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11. Non-lethal weapons: a case study of new technology developments




While the concept of non-lethal weapons is not new, since the Persian Gulf War
and with growing technological capabilities there has been a renewed effort to
develop them for use in situations where less than lethal force is required or

In discussing such technologies, a 1991 US draft policy planning paper stated
that the Gulf War had shown that `this emerging class of weapons and systems is
a more civilised means to achieve political ends when lethal or less
discriminate force would traditionally be the only option'. The Pentagon
decided to intensify efforts in the non-lethal area but to increase the level
of secrecy as well, signalling the potential for an effort comparable in size
and scope with the Strategic Defense Initiative.

US Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced in October 1993 that the Pentagon
would initiate a series of studies on non-lethal technologies. One of the areas
to be reviewed by a high-level working group set up by US Defense Secretary
William Perry to assess possible changes in forces organization and deployment
required for the next two decades is the new requirements for low-intensity
conflict and possible advantages of less-than-lethal technologies.

In January 1994 a new NATO study group began holding meetings that will focus
on non-lethal technologies that could be employed to help enforce no-fly zones.
For example, aircraft and helicopters violating UN-mandated no-fly zones in the
former Yugoslavia are routinely detected, intercepted and identified. While
jamming and other electronics countermeasures have long been in existence, new
non-lethal technologies are being explored which would make it possible to
force an aircraft to withdraw and prevent its return without sustaining
permanent injury.

Newer technologies include high-power microwave weapons capable of disabling
unprotected electronic systems, advanced portable lasers for use against
sensors and personnel as well as chemical and biological agents capable of
degrading the performance of equipment and/or personnel. Directed-energy
munitions, `Demons', are being developed to blind sensors on vehicles or
aircraft so that they may then be more readily destroyed by more lethal

The main operational environment for deployment of non-lethal weapons would
most likely be in operations associated with peacekeeping and
peace-enforcement, possibly in concert with economic sanctions. Another
potential area for deployment is in dealing with evolving trans-national
threats: various forms of terrorist activity as well as threats posed by drug
cartels, for example, create contingencies in which the additional force
options provided by non-lethal weapons could be useful, especially when the
safety of hostages or civilians is involved.

Non-lethal weapons that generate an EMP are seen to be of significant interest
for Special Forces operations for which `long-range, lightweight,
low/no-signature, precision strike capabilities are essential'.

No arms control measures deal specifically with non-lethal weapons. However,
the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention contain
provisions which may have a bearing on aspects of their development or use in
certain circumstances. Superacids, superglues and many other chemical means now
being considered under the non-lethal warfare heading could be incompatible
with the goals of the CWC.

Among the important concerns is that of proliferation and potential
destabilizing effects, perhaps making war more likely in some situations.