This post is inspired by the very interesting discussion on my recent post, "Is CRN Playing Politics?" For those just joining us, MM stands for molecular manufacturing--a near-future manufacturing system that uses programmable chemistry to go straight from blueprints to immensely powerful products: rapid prototyping on steroids.
One of the most significant questions for MM policy is: Can an arms race based on MM-built weapons possibly be stable? Or will it lead inevitably to dominance by one side--probably preceded by a devastating war? If this is the case, we had better get started today finding ways to avoid entering such a race.
My reasoning is that the nuclear arms race almost led to disaster several times, and the MM arms race would be significantly less stable on every factor I can think of. MM-built weapons compared to nukes would:
1) be faster to develop,
2) be easier to hide (increasing uncertainty),
3) become obsolete far more quickly,
4) be easier to control,
5) do less collateral damage,
6) cause less public horror/outrage (at least the first time),
7) be far more dual-purpose,
8) be far more diverse,
9) be very prone to "limited," "non-lethal," or police use,
10) be very cheap to develop massive forces,
11) affect more aspects of war (causing more panicked policy),
12) proliferate more easily and quickly.
In short, nukes were easier to stockpile than to use; MM-built weapons will be easier to use than to stockpile.
Can anyone give a counter-argument--a scenario by which military competition based on molecular manufacturing could possibly avoid a thoroughly nasty outcome? Nasty not just because of the war; not just because each side but one must lose; but also because the winner will have the ability, and probably the desire, to impose worldwide authoritarian if not totalitarian rule in order to prevent future challenges.
Please, someone, prove me wrong.