Dual Use in Modern Research

Taming the Janus of Technological Advance
  • Panagiotis Kavouras
  • Costas A. CharitidisEmail author
Living reference work entry


Despite the fact that Dual Use (DU) research and related ethical dilemmas are almost as old as modern science, the debate concerning Dual Use issues has been going on with increasing intensity during the first two decades of the new millennium. The anthrax terrorist attacks in 2001 and the experimental derivation of mammalian transmissible H5N1 influenza in 2012 posed as ominous milestones, reflecting the possibility of misuse of technological advances in biotechnology. New discussions among scientists, policy makers, and society are underway, in order to find new solutions to long-standing, acute concerns. In this chapter, we discuss the latest developments in the Dual Use debate, focusing on policy issues concerning the governance of publicly funded Dual Use research.

Potential Dual Use concerns arise when a number of critical decisions must be made, for example, about controlling the balance between openness and confidentiality of research data, about regulating synergies between research for civilian and military applications, and about resolving the conundrum of who is to be held responsible: the individual scientist or the overarching legal framework. This chapter is based on an extensive survey of the relevant literature, including EU and US legal frameworks controlling Dual Use research, and the latest findings of an EU-funded study that has delivered a set of best practices for identifying and assessing Dual Use issues in technological research.


Dual Use Dual Use synergies Research and development Risk Threat Export control Open data Research governance 


While not named as such until recently (Resnik 2009), the Dual Use (DU) dilemma or, even more DU research, is not new. The term “ethical dilemma” of DU research refers to the fact that a critical decision must be made by the research enterprise, in order to strike the right balance between the benefits of a new technological advance and the dangers it might bring, if used to create harm, intentionally or unintentionally. The possibility of DU can, in principle, be found in almost every scientific and technological leap forward; however, DU is not necessarily ethically problematic, e.g., when both uses are for benevolent purposes. This chapter deals with a study of DU, when both benevolent and malevolent applications emerge from a single technology.

The DU phenomenon has been variously defined. However, there is agreement in a core idea: the very same scientific knowledge and/or technology and/or items can be used for good and bad purposes. A socially acceptable purpose was, traditionally, considered that of research targeting civilian applications. However, military use for purely defensive reasons can be also considered as good purpose, at least according to the European Commission’s (EC) wording. On the contrary, the term bad purpose refers to research that can potentially and without significant effort be used for terrorist or criminal action, offensive military applications, or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. While DU research is defined as research yielding new technologies with the potential for both benevolent and malevolent applications, life sciences research specifically use the term DU Research of Concern (DURC). DURC is a subset of DU research defined as life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, material, or national security (Casadevall et al. 2015).

Some recent publications propose alternative approaches or more implicit definitions of DU. For example, Imperiale and Casadevall (2015) have set a framework within which DU issues can be managed in a more effective way, since it provides a synthesis of the progress that has been made during the past decade. These authors consider that the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) definition offers a major step forward, i.e., that research related to the development of new technologies and the generation of information with the potential for benevolent and malevolent purposes is referred to as DU research. However, this definition requires an assessment that cannot be effectively made by journal editors and Biosafety Committees. Imperiale and Casadevall (2015) have set five pillars for evaluating research that better define the issues at hand and promote a safer research for infectious diseases:
  1. 1.

    Definition of the medical and scientific problems that need to be solved to protect humanity from pandemic threats

  2. 2.

    Acknowledgment that research has inherent risks that can be minimized but never fully abolished

  3. 3.

    Acknowledgment that, although risks and benefits posed by certain experiments are difficult to quantify, efforts must be made to assess the risks and benefits

  4. 4.

    Development of new biosafety approaches, including safer laboratory strains, careful attention to protocol, and constant improvement of infrastructure

  5. 5.

    Creation of a national board to vet issues related to research with dangerous pathogens


Additions to the present definition of DU have been made by Van der Bruggen (2012), who argues that, in addition to more technical aspects, a definition of DU should include the aspect of threats and intentions. This is important, since, according to the author, this approach will give guidance to policy makers on how to strike the right balance for ensuring security while avoiding undesirable governmental interventions in the conduct of science. Kuhlau et al. (2011) study whether current definitions of the precautionary principle are applicable and suitable to the field of DU life sciences research. The reverse DU dilemma is defined as “the disruptive impact of spill over into the civilian sector of technology developed by the military for legitimate national security purposes” (Marchant and Gulley 2010). DU research was investigated in other scientific disciplines, and 21 different definitions of DU research can be found, from which someone can spot “discipline sensitive” variations in the DU concepts, suggesting that broader conceptualizations of DU research are needed (Oltmann 2015).

In this chapter, we use the term DU to refer to research and technologies that, without much effort, can be used for both beneficial and harmful purposes.


DU research has been connected with landmark scientific and technological advances in the twentieth century, especially after World War II. However, there are cases even before World War I. For example, the well-known Haber-Bosch process, invented in 1910, led to the large-scale synthesis of ammonia. This process was the base for the industrial-scale production of fertilizers and explosives. It is worth mentioning that nitrogen fertilizers are still the base for the food production for half of the world’s current population.

An emblematic case, transcending the era between the two world wars, is nuclear science and technology that produced the nuclear reactor, with obvious peaceful applications, and the nuclear bomb that jeopardized the very existence of human civilization. Another case of a scientific field with obvious DU implications is genetics, in the twentieth century, and genomics in the twenty-first century. Rocket science and jet propulsion are technological fields that matured during, and because of, the Cold War. Cases of specific technological breakthroughs with DU implications, which were based on developed scientific fields, put in parentheses, were the invention of laser (quantum mechanics), microwaves (electromagnetism) and glass ceramic materials (materials science).

Figure 1 depicts a timeline of DU scientific fields, technologies, and specific breakthroughs during the twentieth century. The world had to experience cataclysmic events, like World War II, or traumatic events, like the Cuban missile crisis and an imminent thermonuclear war in 1962, before governments of the most powerful states started taking specific governance measures. Figure 2 presents an overview of export control regimes and treaties mainly concerned with the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Fig. 1

Timeline of DU technologies

Fig. 2

Timeline of the DU governance. Export control regimes are shown above the timeline, whereas Treaties and UNSCR are reported below the timeline. (Based on Cirigliano et al. 2017)

Sources of DU concerns, like nuclear technology and genetics, gained prominence in public awareness during the twentieth century but nowadays have been overshadowed by other, more acute, concerns: the anthrax terrorist attacks in 2001; the production of a superstrain of mousepox, again in 2001; the artificially synthesized polio virus, in 2002; the reconstruction of the Spanish flu virus, in 2005 (Selgelid 2007); and the experimental derivation of mammalian transmissible H5N1 influenza, in 2012. All of these brought about, in the most emphatic way, the potential dangers within the life sciences and adjacent disciplines, like biotechnology and synthetic biology. History is repeated, like in the case of industrial chemistry at the dawn of twentieth century. Then, the controversy was between the manufacturing of fertilizers or explosives; now the controversy is between creating new medicine and lethal biological weapons.

The stakes are high, since the production of biological weapons is relatively easy and inexpensive, in comparison to nuclear weapons. The buildup of a medium-yield nuclear device needs a tremendous quantity of fissionable isotopes of uranium or plutonium, produced by enormous chemical plants that use gigantic amounts of electrical energy. Additionally, the technology behind each step of the production of a nuclear device was and remains highly classified. On the contrary, the details about how to produce lethal biological agents are readily available in published scientific literature; all someone needs is an easy-to-build biological laboratory. As a result, the DU dilemma has gone beyond the civilian-military dipole; it now has to include misuse and abuse of scientific research by terrorist groups and criminal organizations. The certainties, together with the dangers, of the Cold War/Balance of Superpowers era have been dissolved into a world of uncertainties and asymmetric threats.

Publications on DU: The Implications

In scientific journals, publications on DU issues began to appear relatively late. The authors surveyed DU-related literature in the Scopus database, using the keyword “Dual Use” in the Article Title search field and in other bibliographic fields, namely, Abstract and Keywords.

DU publications were categorized into the following main categories:
  • General

  • DU Ethics and Philosophy

  • Policy/Governance

  • Specific DU Technologies

  • Education on DU

This is not, by any means, a unique categorization of DU literature. Moreover, in some cases, a specific publication can well appear in more than one category.
The General category contains articles helpful to understand the evolution of the DU concept, while the category DU Ethics and Philosophy contains publications that shed light into the deeper and subtler concepts of DU, the relevant philosophical implications and ethical dimensions, the latter generally connected to research ethics concerns. The Policy/Governance category contains articles that map and study the regulation and governance of the relevant research, export regulations, and guidelines for publishing and patenting the research, items, and intellectual property. The Specific DU Technologies category contains articles that give a valuable overview of the specific DU concerns with respect to different technologies, e.g., synthetic biology, immunology, biosecurity, radar and telecommunications, nanotechnology, and laser technology. Finally, the Education category contains articles targeted at university students and researchers that focus on the need for short curricula on DU issues. Figure 3 shows a diagram of the relative size of the number of publications in each category.
Fig. 3

Thematic composition of the DU-related literature

Key Issues

The DU Dilemma

The key dilemma in DU research results from the potential conflict between freedom of research without necessarily giving due attention to the incipient dangers and the duty to avoid causing harm, which requires a careful assessment of the risks caused by research and, as a result, leads to imposing a restrictive framework upon scientists (Miller and Selgelid 2007). Together with this cardinal issue, another equally important one is: Who is going to resolve the above dilemma, the research enterprise or policy makers?

The complexity of the research enterprise, which involves different stakeholders and sensitive relations with external decision-making mechanisms, like governments, makes it difficult to answer the question. To be clear, the research enterprise is constituted by all stakeholders related to scientific research, i.e., its scientific workforce, funding and administration mechanisms, and communication. An indicative, yet not necessarily exhaustive, list of stakeholders includes professional researchers, universities (higher education entities), research institutes, funding bodies, research appraisal committees, academies of science, professional associations, learned societies, transnational science/research foundations, research integrity committees (at the institutional, regional, national, and transnational level), and publishing houses. In such a multi-actor enterprise, with a complex structure and interdependent relations between all actors, it is challenging to draft a common set of guidelines, which, among others, will define responsibilities.

Giving to the research enterprise, the responsibility to self-regulate requires that all related stakeholders, all over the world and throughout all scientific disciplines, agree on a common set of principles and guidelines, related to research ethics and integrity. This is very difficult by default, considering that even in a relatively homogeneous region in terms of scientific traditions such as Europe, existing codes of conduct tend to set only a generic framework, e.g., the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (ALLEA 2017), not to mention that issues of research ethics and integrity are currently a matter of intense research and debate.

In Europe, the European Commission H2020 framework program, through the Science with and for Society call (H2020-SwafS-2018–2020), is currently funding projects that study a wide array of related issues, e.g., clinical ethics (i-CONSENT), research ethics guidelines for genomics and human enhancement (SIENNA), and production of research integrity guidelines for non-medical sciences (PRO-RES). Such projects are bound to involve a wide array of stakeholders from the research enterprise, despite the fact that a consensus is not necessarily guaranteed.

Moreover, before passing on the responsibility for regulating research solely to policy makers, we must consider the fact that it is not possible to have deep insights into potential DU or any other kind of ethical implications of cutting-edge research, due to lack of necessary anticipatory knowledge or foresight.

For some experts the two questions address the same issue from different perspectives (Dubov 2014): deciding to safeguard the freedom of research is the same as giving the responsibility of decision to the research enterprise; deciding to avoid the risks of causing harm is the same as giving the responsibility of decision to policy makers (Salloch 2018). Other experts urge policy makers to empower and engage the public, so that they can challenge decisions regarding the development and application of DU technologies and could help to construct a scientific road map (Mark 2010).

From the researchers’ perspective, individual scientists should be able to decide what types of research not to undertake and, in cases of ongoing research, which results to avoid publicizing. Research institutions, like universities, should develop a monitoring system for potentially dangerous research activities by their members/employees. Professional societies must have an influence on the development and implementation of ethical codes of conduct and play an important role in the education of their members. Publishers should decide whether scientific results are to be communicated to the scientific community, and their decisions should not be solely based on scientific quality but also consider the incipient threats they create, due to DU implications (Salloch 2018).

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) brings about a guiding set of principles that can help through policy and regulatory dilemmas arising from the fields of technology and science, whose impacts are poorly characterized or are highly uncertain. Moreover, RRI also asks and seeks to answer the question: “What sort of future do we collectively want to create for Europe?” (Owen et al. 2012). The RRI framework, which appeared in Europe and is currently being studied and applied mainly in Europe, provides significant guidance that should be taken into account by European research projects.

From the policy-making perspective, national governments should decide on research funding and legal controls, regarding potentially dangerous materials and technologies. Despite the important “harmonizing” role of the EC, national governments in Europe still play a decisive role in decision-making in matters of research governance and regulation. National regulatory frameworks on research integrity are still highly inhomogeneous throughout Europe (Godecharle et al. 2013), reflecting the different approaches of national governments. Alternatively, international and transnational bodies can build global policies, with respect to the threat of bioterrorism and bio-warfare. An analogous approach with nuclear technology could be implemented, with international treaties setting the framework within which DURC research should be implemented.

Self-regulation and statutory legal control should not be considered mutually exclusive. Additionally, the representatives of free research and the representatives of security do not belong to two opposing approaches of research governance. For example, experts from science can well be placed in policy-making roles. In fact, DU dilemmas are often the result of the merging of the concerns of researchers and policy makers; in this sense, knowledge between scientists and policy makers must flow freely, since policy makers are not aware of all aspects of a new technology and scientists are not necessarily aware of the security issues raised by a scientific breakthrough.

The case of the mousepox study offers a useful illustration. Australian scientists genetically engineered the mousepox virus to develop an immunocontraceptive. To their surprise, they accidentally produced a superstrain of mousepox that killed both naturally resistant and vaccinated mice. The scientists who conducted this research lacked security clearance and were systematically denied access to information essential to assessing the security risks of the relevant publication. Since academic researchers do not have deep knowledge of security studies, assessing the dangers of publishing the mousepox study may have been beyond their expertise. As a result, they could not assess the risks produced by their research (Selgelid 2009). On the other hand, policy-making bodies with access to sensitive information about security risks cannot single-handedly determine the DU potential in advanced areas or research, where the realization of incipient risks is connected to the deep understanding of the science behind of a novel technology.

The balance between freedom of research and security must be reflected in the sharing of responsibilities that finally should be jointly taken by the research enterprise and policy makers. This sharing of responsibilities must be guided by the principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence. Analogously, the responsibility to keep up with DU implications must be shared by the individual scientist and the overarching legal framework, under the following conditions: scientists must be properly trained, in order to be able to discern DU implications, and legal frameworks must be drafted in cooperation with actors of the research enterprise and policy making.

Publication of DU-Related Research

Within the scientific community, the main communication channel of novel research results and technologies is publication in scientific journals. This means that the issues raised by publication of DU-related research are very important. Editors contribute to the creation of journal policies and make publication decisions. As a result, they have a central role in managing the potential dangers of publishing DU-related scientific research that can be misused, for example, by terrorist groups or criminal organizations. Despite the fact that over the last two decades there was a prevalence of DU concerns within the life sciences, almost all other scientific disciplines, according to journal editors, also raised DU concerns (Oltmann 2015).

A relatively recent survey on editors’ attitudes and experiences in monitoring the review process of DU-related research was conducted among 127 chief editors of life sciences journals from 27 countries (Patrone et al. 2012). The survey reported that fewer than one out of ten editors had any experience with biosecurity review and that no manuscript was rejected on biosecurity grounds. These results were in striking difference with the fact that 75% of the editors agreed that consideration of biosecurity risks during the review process is imperative. Moreover, the survey showed a lack of consensus among editors on how to handle specific issues in the review and publication of research with potential DU implications.

Publication of underlying research data, as supportive material, is gaining ground as part of the data sharing procedures promoted by the EC, according to the Open Research Data Pilot (Article 29.3). Specifically, participants in projects that are being funded by Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, are encouraged to upload their publications in electronic repositories, such as Zenodo, accessible through the OpenAIR portal. This portal is an entry point for linking publications to underlying research data that must be findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. The concept of DU is valuable when reflecting on what procedures must be implemented when deciding when the underlying data are going to be openly communicated, analogously with the discussion about the procedures to publish DU-related publications. Research data should be treated as carefully and cautiously as a scientific publication or an artifact with DU potential. When developing future DU/data sharing controls and educational initiatives, it is important to address this issue in a manner that supports the openness and freedom of research without overlooking the responsibility to consider potential risks or the legal obligation to share data. Further debate will be useful to examine how DU and data sharing initiatives can be reconciled, so as to give scientists a frame of ethical norms, with regard to their data (Bezuidenhout 2013).

An example can be given, concerning the 2011–2012 controversy involving the H5N1 papers. The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) instituted an ad hoc process for reviewing manuscripts with potential DU content (Casadevall et al. 2015). Since then, the process of reviewing such manuscripts has become more formal, involving three distinct phases: screening, discussion, and decision. The screening phase is designed to identify manuscripts that require discussion rapidly and unobtrusively. It takes as a starting point the author-declared information in the submission cover letter, which can alert journal editors and reviewers to the need to consider biosafety and biosecurity issues in evaluating the work. At the discussion phase, members of the ASM Responsible Publication Committee (ARPC) read the manuscript and interact via e-mail, which can lead to a teleconference if issues requiring more in-depth discussion have been recognized. Finally, at the decision phase, ARPC decides to accept, reject, redact, or publish. This decision must be accompanied with the rationale, describing the evaluation process and elaborating the biosafety and biosecurity risk mitigation in place and highlighting the benefits of the research.

Current Debate

Regarding DU research governance, the basic concern of the EC nowadays is the regulation of the synergies between research for civilian and research for military applications. By promoting DU synergies, the EC seeks the potential application of technologies beyond their originally intended use, i.e., transform a military technology into a civilian application or vice versa. This issue cannot be approached solely by arguments based upon ethical reflection (Ehni 2008; Pustovit and Williams 2010), professional codes (Salloch 2018), or security guidelines. The “flow of information” connected with DU synergies has significantly changed since the beginning of the twentieth century. Until the 1960s, knowledge and technology were mainly flowing from the military to the civilian research sector. The pillars of innovative research at that time were nuclear technology, jet propulsion, and rocket science that were principally designated for military uses. During the 1970s the flow of knowledge and technology was balanced, while during the 1990s, this trend was completely reversed, i.e., technology for civilian purposes was used for military applications (Williams-Jones et al. 2014). As described above, this is important, since the research for civilian applications is, by default, more openly disseminated than the research for military application. This renders the former more susceptible to misuse, something that had not happened with, e.g., nuclear technology, which was considered, by default, top secret.

This global trend of fertilizing military research from research for civilian applications is not being closely followed in Europe; H2020 legislation raises barriers to the use of scientific results and technology for military applications. Due to this fact and also due to the significant reduction in defense expenditures in Europe, caused by the economic crisis, there are concerns that Europe’s competitors are gaining ground in their relative military strength and high-technology army capabilities. According to a recently published discussion paper from “Friends of Europe” think tank (, Europe’s leading place in innovation at all levels is jeopardized by the segmentation of civil and military research (Cami 2015). Considering that “Friends of Europe” strives to make a contribution toward a better understanding of the challenges facing Europe and its citizens, such concerns are sensible. From a historical point of view, a country which experiences a cutback in expenditure in research will suffer a decline in its military might relative to rival countries (Kennedy 1989; de Grass-Tyson and Lang 2018). The need for a “renovated” regulatory framework for DU research permeates a recently published report on responsible DU, published by the Human Brain Project‘s Ethics and Society division (Aicardi et al. 2018). There, it is pointed the fact that a clear ethical distinction between civilian and military uses based on existing arguments is not appropriate or helpful. On the basis of this and other considerations, the authors of the report have drafted a number of recommendations for the EU, in an effort to update the whole regulatory framework for DU research.

Bridging the Civil-Military Research Divide

The segmentation of civil and military research reflects not only the intrinsic ambiguity between openness of scientific research for civil applications and secrecy of military classified research. It also reflects existing differences, regarding the scope of end products that lead to differences in product lifetime, development specificity, and motivations for technical change. For example, products for civil applications usually have a more limited lifetime; a computer screen is obsolete after a few months in use, while the head-up display of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft remains fully operational for years. The relatively high specificity of military products is imposed by the fact that in-house production is preferred, for purely strategic reasons (Droff, 2014). For such reasons, the civil and military research and, even more, industrial sectors are functioning in different pace, with the civilian-oriented research taking the lead after the 1970s (Williams-Jones et al. 2014).

Seen from a historical perspective, roughly in the 1980s, DU synergies were consciously promoted by countries representing completely different political and economic systems. China’s and the Soviet Union’s industrial structures, overwhelmingly military in character, started moving toward more balanced technology expenditures. Japan followed an analogous trend, from the opposite side, i.e., departing from an industrial structure focused on civilian market. The USA laid somewhere in between, with DU synergies more developed. The space exploration programs pose a well-known example (de Grass-Tyson and Lang 2018; ISECG 2013). Information on new NASA technology that may be useful to industries is available in periodical and website form in “NASA Tech Briefs” (NASA 2007), while successful examples of commercialization are reported annually in the NASA publication “Spinoffs” (NASA 1976). Taking into account the everyday civil applications that came out from NASA’s space programs, it can be assumed that the abandonment of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program did not affect only defense-/military-related industries. It is likely that a whole array of DU technologies would have developed with an unprecedented pace, like missile, laser, sensor, and computing technology, should SDI had come into being.

In Europe, the former European Community (later the European Union) although a purely civilian organization by charter launched research programs such as the European Strategic Program on Research and Information Technology to support technologies of a DU nature. The global trend during the 1990s was the forging of the industrial technology base of that time, in order to support both economic growth and military security.

The need to boost DU synergies is a policy reaction to two major market movements: globalization of the market and manufacturing systems and the leadership of civilian technology developments in many military industrial sectors (Watkins 1990). Research and Innovation (R&I) claim ever-increasing funding, while product lifetimes become shorter, e.g., in computer and consumer electronics (smartphones, wearables, etc.). In order to successfully amortize the ever-increasing product costs, manufacturers are struggling to expand markets to achieve economies of scale. That signals the effort to increase profit by reducing the price of a unit of product through increasing the size of the market they reach.

The export control used until the 1980s that was often used as a pretext to avoid share state of the art technology by powerful countries like the USA, cannot keep up with the rapid pace of technological advances and their almost immediate application to commercial products. Currently, the security concerns raised by existing or incipient DU synergies are overshadowed by the economic benefit the military will have from an increasing reliance on advances in civilian technologies.

A crucial factor for bridging the gap between civil and military research and industrial sectors is the diffusion and sharing of technology. It has been proposed that technology sharing and diffusion would be more effectively supported with a policy shift from fostering DU synergies for specific technologies to a harmonization of structures and cultures of civilian and military systems of research and industry (Watkins 1990). More specifically, by minimizing the differences in funding procedures and by bridging the different approaches to secrecy of the military and civil research would render technologies “DU by design”, since both sides of the DU controversy would be made mutually compatible.

There have been suggestions, from the policy recommendations point of view, that DU synergies be based on measures that transcend the research enterprise or industry (Cami 2015). DU synergies will have to do with creating an environment designed to satisfy industry’s needs, without necessarily distinguishing between the civilian and military sectors. This is clearly a far-reaching if achievable goal: it requires education systems, defense procurement, and export control policies. Watkins (1990: 398) claims that this kind of synergetic development of civil and military research and industrial sectors will be facilitated by “increasing the general level of technical, managerial, and organizational skills, and by increasing the opportunities for the free exchange of ideas among firms and between industrial sectors by minimizing the institutional barriers between them.”

Quantifying DU Synergies

A number of studies concerned with patents of DU-related research help to quantify the benefits of DU synergies. Lee and Sohn (2017) explore whether military technology with a higher level of duality has been more valuable than that with a lower level of duality. For this study, military patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office during 1976–2014 have been used as a sample. It was found that military technologies are more valuable when the technology itself can be used in various sectors, including the civilian sector, and can be converged with technologies in different fields. However, it was also found that the relation between patent value and diffusion effects toward following inventions is not confined to the civilian sector. The findings provide evidence of the impact of DU policies in military R&I. Despite the fact that the USA is the undisputed leader in military R&I patent, the close connection of DU policies and patent production also concerns Europe; the combined Europe’s output in military patents reaches almost one third of that of the USA (numbers shown in Fig. 4). It must be stressed that more than half of registered patents have both a military and a civil classification, especially in the case of the USA (Acosta et al. 2017).
Fig. 4

Nationality of applicants of military R&D patents from 1976 to 2014. (Based on Lee and Sohn 2017)

The “composition” of technological knowledge produced by leading companies in the defense industry has also been examined (Acosta et al. 2017). Specifically, the question was whether large defense companies producing civilian, military, and mixed patents are generating DU technologies. The results showed that while the production of civilian patents is relative to the size of the company, this relationship does not hold for the production of military patents. An examination of the production of technological knowledge by leading companies in the defense industry shows that firms engaged in DU research have higher military sales, a greater number of employees, and a larger number of patents than those that are not. Firms engaged in DU refer to firms that take advantage of research initially carried out for civilian purposes and transfer in for military purposes and vice versa. More involvement in DU per employee in European firms compared to US firms was also found, meaning a greater technological productivity of European firms engaged in DU research. These findings help to identify which firms should be targeted by government policies if increasing DU technologies become a political objective.

Politically, governments determine the direction of defense and civilian technology through public expenditure, and governmental support is a key factor in taking concrete actions to exploit the DU potential of research, e.g., by developing innovative projects that are based on maximizing DU synergies in both directions between civil and defense research. In this respect, better knowledge of the characteristics of firms engaged in the production of different types of technologies and DU products may help identify which companies should be targeted. Defense firms may be interested in communicating not only their figures as defense suppliers but also their role as contributors of technologies that might be used by civilians as well. Including information about the DU of defense technology or the technological knowledge generated by a firm in its corporate social responsibility (CRS) report could be useful in stressing their contribution to public ends. This issue is particularly relevant because defense firms have been typically excluded from CSR.

The potential civil use of military-oriented research was explored by a quantitative analysis based on the number of citations a military patent received in subsequent patents, out of a pool of 582 military patents (Acosta et al. 2010). Attention was paid to the type of the citing patents, i.e., civilian or military use. According to this study:
  • The most patented military technology corresponds to applications with DU potential.

  • The most cited technology is of the mixed type (both civil and military codes).

  • Concerning the technological uses of military patents, 25% are mixed (civil and military) and 38.7% exclusively civil.

  • The original patents of the mixed type (civil and military) are those that receive the largest number of civil technology citations.

  • The country that makes the greatest use of military technology for civil purposes is the USA, followed by Germany.

  • The nationality of the military patent and that of the citing patent is a determining factor for its civil use; British, French, and US military patents are the most cited for civil uses, while Japanese patents are those that make the greatest civil use of all the military patents.

Besides the quantitative results found in published studies, the JANUS project (Charitidis 2018) – the latest EC funded project that has drafted a set of best practices for boosting DU synergies – delivered a set of best practices for identifying and assessing the DU issues in enabling technologies research. JANUS presented an overview of the basic arguments in favor of DU research, as appeared in the literature. It is evident that the arguments directly relate to financial issues or to issues connected with expanding technological applications which indirectly raises again financial issues.

Anticipated Outcomes

DU synergies are not an abstract concept; to boost them, mainly in Europe, the barriers that keep apart civil and military research should be lowered or rendered permeable. The barriers have been raised from both sides, as described above, while it is generally recognized that there is a lack of awareness and information on the advantages of DU synergies. The legal framework regulating the interaction should be tuned with a view to the anticipated results. According to recent literature and studies financed by the European Commission, several other aspects must be addressed as well (Charitidis 2018).

There is a persistent need to boost dissemination and networking between the civil and military research establishments, while the need for open access to research data is pressing its way, mainly from the side of the researchers, finding themselves in both sides of the DU controversy. Effective dissemination and networking must take into account existing difficulties, among them psychological barriers, diverse mind-sets, and differences between civil and military research funding structure, produced by the scale and pace of the civil and military market. In the following paragraphs, we provide an overview of measures that can be materialized into best practices aiming to boost DU synergies.

Dissemination and Networking

Networking of SMEs oriented to DU research with academic groups oriented to civilian research would boost the exchange of knowledge. For example, results not included in the scientific literature will most possibly remain below the radar of a wide scientific audience. For such networking to become feasible, organization of conferences dedicated to DU research and establishment of a DU-oriented cluster/council would provide a stable basis for DU-related knowledge brokering. Those kinds of events would facilitate the exposure of researchers to military decision-makers. Currently, one of the barriers for such an exposure is the exceptionally high costs of displaying DU results at military trade fairs.

Open Access on Data

The scientific community is reluctant to share data, even in projects undertaking research for civilian purposes. Freely accessible database(s) of project results, following the FAIR principles, must be created for DU-related projects. Moreover, confidentiality restricts publication of results and data, since the military establishment is extremely restrictive insofar as its research is usually considered to be classified. This might lead to duplication of work, which must be resolved, even if not necessarily, by following the Open Access initiative (i.e., the practice of providing online access to scientific information that is free of charge to the end user and reusable) of Horizon 2020 (H2020 2017). “Scientific information” refers to either peer-reviewed scientific research articles or research data (data underlying publications, curated data, and/or raw data). Novel means to share DU-related data must be urgently found and tested, since the open dissemination of scientific information, as described above, could potentially raise serious threats, if not combined with the appropriate safeguards.

Synergies Between Military and Civilian Sector

Existing differences in mind-setting create communication difficulties. Research for military purposes takes risks with a try-and-fail mentality, whereas research for civilian purposes has access to fewer resources and, consequently, cannot take such risks. Scientists who conduct research for civilian purposes find it difficult to work directly with military contractors. The military establishment is usually reluctant to accept technologies not specifically developed for military use because technologies for civil applications either have been openly disseminated through the channels of scientific literature or, in case of patented research, have been replicated relatively quickly. This threatens sensitive defense applications:
  • In cases of DU research, it must be clear what the final military end use might be. Furthermore, a restrictive line should be drawn for certain applications. For example, when a civil-oriented research result could be used without significant additional research effort and resources as a weapon of mass destruction, then the specific research should not be openly disseminated before the necessary safeguards have been put into place by security experts and policy makers.

  • European policies for the engagement of DU-related SMEs are not as inclusive as those in countries like the USA, according to the findings of the JANUS project. The researchers interviewed believe that a change in defense policies is needed.

  • The defense practice, i.e., the road map for defense-oriented technological needs, must be disseminated to DU-oriented SMEs so that they will clearly discern in which kind of research they are involved.

  • Investment on DU resources and skills for public security and defense sector is necessary.

  • Creation of training programs for researchers in civilian and defense sectors for DU and, as a result, creation of a common scientific and research culture between these two sectors are recommended.

Such developments are bound to produce a mind shift in the whole research community that will base the acknowledgment of DU issues on well-informed researchers.

Legal Framework

A legal framework composed of “static” regulations about DU will soon become impractical, if not obsolete, as new technologies arise. Provision must be made for constant monitoring of how effective the regulations are with regard to emerging cases, such as progress in nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and crisis/disaster incidents. Emerging cases give rise to new challenges, such as higher uncertainty to risk assessment and poorly assessed impacts, that must be taken into account by the relevant regulations. Additionally, there is need for an active group to monitor the projects that might raise these concerns: the group’s opinions must be reflected in the amended regulations and guidance notes. Regulations and guidelines need to be simple and transparent.

Many experts have detected a lack of detail and clear definition of the different terms used. Moreover, while some of the calls on security are clearly targeted at improving methods for the prevention of terrorism, suicide bombing, explosive production, etc., the current framework appears to discourage the interaction between researchers for civil applications and researchers for defense/military applications. The development of effective means of prevention should be welcomed and encouraged, especially since the military sector is interested in H2020 research that involves bomb factory detection, etc. SME ethical self-monitoring must be supervised by a higher authority, with the mandate to impose sanctions.

Set of Guidelines

The following set of guidelines has been composed by the JANUS project. The guidelines are oriented to three groups of stakeholders: policy makers, project beneficiaries, and project officers and expert evaluators and monitors and ethical screening committees. An overview of the best practices, targeted to different actors, follows.

Policy Makers

  • A new description of the DU aspect is needed. DU should not be considered a “by default” negative concept – DU should stand as a neutral descriptor of a specific research – it will just describe a potential added value, since it can have a double impact. Regulations and guidelines need to be simple and transparent.

  • A training workshop on DU issues needs to be included during a kickoff meeting of projects with DU potential, in order for all partners to become aware of possible ethical implications within a project with special emphasis on DU concepts.

  • The European Commission should establish clearly DU-oriented calls, i.e., containing topics relative to DU technologies, in order to encourage DU synergies. A special monitoring committee will supervise the implementation of the research in order to avoid potential risks.

  • The involvement of entities from the security, defense, and civil sector and academia should be encouraged or even imposed at consortia undertaking DU-oriented research.

Project Beneficiaries and Project Officers

  • DU projects should boost the visibility of their results so as to increase synergies between DU-oriented entities.

  • The applicants of DU-related research should clearly describe at the proposal the impact of their work on both civilian and military sectors.

  • Project officers must encourage matchmaking activities between DU-oriented entities.

  • At least one dissemination activity in a defense conference/exhibition should be foreseen in the submitted proposals.

  • All DU-related projects should have a dedicated website, so as to raise public awareness on the benefits of the ongoing research.

Expert Evaluators and Monitors and Ethical Screening Committees

  • The potential military end use must be clearly described. If the produced knowledge is expected to be easily implemented, a dedicated board of experts must monitor, on a constant base, the progress of the research and decide whether special measures should be taken in order to avoid potential misuse.


DU research, technologies, and artifacts can be regarded as inherent to the human endeavor of scientific and technological advance. DU concerns do not pose as a special issue that needs attention in some cases but rather as an omnipresent necessity to safeguard the beneficial role of science toward society. DU concerns are not static; they evolve together with science and technology, but they are also heavily affected by economic and political changes. The rise of genomics and synthetic biology, the widening division of labor, and the wave of political changes that swept Eastern Europe, all taking place during the last quarter of the twentieth century, have left a heavy mark on today’s modus operandi of the research enterprise. DU concerns can neither be focused only on the regulation of export controls of specific items/artifacts, like during the Cold War era, nor be limited to the dipole of civil versus military technology, another side effect of the balance of superpowers era. DU is perhaps the most complex, controversial, and difficult issue among the multitude of research ethics concerns. It entails deep knowledge of cutting-edge science, technology assessment, risk analysis, economic trends, and geopolitical shifts. It requires the concerted effort of the research enterprise and governance stakeholders to resolve it: to strike the right balance between the freedom of research without compromising security and without withholding cross fertilization of technology between civil and military research and industrial sectors. Currently, it is evident that we need more transparent research on both sides of the DU dilemma. Succeeding in doing so is succeeding in rendering legal frameworks more competent against misuse or abuse of research results and, at the same time, allowing a more efficient scientific and technological advance. It will surely be a difficult process, but, eventually, it is our safest resort to tame the Janus of technological advance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemical EngineeringR-Nanolab, National Technical University of AthensAthensGreece

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