Two critical questions for the regulatory oversight of nanotechnology are (1) at what level of government should regulation take place, and (2) what form should regulation take? These questions are intrinsically linked. Regarding the first question, it is widely assumed that national governments are the appropriate locus of authority for regulating technologies, including nanotechnology. In this view, sub-national, international, and private measures should all be relegated, at most, to subservient and tentative roles. Regarding the second question, because national governments are presumptively the appropriate regulators, often it is assumed that the traditional tools of governmental oversight – command-and-control regulations – are appropriate for addressing the risks of new technologies.
Despite this mainstream wisdom, we and others have argued that international coordination of national regulation would provide important benefits. International coordination promises to avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by prior technologies as a result of inconsistent national regulation. In addition, an international approach to regulation may create incentives for inter-state cooperation in trade, environmental protection, labor, and the numerous other fields that nanotechnology will necessarily implicate.
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