Many believe the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of the Cold War. If we confine ourselves to only consider military might based on conventional and nuclear weapons, they are correct. The United States is widely considered the only superpower.
Before you take a long sigh of relief, understand a new type of Cold War emerged from the rubble. Knowing well they they cannot match the United States’ military across the board, the Russian Federation and now China are spending their military budgets to gain asymmetrical military advantages over the United States. One key area of focus is nanoweapons. Nanowek.com, the leading nanotechnology portal, reports, “All major powers are making efforts to research and develop nanotechnology-based materials and systems for military use.”
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), launched by President Bill Clinton in 2000, coordinates, collaborates, and funds the nanotechnology research and development activities of 25 Federal agencies . To date, the United States government has channeled over $20,000,000,000 through NNI. In addition, each branch of the United States military performs its own nanotechnology research and development. As a result, a new class of weapons, nanoweapons, are already being deployed, from advanced laser weapons to insect size drones.
The actual amount that is spent on nanoweapons remains Top Secret, but based on publicly published budget allocations, it is reasonable to estimate its in the many $Bs annually. For example, about 15% of the NNI budget alone is focused on DOD projects. This excludes federal agencies like DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Project Agency), which focuses on advanced military weapons. In addition, about 10% of the total defense budget of the United States (estimated at $534.3 billion in 2016) is classified, typically termed the “black budget.” Given the secrecy that surrounds nanoweapons funding, it is next to impossible to discern the exact nanoweapons budget of the United States. But, it’s relatively easy to estimate that many $Bs are being spent annually on nanoweapons development and deployment.
What fuels this new Nanoweapons Cold War? One simple paradigm, the superpowers of the future will be those nations with the most capable nanoweapons. If you have not read my earlier posts, let me digress and define nanoweapons. Nanoweapons are any military technology that exploits the power of nanotechnology. This begs another question, What is nanotechnology? According to the United States National Nanotechnology Initiative’s website, nano.gov, “Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers.” To understand this in simple terms, the diameter of a typical human hair equals 80,000- 100,000 nanometers. Ironically, the next big thing in military weapons technology will be small, essentially invisible to the naked eye.
The power of nanoweapons has not escaped the attention of the Russian Federation or China, as well as other countries like Germany and France. China in particular is doing everything it can to “hack” United States nanoweapons technology, as well as develop their own. Russia has even set up a “public” company, Rusnano, to pursue nanotechnology and nanoweapons. I put the word “public” in quotes because the Russian Federation currently owns all the stock of Rusnano.
The main take away from this post is that we are in a new cold war, a Nanoweapons Cold War. China and Russia are squaring off with the United States to gain an asymmetrical nanoweapons advantage. To date, the United States has the clear lead. However, recall that during the first Cold War, Russia was able to maintain near military parity with the United States via espionage and asymmetrical funding. I expect similar behavior from China and the Russian Federation during the Nanoweapons Cold War.
Image courtesy of Jonas Staub and Dreamstime Stock Photos