When I'm speaking to groups around the world about the future of nanotechnology, I often will say that CRN has more questions than answers. This means that the issues are highly complex, and that we are still early in the process of understanding all of the factors involved, and still, regrettably, far from the point of having workable and responsible solutions.
One method for thinking about possible solutions is to compare advanced generation nanotech -- molecular manufacturing -- with existing technologies that are dual-use; that is, that can be used for peaceful purposes and to provide civilian benefits, but that also can be used for projecting power through military applications.
An obvious candidate for comparison is nuclear energy. Recently, this very issue was discussed in an editorial on SciDevNet:
A combination of factors appears to be pushing the risk-benefit balance back into nuclear's favour as an energy option for developing countries. . .
Several factors now favour nuclear energy, in both the developed and the developing world. One is that whatever their attraction, renewable energy sources, such as biogas or even solar, are unlikely to meet the energy demands of the world's rapidly growing urban population. . .
None of this is reason for complacency about the dangers of nuclear energy. Many questions remain over how to secure its benefits while reducing its risks to a socially acceptable level.
Perhaps most importantly, the international community must ensure that nuclear material is not diverted towards military ends.
Aye, there's the rub.
Should someone else make these decisions about nuclear power on behalf of developing countries? Or is it something they should be allowed to decide for themselves?
Is it fair or reasonable for the world's most powerful nations to say to one developing country, 'No, you may not', and to a different developing country, 'Yes, you may'?
Is it fair or reasonable for a parent to say to one child, 'No, you may not', and to another child, 'Yes, you may'?
Is there any other choice?