FIVE: Non-lethal Weapons
The concept of non-lethal weapons is not new; the term appears in heavily censored CIA documents dating
from the 1960's. But research and development in non-lethal technologies has received new impetus as post-Cold War Pentagon planning has shifted its focus to regional conflicts, insurgencies, and peacekeeping. The proponents concede that non-lethal weapons are not necessarily non-lethal, they are still called that because the term is politically attractive. Various names were considered and are still sometimes used: soft kill, mission kill, less-than-lethal weapons, non-injurious incapacitation, disabling measures, strategic immobility. "Having been through a number of names, I can say that nothing has had the impact of 'non-lethal,"avers Alexander. The growing prominence of the non-lethal program tends to validate this strategy. Rebelling against the program's marketing spin, analysts across the political spectrum have rejected the assertion that non-lethal weapons represent a new development in war fighting--or even a fruitful area for investment. Alexander writes;"Major political benefit can be accrued by being the first nation to announce a policy advocating projection of force in a manner that does not result in killing people," "Non-lethal weapons disable or destroy without causing significant injury or damage," asserted Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in a March 1991 memorandum.
This is an important misconception. Nevertheless, Wolfowitz wrote; "A U.S lead in non-lethal technologies
will increase our options and reinforce our position in the post-Cold War world." Dozens of non-lethal
weapons have been proposed or developed, m ostly in laboratory-scale models. They encompass a broad
range of technologies, including chemical, biological kinetic, electromagnetic, and acoustic weapons, as well as informational techniques such as computer viruses.
The hazards of unaccountable government, from secret wars to secret radiation experiments, are well known. And yet the system continues. The Clinton administration has made progress toward reforming it, but measurable results still have not materialized. The nominal justification for secrecy in non-lethal weapons is that developing them on a totally unclassified basis would enable potential adversaries to duplicate the effort or develop countermeasures. This is a valid concern that is exploited beyond all justification to the point of concealing the budgets and even the very existence of many programs.
For hundreds of years, sci-fi writers have imagined weapons that might use energy waves or pulses to knock out, knock down, or otherwise disable enemies--without necessarily killing them. And for a good 40 years the U.S military has quietly been pursuing weapons of this sort. Much of this work is still secret, but now that the cold war has ended and the United States is engaged in more humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, the search for weapons that could incapacitate people without inflicting lethal injuries has intensified. Police, too, are keenly interested. Scores of new contracts have been issued, and scientists, aided by government research on tje "bioeffects" of beamed energy, are searching the electromagnetic and sonic spectrums for wavelengths that can affect human behavior. Weapons already exist that use lasers, which can temporarily or permanenly blind enemy soldiers. So-called acoustic or sonic weapons, like the ones in the aforementioned lab, can vibrate the insides of humans to stun them, nauseate them, or even "liquefy" their bowels and reduce them to quivering diarrheic messes," according to a Pentagon briefing. Prototypes of such weapons were recently considered for tryout when U.S troops intervened in Somalia. Other, stranger effects also have been explored, such as using electromagnetic waves to put human targets to sleep or to heat them up, on the imcrowave-oven principle.
Scientists are also trying to make a sonic cannon that throws a shock wave with enough force to knock
down a man. While this and similar weapons may seem far-fetched, scientists say they are natural successors to projects already underway--beams that disable the electronic systems of aircraft, computers, or missiles, for instance. "Once you are into these anti-materiel weapons, it is a short jump to antipersonnel weapons," says Louis Slesin, editor of the trade journal Microwave News.That's because the human body is essentially an electrochemical system, and devices that disrupt the electrical impulses of the nervous system can affect behavior and body functions. But these programs--particularly those involving antipersonnel research-- are so well guarded that details are scarce.
"People [in the military] go silent on this issue," says Slesin, "more than any other issue. People
just do not want to talk about this."