On 27th October, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey USA published its Occasional Paper 33 which analyses a set of export-controlled items to understand the degree to which 3D printing might be used to produce — and thus represent a new pathway for proliferators to acquire — dual-use goods useful for the development of WMD. Additionally the study considers the degree to which communities using and promoting 3D printing may impact the risk of WMD proliferation.
Reassuringly perhaps, the study has found no evidence suggesting active pursuit or deployment of AM technology with a WMD proliferation aim in either relevant case study (North Korea and IS), but that claims to have produced 3D printers suggests North Korea’s intention is not merely to explore the use of 3D printing, but also to explore the production of AM equipment itself; and the widespread geographic distribution of AM technology etc has made the technology accessible by users in countries where the IS has been particularly active (and thus, if the IS leadership were to make the decision to vigorously explore AM as a potential pathway to WMD, the technology would be readily accessible, with little need to import from producer countries).
The report calls for further awareness-raising and, of course, more research. In addition, export controls and nonproliferation efforts need to recognise the likely or potential risks involved with 3D printing, including in respect of professional 3D printing services and providers.