War without death? How non-lethal weapons could change warfare
Using non-lethal weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan would support US efforts to demonstrate restraint and would reduce the catastrophic effects associated with war.
Fort Hood, Texas
Which is better in war? Wipe out a nation completely and start fresh? Merely disarm the enemy through aggressive tactics? Or subdue through nonaggressive means altogether?Skip to next paragraph
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Today, the United States has been actively fighting two wars with high casualty rates for both sides. It would be valuable for the commander in chief and senior military leaders to consider the merits of a nonlethal approach to warfare.
The term “nonlethal weapon” generally refers to weapons intended to be less likely to kill or to cause great bodily injury than a conventional weapon, i.e., guns, missiles, bombs, etc.
Nonlethal weapons can include chemical and biological agents, electroshock devices, acoustic devices, optical munitions, blunt or rubber projectiles, traction modifiers, nets or rapid-hardening rigid foam, radio frequency or microwave technologies, computer viruses, noxious smells, and acoustical interference technologies.
It wouldn’t be difficult to have soldiers learn to use these weapons more regularly, as these types of weapons are already used in any number of operations.
Experience points to the fact that nonlethal weapons (NLW) are not only appropriate for use, they could be the most effective strategy and save thousands of lives.
Consider, for example what happened in Somalia in 1995. Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni anticipated the need to fill the void between verbal warnings and lethal force for unarmed hostiles while extracting United Nations peacekeepers (over 6,000 soldiers) from Somalia. He used intelligence operations to ensure the local population was informed that his forces were armed and ready with nonlethal grenade launchers and other equipment such as shotguns that fired pepper spray.
In the end, not a single shot was fired and all troops and equipment were withdrawn without suffering a casualty. “Our experience in Somalia with nonlethal weapons offered ample testimony to the tremendous flexibility they offer to warriors on the field of battle,” Zinni explained later.
So what prevents the military from using more tactics such as the one Zinni used? A general lack of understanding of the methods used by of torturers among watchdog groups.
Groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have strongly opposed the proliferation of many nonlethal weapons, even going so far as campaigning to have banned them outlawed altogether, mainly due to abuse of such nonlethal weapons.
However, as the broad definition of nonlethal weapons shows, it is a user’s intent, not the tool, that is problematic. After all, there is no shortage of objects that can be used as instruments of torture.