Report Urges U.S. To Pursue Nonlethal Weapons
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REPORT URGES U.S. TO INCREASE ITS EFFORTS ON NONLETHAL WEAPONS
By William J. Broad
New York Times
Wednesday, November 6, 2002
he American military should redouble its efforts to develop and deploy
nonlethal weapons, an expert panel reported on Monday. Written before the
recent hostage crisis in Moscow, the report backed drugs similar to the
knockout gas used in Moscow to free hundreds of people, as well as other
The Pentagon insists it has stopped all work on incapacitating chemicals, an
assertion that critics dispute. The issue is controversial because work on
some chemical incapacitants can violate arms control treaties.
The new report, An Assessment of Nonlethal Weapons Science and Technology,
was done at the Pentagon's request by the National Research Council, the
research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Incapacitating chemicals
and other types of nonlethal arms "should be given a higher priority," it
The military already uses some forms of nonlethal or humane arms tear gas,
for example in some peacekeeping operations. The report said these weapons
were likely to become important in defending ships and singling out
terrorists hidden among civilian populations. The terrorist attacks of Sept.
11, it said, have added urgency to the acceptance and carrying out of the
The report was critical of what it called several obstacles to progress,
including limited research, few new ideas and poor understanding of weapons
effects. It said such problems could preclude nonlethal weapons "from
becoming an integral force option."
The report was written by a panel of 17, including its chairwoman, Miriam E.
John, head of the California branch of the Sandia National Laboratories,
which helps maintain the nation's nuclear arsenal.
The government has, at relatively low levels of financing, explored an array
of technologies that can immobilize people and machines, including loud
noises, bright lights, horrific odors, electrical shocks, dense smoke,
superglues, rigid foams, slippery greases, blunt projectiles and bursts of
The new report said that mind-altering or sleep-inducing chemical agents,
which the military calls calmatives, offered "strong potential" as weapons
meant to dissuade, temporarily inhibit, incapacitate or otherwise impede
dangerous crowds and individuals.
It said future research on calmatives needed to focus on quantifying their
effectiveness, increasing their margin of safety and developing the means of
rapidly delivering the appropriate dose. These problems, and the lack of
sufficient antidotes, became large factors in the Moscow hostage crisis,
where 118 people died, roughly one in seven of the 763 hostages.
The report mentioned fentanyl, the drug used in Moscow. It cited the drug as
particularly fast acting, "on the order of one minute after exposure."
The report said nonlethal arms could be used to block the kind of attack
that struck the American destroyer Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when
suicide bombers pulled a small boat packed with explosives alongside the
ship and detonated the payload. The report said nonlethal arms could be
directed to try to cripple approaching threats and, if unsuccessful, could
be followed up with deadly force.
The report called for new research in areas like chemicals, directed energy
like microwaves, barriers and entanglements.
The development of chemical nonlethal weapons has all but stopped since the
adoption of a 1997 treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, the
report said. Even so, the study added, "there are compelling applications in
engine stopping and crowd control that cannot be achieved by others means."
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