Can we trust new weapons that are supposed to be non-lethal?by Amber Marks / July 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Retired US colonel John B Alexander is unusual in his profession. He thinks that the best way to a peaceful world isn’t deadly force, but new weapons designed to minimise permanent injury. Some are already common, from electronic control devices like the controversial Tasers—used by Britain’s police to immobilise targets with electric shocks—to rubber bullets, chemical sprays and water cannons. But Alexander and other enthusiasts think the search for these weapons has just begun.
I met him in May on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany, at the 5th European Symposium on Non Lethal Weapons (NLWs). A handful of protestors held placards saying “against mind control.” Alexander recounted that one of these “wavers”—people who believe they are targets of microwave beams—claimed to recognise him from a UFO encounter. “They’re crazy paranoid,” he explained.
No doubt, but when even the British Medical Association voices concern about the “militarisation of biology,” it isn’t just conspiracy theorists who worry about the darker side of NLWs. As Jonathan Moreno’s Mind Wars (2006) details, military scientists are using advances in neuroscience—which shed light on the biochemical basis of much human behaviour—to design weapons. Ultimately, these could lead to the intentional manipulation of people’s emotions, memories and immune responses.
The symposium saw discussions of new NLWs. Some use “directed energy” to induce pain with electromagnetic waves. Others will allow remote stimulation of the skeletal muscles, helpful for target immobilisation. There was also talk of exploiting the psychological impact of smelly substances for crowd control, a technique already used by the Israeli army.
“A human being needs to be treated as an information processor,” says Alan Ashworth, a neuroscientist working for the US air force. Any stimulus, he explains, produces a motor response and it should be possible to design weapons that produce the desired beh…