WAR WITHOUT BLOOD? -  Hypocrisy of 'non-lethal' arms

(courtesy of Le Monde diplomatique - December 1999)
     The horror of images of deaths caused by Western armies in military
     operations, designed to maintain peace and security, has led to the
     development of new arms that are intended to paralyse, not destroy.
     Yet for all this seductive rhetoric, so-called "non-lethal" arms have
     the potential to increase the level of violence, spawning ever more
      advanced techniques of repression. And if democratic countries let
      their arms manufacturers develop these techniques, they will be
      exported to places less concerned about brutalising their populations.
                                                         by STEVE WRIGHT *
    The use of "human shields" and civilian hostage-taking is becoming
    increasingly common in modern warfare. All-out bombing is not just
    politically primitive but does not help resolve complicated internal
    conflicts - even if we are talking about smart, carbon fibre bombs. A
    revolution in military strategy is coming in the wake of the conflict
    over Kosovo (1).
    Perhaps the major beneficiary of this thinking is the Pentagon, which
    has benefited from President Bill Clinton's decision to give it a
    gold- plated spending increase of $110bn over six years to boost
    "military readiness". According to William Hartnung, senior research
    fellow at the US World Policy Institute (New York), the total United
    States military budget of $260bn plus, only makes sense in terms of
    politics and economics, rather than any real threat to American
    security. Such a sum is, he says, "already twice as large as the
    combined budgets of every conceivable US adversary, including major
    powers like China and Russia and regional "rogue states" such as Iraq,
    North Korea and Libya"(2). For Hartnung, the weapon-makers are shaping
    US foreign and military policy. They are preparing, within the
    framework of a new doctrine, weapons systems which will break down the
    delineation between military and police.
    With the end of the cold war we have seen a move away from conflicts
    between states towards questions of national security or external
    intervention. Since then US military policy makers have been dreaming
    of "war without blood". The emergence of a second generation of
    maiming, paralysing and immobilising weapons in the early 1990s grew
    out of a collaboration between naive US science fiction writers (such
    as American Quakers Chris and Janet Morris) and high-profile
    futurologists (Alvin and Heidi Toffler) with former CIA Director Ray
    Cline along with Colonel John Alexander (3).
    Together they developed a doctrine of "non-lethal" warfare centred on
    the provision of advanced "soft-kill" weapons and options. The US
    Defence Department defines these as "weapon systems that are
    explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate
    personnel or materiel, while minimising fatalities, permanent injury
    to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment"
    (4). However, most advocates of the doctrine recognise the theoretical
    nature of this notion and prefer to speak of "less lethal"
    technologies. The collaboration of writers with the military opened up
    doors into the US national nuclear weapons laboratories at Los Alamos
    and Lawrence Livermore, desperate for a new role at the end of the
    cold war. The humane new doctrine of "war without blood" had a double
    advantage: it relaunched research and was at the same time a useful
    public relations exercise after a series of disastrous episodes
    (including the high profile beating of Rodney King, the Waco siege,
    and the humiliating confrontations US troops endured in Somalia).
    As US commander in chief, President Clinton is known to be
    particularly susceptible to such a doctrine. His aides say he still
    agonises over bringing death to innocents and remembers the name of
    Layla Al Attar - a celebrated Iraqi painter who was crushed by the
    first military air- strikes on Baghdad. Besides, in the information
    era civilian deaths and "collateral damage" have a big impact on
    public opinion.
    Thus current US doctrine now says it is unrealistic to "assume away"
    civilians and non-combatants on today's battlefield. The army must be
    able to execute its missions in spite of and/or operating in the midst
    of civilian personnel. These missions include blocking an area;
    controlling crowds; stopping vehicles and seizing individuals.
    Pandora's box
    The potential tools for achieving these objectives include blunt
    trauma impact munitions, riot agent dispensers, calmatives,
    pyrotechnic stun, electric stun, anti-traction, acoustics,
    entanglement/nets; foams; barriers; directed energy, isotropic
    radiators, super polymers (to create an immobilising fog) and
    "non-lethal" mines.
    This quest for a magic bullet weapon that does no harm created a new
    arsenal of weapons more useful in developing a media-friendly "quick
    fix" for the symptoms of social and political problems than resolving
    their real causes. The US military freely admit that the doctrine is
    not meant to replace lethal weapons with "non-lethal" alternatives but
    to augment the use of deadly force in both war and "operations other
    than war", where the main targets include civilians. A dubious
    Pandora's box of new weapons has emerged, designed to appear - rather
    than be - safe. Because of the ubiquitous CNN factor they need to be
    media friendly. Progress in this area of innovation has been swift. By
    1995 the US Joint Non-Lethal Weapons working group had tested various
    blunt impact devices, chemical irritants, disorientating technologies,
    entanglements and aqueous foam barriers. By 1996 this group had
    evaluated entanglements and sticky foam; modular non-lethal claymore
    mines; chemical riot control agents; slippery barriers and
    Caltrops/Volcano mines (that explode when someone enters a forbidden
    zone) and an acoustic "vortex ring" weapon.
    Many of these projects have already been evolved including sniper
    stopper systems such as the SDS system, commissioned by the US Defence
    Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can detect
    muzzle blast and fire back (5). We also have M16 rifle adaption which
    allows it to fire 40 mm XM1006 sponge grenades whilst retaining its
    lethal force option of firing 5.56 mm bullets; a variable velocity
    projectile system that enables a single munition to be used as a crowd
    control blunt impact device or become a lethal sabot if a switch is
    pulled to open gas vents. There is also the USAF's Saber 203 laser
    dazzler system, prototypes of which were used by US Marines in Somalia
    in 1995 (6).
    Even though most of the new less-than-lethal initiatives are highly
    classified, they have spawned a string of lucrative commercial
    contracts which are occasionally reported in the defence press.
    However, the clearest picture of progress to date has emerged from
    three recent conferences sponsored by Jane's Defence Weekly, held in
    London between 1997 and 1999.
    For their 1997 programme the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons directorate had
    proposed six topics to government laboratories. These included
    personnel sensing fuses; frangible shell casings; non-lethal anti-
    materiel/materiel, "tunable" weapons; long range delivery means; and
    unmanned vehicle capability. It received 63 responses. Two review
    panels looked at technical and user merit, and three were selected for
    funding: chemical diffusers, spider fibre and non-lethal
    electromagnetic pulsers for stopping vehicles. The 1998 programme
    included four topics: "tunable" non-lethal effects, long range
    projection, gap analysis and non-lethal alternatives to antipersonnel
    land mines.
    At the 1997 conference, Hildi S. Libby, systems manager for the US
    army's non-lethal material programme, advocated a range of advanced
    technologies to "insert into existing weapons platforms". Not
    surprisingly many of her proposals centred on area denial munitions
    (7). The US will not sign the land mines treaty until 2006, when
    "suitable" alternatives have been developed. Libby presented options
    such as:
    - a non-lethal antipersonnel mine, based on the design of the M1*A1
    lethal system. Little in the way of hard data exists to determine how
    much of a 'sting' this device produces. Riot munitions based on
    kinetic impact rounds have often caused internal organ damage,
    blindness and death;
    - a non-lethal 66 mm vehicle-launched payload; a flexible response
    weapon that might be used in conjunction with other systems to corral
    or punish a crowd;
    - cannister-launched area denial systems, used for delivering
    so-called non-lethal mines, malodorous devices or kinetic systems for
    attacking crowds;
    - a bounding anti-personnel net mine which springs up from the ground
    to entangle the victim. So-called improvements already tested include
    the incorporation of adhesive, pain-delivering irritant or
    electroshock, or in the larger versions, razor-bladed additions which
    oblige the targets to remain completely still to avoid further
    lacerating injuries (8).
    Both the 1997 and 1998 Jane's conferences discussed a range of
    invisible weapons such as the Vortex gun (an advanced system for
    delivering shock waves to the human body); acoustic bio-effect weapons
    (which according to US expert William Arkin can be "merely annoying"
    or "can be tuned to produce 170 decibels and rupture organs create
    cavities in human tissue and cause potentially lethal blastwave
    The 1998 Jane's conference presented the "layered defence concept"
    where the outer layers of the control onion are less-lethal and the
    central area is deadly. Video was shown of microwave weapons being
    used by troops accompanied by medical staff who treated the comatose
    Contradiction in terms
    Apart from potentially undermining the Hypocratic oath, this work has
    been carried out in such secrecy that it is difficult to evaluate
    claims of safety. For example, Steven Aftergood, director of the
    Federation of American Scientists, has commented that high-powered
    microwaves are almost uniquely intrusive. "They do not simply attack a
    person's body", he says. "Rather they reach all the way into a
    person's mind ... They are meant to be disorientating or upset mental
    stability." Such devices heat up and interfere with human body
    temperature, including so-called bio- regulators; radio-frequency
    weapons that interfere with the brain and body's own electrical
    circuitry; and laser systems that can either semi-blind or induce
    so-called tetanising electrical shocks (that paralyse muscles) (9). In
    January the European parliament called for a ban on such weapons.
    Many non-governmental organisations have voiced opposition to
    non-lethal weapons arguing that they are a contradiction in terms.
    Critics say that in the heat of the moment few operatives will favour
    "phasers on stun" (in Startrek parlance) if they also have a more
    permanent lethal option. This risks blurring the distinction between
    crowd control and summary street executions.
    Apart from undermining international humanitarian law, such weapons
    can be deployed in very different contexts from those that the
    designers envisage. For example, the daily rate of executions recorded
    in the Rwandan conflict was due to a paralysing tactic of cutting the
    Achilles tendon that allowed the subsequent killing to be done at
    Sticky foam guns that glue targets to the ground, calmative chemicals
    that knock out a crowd and paralysing systems that fix people in place
    are devices that might paradoxically make conflict zones even more
    lethal - deadly weapons could well be deployed against sitting ducks.
    In Ireland, the laboratory of the first generation of non-lethal
    weapons, the use of these weapons encouraged and exacerbated the
    conflict (10).
    Amnesty International has already reported cases where such weapons
    have been used for street punishment, for example in the US, where
    peaceful environmental protesters had their eyes directly sprayed with
    pepper gas -- which Amnesty characterised as "tantamount to torture".
    The organisation has also documented the repeated use in Kenya of a
    very strong form of tear gas. Two years after it succeeded in getting
    the British government to ban its exportation, Amnesty reported that
    the substance used to subdue a peaceful demonstration on 10 June 1999
    was supplied by a French company, Nobel Sécurité (11).
    Once the repressive systems are developed, their manufacturers will be
    tempted to service the market demands of the torturing states. Amnesty
    has recognised this prospect and is examining whether weapons that are
    inherently "abusable" should be banned, like electro-shock and stun
    technology (12). The basic question is to what extent these systems
    undermine international treaties and human rights law. With its Sirus
    project, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is
    adopting a similar approach (13). To date, most weapons that have been
    prohibited, such as poison gas, exploding bullets, blinding laser
    weapons and landmines, were designed to inflict a specific injury, and
    to do so consistently. According to the ICRC, it is time to impose a
    general ban on all so-called non-lethal weapons that cause superfluous
    injury or unnecessary suffering by specifically singling out
    anatomical, biochemical or physiological targets.
    * Director of the Omega Foundation, Manchester, UK.
                                                  Original text in English
    (1) See Maurice Najman, "Developing the weapons of the 21st century",
    and Francis Pisani, "Mars gives way to Minerva", Le Monde
    diplomatique, English edition, February 1998 and August 1999
    (2) William D Hartung, "Ready for What? The New Politics of Pentagon
    Spending", World Policy Journal, New York, Spring 1999: http://
    (3) Formerly involved in the rather more lethal US Army Special
    Phoenix programme in Vietnam - a campaign of 20,000 killings. See
    Lobster, Hull, 25 June 1993.
    (4) See the website of the Quantico marine college (Virginia):

    (5) Jason Glashow, Defense News, US, January 1996.
    (6) Scott Gourley, "Soft Options", Jane's Defence Weekly, London, 17
    July 1996.
    (7) Outlines: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/NLD3/libb.pdf

    (8) Alliant Tech's Fishook mine, developed in 1996, aims for a
    cannister-launched area denial system to shoot out a thin wire with
    fishhooks "to cover a soccer sized area". Marketing manager Tom
    Bierman says that "It's intended to snag, it's not going to kill you".
    Not unless your co-targets panic.
    (9) The UK defence ministry's Defence Evaluation Research Agency in
    Farnborough was looking at such a "freezer ray". See "Raygun Freezes
    Victims Without Causing Injuries", Sunday Times, London 9 May 1999.
    (10) See Steve Wright, "An Appraisal of Technologies of Political
    Control", Report to Scientific and Technological Options Assessment,
    European Parliament, 1998 (http://jwa.com/stoa.atpc.htm).
    (11) See Commerce of Terror, Amnesty International, Paris, October
    (12) See Amnesty International, "Arming the torturers", Le Monde
    diplomatique, English edition, April 1997. Also available from Amnesty
    International, International Secretariat, Arming the Torturers,
    Electroshock Torture and the Spread of Stun Technology, London 1997.
    (13) ICRC, The Sirus Project, Geneva, 1997: http/www.icrc.org
                                                  Original text in English
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