was, except in Germany under Nazism. Unless the electoral majority in the West, or at least in the United States,
awakens to the Chinese threatas it did to the German threat in 1939the West is doomed to a Chinese molecular
nano-annihilation, or to colonization." Many of Navrozov's views are summarized in
A Glimpse Into China's Post-Nuclear Super-Weapons: Interview with Lev Navrozov.
Nanopower and Radical Destabilization
The fact that a fully-developed nanotech will enable its wielder to build-and/or destroyanything, anywhere, practically
instantaneouslyraises a host of disturbing possibilities. "It is plausible," says Mark Avrum Gubrud, " that a nation which
gained a sufficient lead in molecular nanotechnology would at some point be in a position to simply disarm any potential
competitors." Or, of course, destroy them. "Somewhere in the back of my mind," says Admiral Jeremiah in his
Nanotechnology and Global Security
address, "I still have this picture of five smart guys from Somalia or some other nondeveloped nation who see the opportunity to
change the world. To turn the world upside down."
How might that happen? Gubrud summarizes the situation in
Nanotechnology and International Security:
"The greatest danger," he relates, "coincides with the emergence of these powerful technologies: A quickening succession of
"revolutions" may spark a new arms race involving a number of potential competitors. Older systems, including nuclear weapons,
would become vulnerable to novel forms of attack or neutralization. Rapidly evolving, untested, secret, and even "virtual"
arsenals would undermine confidence in the ability to retaliate or resist aggression. Warning and decision times would shrink.
Covert infiltration of intelligence and sabotage devices would blur the distinction between confrontation and war. Overt
deployment of ultramodern weapons, perhaps on a massive scale, would alarm technological laggards. Actual and perceived power
balances would shift dramatically and abruptly. Accompanied by economic upheaval, general uncertainty and disputes over the
future of major resources and of humanity itself, such a runaway crisis would likely erupt into large-scale rearmament and
warfare well before another technological plateau was reached."
No nation is remotely prepared for such a scenario, and few are even thinking about it. Military policymakers seem no better
prepared than any other sector of society. This situation cannot stand, for while economic instabilities might be rapidly
corrected through cooperative negotiations, military actions cannot be reversed. As Will Ware notes in
Conflict and Defense in an Age of Nanotechnology,
"Nanotechnology would provide an extremely novel technological shift in weaponry. Such technological
shifts invalidate previously acceptable military policies, and demand the invention of new policies. Any society that fails to
respond to this demand places itself at a grave disadvantage relative to its more adaptive and ambitious neighbors." More than
that, the time to invent and adapt will be shortand trial-and-error may prove fatal to all.
"MNT," observes Thomas McCarthy in
War in the Age of Invisible Machines,
"will change the nature of war in two fundamental ways. One of these is what one would normally expect from a technology that is
so novel and powerful: it will make war far more dangerous and devastating than it has been at any time in the past, due to its
ability to create weapons of extreme destructiveness. The other way is less obvious, but just as real: MNT will make war between
states more likely in the present world system."
The temptation for the world's first nanopower to launch a first strikeand so ensure its perpetual dominance in world
affairswill be considerable, particularly if international relations are less than stable at the time of Breakthrough.
Such a first strike could be limited, or total. Given a sufficiently advanced and well-controlled nanotechnology, no military
response would be possible. Such a strike might happen without bloodshed; weapons could simply be infiltrated and
disabledagain, assuming a sufficiently finessed nanotechnology; a cruder nanotech (which is likely to be developed first)
may allow only total destruction.
Another disturbing possibility is raised by Nick Bostrom, who wrote
Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards:
"While a preemptive disarming strike by the first nanopower is a disturbing possibility, the alternative might be even more
frightening. If two or more nations became locked into a nanotech arms race, it would be extremely dangerous. Such an arms race
might be unstable, so that there is no level of armament at which a second strike capability would be ensured. Instead, the
competing powers may be compelled to constantly escalate their arsenals in order not to fall behind and in effect surrender. The
situation that developed from such an arms race might also be crisis-unstable, meaning that there would be an overwhelming
incentive to strike first in a crisis. Arms race instability combined with crisis instability is a recipe for disaster."
Even if a second strike capability is assured, the risk of accidents remains. Nations, says Bostrom, may intentionally render
their own weapon-control systems risky. Why would any nation do this? "Suppose," Bostrom suggests, "you are a little rogue
nation like North Korea, and you have a very dangerous weapon that you want to use to blackmail the U.S. One thing you could
do would be to say "Pay us $$$ or we will attack you with this weapon." But this threat may not be credible, because the U.S.
may believe that if they don't pay, it will not be in North Korea's interest to attack, since they would then suffer a
devastating counterattack. So instead, North Korea could build a risky control system that has a certain probability of
"accidentally" launching an attack on the U.S., and say "Pay us $$$ and we will make our control system safer, and promise to
refrain from selling the weapon to terrorists or other rogue nations." This threat can be much more credible." Will such nations
acquire nanoweapons? It is impossible to say.
What some have argued, says Foresight's Christine Peterson, "is that it
looks harder to do defense than offense-and this is true for biotech as well. In both cases, advanced computer simulations could
be used to model possible offensive uses and design defenses, which could then be built before problems arise. Many feel that
nanoattack is likely to be easier than nanodefense. And attack capabilities are likely to arrive before a complete
or comprehensive defense is possible, even with computer simulations.
Regarding attack, McCarthy offers a chilling insight. "Clearly," he relates, "the types of weapons described above will make
warfare far more dangerous than it has ever been before. But the weapons themselves, though frightening, should not be our
primary concern. Our primary concern should be the targets of these new weapons, because an advanced manufacturing capability
based on nanotechnology will eliminate two of the traditional targets of military action, factories and weapons, leaving only
one target: people."
Drexler anticipated many of these possibilities in
Engines of Destruction (Chapter 11 of
Engines of Creation): "Able to replicate swiftly,
they [nanites] could become abundant in a matter of days. Able to make almost anything, they could be programmed to duplicate
existing weapons, but made from superior materials.... States could use replicating assemblers to build arsenals of advanced
weapons, swiftly, easily, and in vast quantity. States could use special replicators directly to wage a sort of germ
warfareone made vastly more practical by programmable, computer-controlled "germs." " In summary, he notes, "a state
that makes the assembler [nanite] breakthrough could rapidly create a decisive military forceif not literally overnight,
then at least with unprecedented speed."
Thus, today's military nobodyeven today's Somaliacould become the world's next leading superpower. Could, in fact,
become something incalculably more powerful: the world's first nanopower. Andas noted in the afterword to the author's book
Nano"the first nanopower, if it plays
its cards right, will be the only nanopower, and will remain unchallenged for the foreseeable future. (Assuming there remains a
future to foresee.) In the entire history of the human race, there has never been such a prize for the taking, and there likely
never will be again."
Further, the first nanopower may be, not a nation, or even a corporation, but a small band of scientistsor a single
individual. Again, Bill Joy from
Why The Future Doesn't Need Us:
"Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups....
I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility
spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible
empowerment of extreme individuals."
As CRN's Chris Phoenix elaborates in
Dangers of Molecular Nanotechnology, "Terrorists could have a field
day. Chemical and biological weapons could become much more deadly and much easier to conceal. Many other types of terrifying
devices are possible, including several varieties of remote assassination weapons that would be difficult to detect or avoid. If
such devices were available from a black market or a home factory, it would be quite difficult to detect them before they were
used; a random search capable of spotting them would be a clear violation of current human rights standards in most civilized
countries. Detecting a criminal user after the fact might also be difficult; since many devices can be computer-controlled and
networked, the criminal does not have to be at the scene."
He offers an example: "The smallest insect is about 200 microns; this creates a plausible size estimate for a nanotech-built
antipersonnel weapon capable of seeking and injecting toxin into unprotected humans. The human lethal dose of botulism toxin is
about 100 nanograms, or about 1/100 the volume of the weapon. As many as 50 billion toxin-carrying devicestheoretically
enough to kill every human on earthcould be packed into a single suitcase." And there are toxins more lethal than botulism.
Fixing the problem, says Phoenix, also has its downside: "Many of these problems appear to have an obvious solution. However,
in each case, that solution, applied to the extreme necessary to impact the target problem, would exacerbate another problem
and make the overall situation worse. A collection of extreme solutions will surely be undesirable; it will either be
ineffective (and ineffective policies can still be quite harmful) or will create massive human suffering or human rights
violation." But, given such stakesare nation-states likely balk at human rights concerns?
back to article index