Blockchain in Practice Exploring the Utility for Nonproliferation and International Security

The network ability of blockchain to manage and self-audit large volumes of data in a secure and transparent manner could have far-reaching value on the ways in which sensitive information is collected, processed, and analyzed. Once perceived as a buzzword, blockchain is rapidly gaining legitimacy as the next-wave technological solution to verify data and build trust among parties directly, eliminating the need for third-party intermediaries. With the growing list of potential use-cases for blockchain – from reducing poverty to reshaping global transactions – the Stimson team sets its critical eye on how this technology could be applied to some of the most complex global security issues today.

Web 3.0

Blockchain, the distributed ledger technology (DLT) driving cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, is being characterized as revolutionary in its potential to alter the world economy, specifically in its ability to help streamline and verify operational processes, as well as develop a network of trust within and across industries. The concept is gradually transitioning away from hype and is welcomed as a respected, applicable platform. Some technologists conclude that it will eventually become as ubiquitous as the Internet and will transform how the world shares and transacts in an evolving digital age.

Stimson Center and Blockchain

The Stimson Center is investigating the specific applications and implications of blockchain technologies for nonproliferation and international security. Stimson’s approach brings together multilateral and national authorities with industry and technology stakeholders to identify potential political, legal and operational roadblocks to implementation. Ultimately, Stimson’s research presents a guide for policy practitioners on how to start thinking about blockchain as a new tool to streamline and improve non-proliferation and international security. Stimson is concentrating on the following four focus areas: nuclear security, safeguards information management, export controls, and controlling dual-use chemical items.

Nuclear Security

Stimson’s Nuclear Security Program is investigating the specific applications and implications of blockchain on various nuclear security challenges at the international, national, and operational (industry) level. Exploratory research is considering the areas (positive and negative) where blockchain could be applied to enhancing the security of nuclear material, technologies, and facilities.

Nuclear Safeguards

Stimson’s Nuclear Safeguards Program is currently focusing on a project “Blockchain and Nuclear Safeguards” in partnership with the Stanley Foundation. By understanding the safeguards “ecosystem”, or the landscape of factors and actors determining how safeguards data is inputted, processed, and accessed, the project is identifying areas where distributed ledger technology can be applied to the management of safeguards information internationally, regionally, and bilaterally.

Export Controls

Given the potential adoption of blockchain technologies by both private and public actors, Stimson’s Nuclear Safeguards Program is also exploring the possible implications for DLT on international transfers of sensitive goods and technologies, and how it can help facilitate effective export controls. The project focuses on how DLT could reshape the way in which sensitive information, such as export denials, is exchanged between members of export control regimes as well as stored and protected, increasing confidentiality standards and trust among members.

Controlling Dual-Use Chemicals

The black-market supply chain for synthetic opioids (i.e. fentanyl and carfentanil) and their precursors is exacerbating the current global opioid overdose and addiction epidemic. And in the shadows of this health crisis is the growing concern that these substances are ubiquitous and potent enough to be deployed as “kitchen sink” chemical weapons, which are very difficult to monitor by international organizations due to their dual-use application across many industrial sectors. As part of a program examining the proliferation of synthetic opioids and implications on both health and WMD security, the Stimson Center’s Security and Trade Efficiency Platform (STEP) will explore how DLT can be used as a technological platform to better track supply and distribution of these chemical substances.

The Future of DLT

The Stimson Center works to protect people, preserve the planet, and promote security and prosperity. Through its pragmatic and independent approach, Stimson experts will conduct in-depth research and cross-sector engagement to better understand how this technology can potentially help address some of the world’s most intractable security challenges.

To learn more about our work, please visit our webpage here.


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