Nanotechnology and Military Attacks on Photosynthesis

H. Nasu and R. McLaughlin, eds., New Technologies and the Law of Armed Conflict, TMC Asser, 2014, pp. 175-190

16 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2014

Date Written: January 28, 2014


Advancing scientific knowledge regarding the photosynthetic process at a molecular level has raised the possibility of widespread artificial photosynthetic projects in the future, for example, large-scale coastal solar-driven water-splitting, or off-grid, distributed, community-based renewable energy and food production. The value that these projects would have to states, and the global community, attracts the possibility that artificial photosynthesis, and the photosynthetic process in general, may become a ‘direct’ military target.

This chapter explores the extent to which international law, including the existing principles of the law of armed conflict, environmental law, and the ENMOD Convention, are capable of regulating the direct attack on natural or artificial photosynthesis. The ultimate form of artificial photosynthesis power systems is the subject of debate and speculation (should they become commercially viable at all), but there are some elements that could set them apart from traditional power infrastructure, which are relevant to their potentially becoming military targets. Artificial photosynthesis systems are likely to operate for the purposes of both power generation and carbon sequestration, which on some projections are set to become a ubiquitous fuel source and the operation of these facilities will produce global environmental benefits. The benefits of the operation of artificial photosynthesis power facilities are likely to be enjoyed not just by the targeted country, but by the entire global community.

This chapter concludes that the basic principles of international environmental law may prohibit direct manipulation of natural or artificial photosynthesis, though their applicability during warfare is uncertain. This chapter argues that natural photosynthesis may be protected from direct military attack under Articles 35(3) and 55 of Additional Protocol I. Direct military attacks on artificial photosynthesis may also be prohibited under the ENMOD Convention, as a direct attack on artificial photosynthesis (if artificial photosynthesis is viewed as an artificially enhanced aspect of the natural environment) would qualify as ‘manipulation of direct natural processes’ and thus prohibited by the Convention.

Keywords: Artificial photosynthesis, nanotechnology, armed conflict, military, ENOMOD, renewable energy, photosynthesis

JEL Classification: Q42, Q43, O33, N40, L94, K33, K32

Suggested Citation

Faunce, Thomas Alured, Nanotechnology and Military Attacks on Photosynthesis (January 28, 2014). H. Nasu and R. McLaughlin, eds., New Technologies and the Law of Armed Conflict, TMC Asser, 2014, pp. 175-190. Available at SSRN:

Thomas Alured Faunce (Contact Author)

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
61 2 61253563 (Phone)

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