Share this Article

This study considers space as the fourth military dimension and examines the implication of nanotechnology in space and its effects on geopolitics.


A nation`s global power is influenced by several different elements including military prowess, economic strength, diplomatic relations, and soft power. In addition to that, advancement in technology can enhance a country’s overall development and contribute to a country’s hegemony.

Only a few states, known as the space-faring nations, are predominantly in possession of space capabilities. These countries have the ability to perform space exploration missions, launch satellites, and develop advanced space technologies. Historically important space powers include the United States, Russia, China, and various nations in Europe, which are known better by the world due to the Cold War and its arms race.

 Apart from land, air, and sea, space has become the fourth military dimension. The United States and Russia already possess robust satellite launch capability and inventory. China has also significantly increased its space activities recently and has become a major player in global geopolitics along with other countries such as Japan and Canada. The relationships and rivalry between these nations mould the geopolitical environment of space operations (Tate, et al., 2015).

Introducing nanotechnology, a young and dynamic discipline that manipulates matter at the atomic and molecular level to alter its qualities and improve its performance. This has a profound impact on various aspects of space explorations, triggering a paradigm shift in world geopolitics. A nation that is behind in nanotechnology will be marginalized in the changing space environment, which could result in geopolitical instability and conflicts.

This article deals with the usage of nanotechnology as an emerging field in space exploration and security and examines how it affects global geopolitics. The research methodology employed in this article will be descriptive and analytical. This qualitative research has extracted the data from sources such as articles, journals, books, and magazines.

Role of Technology in History

Technology in history has played a significant role in the development and transformation of war right from the age of tools. i.e., the usage of stones and wood as a weapon serves as the foundations of knowledge, innovations, and technologies of mankind which continue to the present day (Creveld, 1991). The Industrial Revolution was the most profound revolution and was an acceleration in the process of technological innovations bringing about numerous new tools and machinery. Along with bringing new technology it also had an impact on the relationship between countries that export and import resources as well as the balance of power among the world’s countries. As technology advances human desire to explore and conquer the planet began on land, then moved to the sea, the air, and even space.

Rapid advancements in space technology have been accompanied by an increase in global tensions between world powers, which was a distinguishing feature of the Cold War since it was the first time mankind sought to compete in the space arena. It became a matter of pride for both the US and the erstwhile USSR of their control over space and so technological superiority was necessary to control its national security. The space race began with the erstwhile USSR launching its first satellite Sputnik-1 in 1957. When the US successfully landed the first person on the moon in 1969, the competition reached its peak. After two space-faring nations the US and the USSR, China, Japan, France, the European Space Agency, and Israel joined the club. In the 21st century, the number has increased with the addition of North Korea South Korea, Iran, and India. Recently private non-government actors are becoming increasingly active in space activities (Wilkinson, 2022). 

So, in such a competitive environment, a nation could only achieve or retain its balance of power, only with more innovations and technological advancement. Nanotechnology in the space industry has more significant benefits and applications and hence can trigger intense global competition.

Nanotechnology and its Applications:

Nanotechnology, a 21st-century frontier born out of human dreams and imagination is defined as the branch of science involved in manipulating matter at the nanoscale. i.e., at 1 to 100nm length scale called nanomaterials. It is possible to create nanomaterials with exceptional magnetic, electrical, optical, mechanical, and catalytic capabilities that differ significantly from those of their bulk counterparts. Nanomaterials can be tailored to meet specific needs by precisely controlling the size, shape, synthesis conditions, and appropriate functionalization.

Applications – Aerospace and Defence

  • Nano applied: Protecting spacecraft and astronauts, CNT composites could make spacecraft fly by providing lightweight skin and internal structures. It helps in quick reporting of changes in levels of trace chemicals in the air, providing effective shielding and energy storage, upper radiation protection, etc. Quantum dots could be used in anti-satellite weapons countermeasures that could protect it from missile attacks. 
  • Nano–textiles: Space suits can be made with radiation less, dust Repeller, water-resistant with light weight and long durability, Nano fabrics have the capacity to provide ballistic protection, temperature modulation, trap germs, deliver real-time diagnosis and treatment of soldier health, and detect exposure to electro-magnetic radiological, biological and chemical weapons. It would be self-diagnosing and self-preparing. Nano suits provide bulletproof protection, more strength cut down weight, and enhanced efficiency and protection.
  • Nano-optics: These nanomaterials are advancing stealth technology inward cloaking and invisibility based on their capacity to detect light from around an object rather than reflect it. This makes stealth technology even better.
  • Nano-coating: To stabilize extremely explosive materials and make handling nuclear and other warheads considerably safer, nano-coating is applied. Additionally, chemical and biological substances can be stabilized by nanocoatings, lengthening their shelf lives. Nanocoatings could provide privacy and security.
  • Nano unmanned devices: Nanorobots like unmanned aerial vehicles can improve surveillance, reduce the need for human labour, and even control nuclear bombs. Nanotechnology makes microsatellites possible. Nano drones would facilitate airstrikes of surgical precision. A few grams of explosive are sufficient to penetrate and destroy human cells. Nanosatellites facilitate high-resolution images of territory (Nanotechnology in Space Exploration, 2004).

Status of Nanotechnology Around the World


There is no doubt that China is active in scientific development and nanotechnology. China is a leading country in nanotechnology research. China’s success in nanotechnology is raising the standard for other globally competitive nations. Research and development in nanotechnology and nanoscience is the key component of the ambitious ‘Made in China 2025 ‘ initiative aiming China into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. In February 2015, Chinese researchers achieved a breakthrough in nanocarrier drugs for pancreatic cancer. Also in 2020, researchers in China`s state key laboratory of robotics produced a laser that generates a small gas bubble that can be utilized as a nanorobot, designed to move materials at the nanoscale. The precision offered by this ‘bubble bot’ lends itself to the development in the field of cloning and artificial tissue creation. The United States and its allies need to take immediate steps to claim the leading role in nanoscience and technology (Siddiki, 2022).

United States of America

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a US government research and development initiative. They focus on applications that include nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, water treatment, precision agriculture, transportation and energy generation and storage. They ensure that the United States remains not only the place where nanoscience discoveries are made but also where these discoveries are transported and manufactured into products to benefit society. Since the inception of NNI, the allocation of funding to different sectors has been 45% for a research foundation, 35% for application, devices and systems, 15% for infrastructure and instrumentation, 3% for responsible development and 1% for educational and welfare development (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2023). The overall market for nanotechnology in defence and homeland security is expected to reach $9.9 billion by 2028 and the market for nanosensors is expected to reach $21.4 billion by 2028. North America holds the largest market share, largely attributed to the influence of large research labs (Dublin, 2023).


With the support of talented academicians and knowledge-based companies, the nanotechnology sector has indigenized many technologies to solve the main challenges of the country in various areas, including industry. The national document on promoting the application of nanotechnology has outlined the path to achieving the major goals of the development of nanotechnology in the country. According to the document, 12,199 articles by Iranian researchers related to nanotechnology were indexed in the Web of Science (WoS) in 2021, which was equivalent to 41.5 percent of all articles published in the nanotechnology sector. This share of the nanotechnology articles placed Iran fourth in the world in 2020 and 2021. It is noteworthy that before the establishment of the national headquarters for nanotechnology development in 2000, the country ranked 58th in the world and 6th in the Middle East publishing just eight articles. Iran currently ranks fourth in nanotechnology in the world after the United States, India, and China Currently, 66 Iranian universities accept students in the master’s program and 22 universities in the doctoral program in various fields of nanotechnology. The expansion of exports in recent years and the creation of bases in China, India, Indonesia, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq have provided a platform for the entry of Iran’s nanotechnology goods, equipment, and services into the world markets. So far, Iranian nanotechnology products have been exported to 49 countries from five continents. The sale of nanotechnology equipment in the past Iranian calendar year (March 2021-March 2022) grew by about 59 percent (Garshasbi, 2023). 


The nanotechnology market in India is expanding quickly, with numerous applications in the healthcare, consumer items, energy, and military sectors. Building upon the promotional activities carried out as part of the Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) in the highly promising and competitive area of Nano Science and Technology, which was formed in 2001 with an initial budget of 60 crores, the Government of India launched a Mission on Nano Science and Technology (Nano Mission – 5-year program) in May 2007 during the 10th plan period (2002-2007) with an initial budget of $12 million. Recognizing the success of the Nano Mission, the Union Cabinet accorded approval for the continuation of the Nano Mission in its Phase II during the 12th Plan period with an allocation of Rs. 650 crores. The Department of Science and Technology is the nodal agency for implementing the Nano Mission. Since 2016, the Indian Nano Initiative has achieved a significant milestone by securing the third position in the global ranking through its contribution to Nanoscience and technology publications. The nano mission has been extended till 2017 as phase 2. India ranked 3rd in papers published in 2018 behind only the USA and China. UNNATI Program (UNispace Nanosatellite Assembly & Training by ISRO) is an ISRO initiative to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE+50). The first batch of this programme started on January 17, 2019, with 30 participants from 17 countries (Algeria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Panama, and Portugal) (Department of Science and Technology, 2023).

Nanotechnology Publications in 2022.

The graph below shows the nations and the size of their respective publication markets, with China leading all others and India coming in second.

Effects on India`s Geopolitics

All the major nations are working to develop military-grade materials and systems based on nanotechnology. Some countries do not have specific programs, especially for nanotechnology,  but integrate with related fields such as material research, electronic device research biochemical protection research etc. But Indian government took special initiatives such as the Visveshwaraya PhD scheme to provide world-class education and opportunities for research and development to the students, and the Inspire scheme to build the required critical human resource pool for strengthening and expand the science and technology system and research and development base. Another program such as nanomission for promoting basic research is UNispace Nanosatellite Assembly & Training (UNNATI), an ISRO initiative programme on nanosatellite development.

However, India still has a long way to go. Some countries are well ahead. More funds should be allocated by the Indian government for further research. Collaboration in research with other nations is a beneficial thing. India is a more populous country with a large number of youngsters and talented people who are unaware of their educational and employment opportunities. More schemes have to be implemented to provide opportunities and also to improve the skilled workforce.

India and Pakistan are regional rivals and India also has disputes with China. India has also been increasing its national number of nanotechnology scientific and technical publications, but not as fast as China. Thus, China dominates India in nanotechnology publications too. Nations having nanotechnology can create advanced materials, lighter and more durable space crafts and satellites with low cost and enhanced sustainability and feasibility of long-duration space missions. It also reduces specific supply chains and increases the autonomy of spacefaring nations. It also helps in space debris mitigation. Nano earth observation satellites can be used in reconnaissance intelligence gathering and locating the whereabouts of ships, boats and other aircraft. It also helps in detecting missing persons like fishermen etc., with good accuracy and less cost. The problem of infiltration, cross-order terrorism and other related crimes can be monitored and controlled. Thus, if India possesses this technology creates domination in the regional as well as global powers and promotes national security.

The space race promoted exploration and use of outer space including the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies as well as technological development. That is when the outer space treaty is entered to represent the basic legal framework of international space law. As new technology emerges, there is a chance of missing it and causing crimes, which creates a need to alter the nature of warfare and requires new negotiation of standards of arms control and compliance with international law. And so, transparency and confidence-building measures have to be taken with countries. Before everything basic research, understanding its pros and cons and developing it is necessary to be an influencer in geopolitics.


World geopolitics has not yet been significantly impacted by nanotechnology. It is crucial to keep in mind that the science of nanotechnology is constantly developing, therefore new advancements can have impacts in ways hitherto unknown. Modern breakthroughs in technology are no longer the domain of the few, but rather have a significant impact on every sector of society. There needs to be awareness of the possibility that if one nation misses the contemporary technical developments, the enemy may still possess them or even be ahead in their application. This will have an impact on future armed conflict in ways that are currently difficult to imagine. To ensure the State’s security in the future, it is vital to have more understanding and preparation. The dual-use nature of nanotechnology provides a great platform for research. One who is ahead in research, understanding and preparation will lead technologically and create a major influence in geopolitics. As it is an emerging technology, the risks involved in it are contentious. For example, nanotoxicology is the study of potential health risks of nanomaterial. Some of the regulatory authorities of the United States and the European Union have started assessing the potential risks of nanoparticles. The risk of nanotechnology on health, environment, society, economy, security, and trade is not yet fully assessed. The government should spend more money on fundamental research in this sector before engaging in promoting and launching this new technology. Thus, the nation that is at the forefront of this technology and has a solid understanding and use in the space domain will have more sway in geopolitics.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Title image courtesy: LinkedIn


Creveld, M. V. (1991). Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present. New York: Free Press. Retrieved July 2023, from

Department of Science and Technology. (2023). Ministry of Science and Technology. Retrieved July 2023, from Mission on Nano Science and Technology (Nano Mission):

Dublin. (2023). Global Nanotechnology Market Report 2028: Expanding Applications in the Healthcare Industry and the Use of Nanotech Devices in Other Areas Drives Growth. PR Newswire. Retrieved July 2023, from

Express News Service. (2023, January 13). Space has become the fourth dimension of warfare, says scientific advisor to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Bangalore, India: The India Express Journalism of Courage. Retrieved July 2023, from

Garshasbi, M. (2023, February 11). TEHRAN TIMES Straight Truth. Retrieved July 2023, from

Jitendra S. Tate, S. E. (2015). Military and National Security Implications of Nanotechnology. The Journal of Technology Studies, 41(1), 20-28. Retrieved July 2023, from

Nanotechnology in Space Exploration. (2004). Report of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Workshop. NNCO. Retrieved July 2023, from

National Nanotechnology Initiative. (2023). Retrieved July 2023, from National Nanotechnology Coordination Office:

Siddiki, D. M. (2022). China as the World Leader in Nanotechnology: Another Wakeup Call for the West. Small War Journal. Retrieved July 2023, from

V, A. (2021). Evolving Shifts in Outer Space Geopolitics. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 16(3), 242-259. Retrieved July 2023, from

Wilkinson, F. (2022, June 2). National Geographic. Retrieved July 2023, from Industrial Revolution and Technology:

By Subiksha Muthuraj

M Subiksha is currently pursuing her masters in Defence and Strategic studies in University of Madras and completed undergraduate in same field. Currently she is focussed on impact of science and technology on International Relations.