Dual-use refers to technologies, goods, or knowledge with applications in both civilian and military spheres. Rooted in the Cold War, the concept now plays a significant role in international security, ethics, and regulatory frameworks.


Dual-Use: Refers to technologies, goods, or knowledge designed for civilian applications but also having military uses, or vice versa.

Etymology and Historical Context

  • Term originates from the combination of “dual” (two) and “use” (purpose), encapsulating the concept of multifunctionality.
  • Initially gained prominence during the Cold War era where technology often had both civilian and military applications, necessitating stringent control measures.


  • Information Technology: Includes software that is vital for both commercial data processing and cyber warfare capabilities.
  • Nuclear Technology: Used for generating electrical power, but can also be modified for creating weapons of mass destruction.
  • Chemical Engineering: Behind the manufacture of pharmaceuticals for healthcare and potentially lethal chemical weapons.


  • GPS: Developed for military navigation, now ubiquitous in civilian navigation systems.
  • Drones: Employed for civilian activities like surveillance and package delivery, but also for military reconnaissance and targeted strikes.


Scientific Research: Data and methodologies often contribute to both civilian sectors like healthcare and military research and development projects.

Regulatory Frameworks

  • ITAR and EAR: U.S. regulatory systems that control the export of items related to defense (ITAR) and those considered dual-use (EAR).
  • Wassenaar Arrangement: A multilateral agreement aimed at export control for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

Ambiguities and Definitions

Scope and Blurred Lines: The definition of what is considered dual-use can shift due to national policy objectives or advancements in technology, complicating regulation.

Ethical Dimensions

Moral Responsibility: Developers and policymakers face ethical dilemmas in the creation, distribution, and regulation of dual-use technologies.

Security Implications

Strategic Concerns: Dual-use technologies are often a focus in national and international security strategies, given their potential military applications.

Mathematical Considerations

Risk assessments are commonly applied to evaluate the potential impact and spread of dual-use items, although no standardized formula exists.

Defining Characteristics

  • Ambiguity: One of the most complex aspects is the ambiguous nature of dual-use applications, which complicates ethical and policy decisions.
  • Policy Importance: Dual-use is a recurring focal point in international security discussions, technological innovation debates, and ethical considerations.