GEST-601 Dangerous Knowledge: Science, Technology and National Security in the 20th Century
Spring for 2017-2018
Shortly after September 11, 2001, letters contaminated with Anthrax spores further fueled the terrorism fears in the U.S. The challenge of bioterrorism stirred up an intense debate about the dangers of biotechnological knowledge and gave rise to demands of tighter governmental controls of its production and dissemination. The know-how of weaponizing pathogenic organisms appeared to be a frightening danger to national security. It was dangerous knowledge indeed. But how could it be regulated, and how could the U.S. community of scientists be mobilized to contain the danger?
This is but one example of the national security implications of science and technology. They have a complex history that can be traced back to political, structural and intellectual changes in the 20th century that redefined the role of scientific-technological knowledge in national and international politics and changed how and to what purposes research and developed haven been pursued.
With the two World Wars, science and technology became more than ever before resources of warfare. For the innovation of more effective and powerful weapons, nation states increasingly mobilized systematically their scientists and research and development institutions, fitting them seamlessly into the war machinery. The successes of wartime science taught especially Europeans and Americans the important lesson that the relationship between states and their communities of scientists and engineers and the prowess of national innovation systems were crucial factors of national security. Knowledge was indeed power.
Thus, the production, sharing and regulation of scientific-technological knowledge became central concerns of national – and international – security policy, even in peacetime. The U.S. for example, translated her experience of the Manhattan Project and the Office of Scientific Research and Development with vigor into the postwar era. The Federal Government, especially the Department of Defense, became by far the biggest source of R&D funding and the key player in the production of the scientific-technological knowledge during the Cold War. Much of this knowledge the U.S. shared internationally. It became an important instrument of forging alliances. U.S. technology beefed up the military power of allies all over the world; technology transfers, for example in the nuclear field, established economic bonds and stabilized political friendships. But sharing knowledge was not without risks as the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions showed. Therefore the U.S. established a complex and far-reaching system of bureaucratic controls over the transfer of technology. Covering a vast array of high technologies, the U.S. monitored very carefully which technology could be shared with whom under which circumstances and with which safeguards.
This seminar will shed light on all these national security dimensions of science and technology in the 20th century. The U.S. will be at the center of our analyses but we will place her in the bigger international trends since the beginning of the 20th century and contrast the U.S. developments with other, mainly European countries. Against this historical backdrop, we will also discuss how the geopolitical changes since the end of the Cold War, the rise of China and the “War against Terrorism” shape our current understanding of the relationship between science, technology and national security.
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