Converting military technology in support of sustainable development

One area where a conversion strategy is particularly useful concerns efforts to achieve sustainable development. Of all military capacities, "technologies qualify most for environmental use", especially those which are inherently dual-use. Major areas in this regard include information technologies, materials, aerospace, space and energy. In this context, the reallocation of skills and capabilities from military to environmental tasks is needed, particularly in areas such as environmental monitoring, chemical analysis, cartography, medicine, microbiology and radiology. The transfer of such scientific and technological capacities at the disposal of the military to environmental applications encompasses several dimensions, particularly, (a) the need to redesign technologies to be suited to new applications; (b) the physical transfer to locations where the technologies are needed (including other countries); and (c) cooperation between the government-directed military and the private sector in the commercialization of technologies.

The opportunities for conversion are seen both from the point of view of better and more efficient use of scientific and technological capacities of the military for the development of environmentally sound technologies, on the one hand, and repairing the current environmental damage, including that caused by previous military activities on the other hand.

Modern military establishments "have developed highly sophisticated techniques and technologies such as sensors, platforms, satellites, computers, communication networks, global positioning systems, and exercises for simulation and modelling". In some instances, environmental applications have either already been undertaken or are under way. In others, the underlying technology can be adapted. Information technology, in particular, seems to be adaptable for environmental purposes. Resources currently used by the military could be applied to protect, restore and improve the environment; military establishments can assist in achieving these objectives by contributing their technical expertise, advanced equipment and communications and surveillance systems.

The range of scientific and technological areas which could be used for such purposes include: (a) the industrial and technological capacity within the areas of transportation, communication, energy and engineering, including the development of ecologically benign and energy efficient technologies; (b) linkages between existing networks of the military sector, universities and other institutions for the dissemination of information and data, including measures for raising environmental consciousness; (c) satellite technologies for remote-sensing, global monitoring and telecommunication; (d) technical capacity in laboratories and computer facilities to detect and combat environmental degradation; (e) military manpower and equipment for disaster relief, including responses to environmental catastrophes, and handling or disposal of highly toxic, radioactive and other harmful substances as well as the destruction of weapons.

The defence community has at its disposal a wealth of information gathered by intelligence sources that can assist in tracking changes in the atmosphere, the oceans and the surface of the Earth. Military satellites, aircraft, surface-ships and submarines have the ability to collect additional information about climatic changes and the flow and temperatures of oceans. In this context, techniques for military surveillance could be employed for monitoring transportation of pollutants and toxic materials, and for ensuring compliance with ecologically safe methods of weapons disposal.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal