Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

U.S. Military Use of Non-Lethal Weapons: Reality vs. Perceptions

Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

U.S. Military Use of Non-Lethal Weapons: Reality vs. Perceptions

Article excerpt

On 31 March 2003, U.S. warfighters manned a checkpoint near Najaf, Iraq, mindful that a suicide bomber had just killed four U.S. soldiers at another Iraqi checkpoint. When a van failed to heed verbal warnings to stop, they used their only other option. They fired on the van, killing seven women and children. While these actions may have been lawful, these types of situations present U.S. forces with horrific moral dilemmas. U.S. forces require alternatives to simply shouting or shooting. Non-lethal weapons fill gaps between verbal warnings and lethal force. They have been urgently needed and used by U.S. forces in Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti. Non-lethal weapons have saved civilian lives, as one battalion commander in Iraq noted--and also saved the lives of US warfighters. The need for non-lethal weapons grows as warfare and disasters increasingly occur in population centers, as well as, at sea, as small boats become the asymmetric weapon of choice.

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Since 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense has developed and fielded non-lethal weapons. Non-lethal weapons are "developed and used with the intent to minimize the probability of producing fatalities, significant or permanent injuries." This intent is supported by an unequalled effort focused on explicit user needs and a thorough understanding of the human effects of non-lethal weapons employment. DoD policy also states that non-lethal weapons, "are not intended to, eliminate risk of those actions entirely," meaning that non-lethal weapons do not come with a 100% guarantee of no injury or death. Additionally, non-lethal weapons undergo extensive legal review to ensure compliance with U.S. domestic law and international legal obligations, including the law of war.

Yet, despite their need, underlying good intentions and lawfulness, and rigorous human effects analyses, non-lethal weapons--and associated technologies that are used to make them--continue to face objections and misperceptions, just like other transformative innovations. The reality, though, is that US warfighters, who repeatedly face life-and-death situations in a complex operating environment, want and need non-lethal weapons.

Contents

I.   Introduction
II.  Growing Operational Necessity
     A. Somalia--the Prologue
     B. You Can't Kill Your Way to Victory--The Need for Non-Lethals
        Expands
     C. Future--The Needs Grow
III. Intent--and Unequalled Effort
     A. Determining the "Goalposts" for Effectiveness--Explicit User
        Needs
     B. Characterizing Human Effects--How Close They Get to the
        Goalposts
     C. Incorporating Human Effects Research into Systems Design
     D. Conducting Independent Reviews
IV.  Legal and Non-Lethal
     A. Unnecessary Suffering
     B. Discrimination
     C. Specific Law or Treaty Prohibiting Use
V.   Misperceptions and Resistance--Common to Many
     Innovations
VI.  Not Easy, Not Always Seen ... but Needed

"Getting a new idea adopted, even when it has obvious advantages, is difficult"

--Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (3)

I. INTRODUCTION

On 31 March 2003, U.S. warfighters manned a checkpoint near Najaf, Iraq, mindful that a suicide bomber had just killed four U.S. soldiers at another Iraqi checkpoint. When a van failed to heed verbal warnings to stop, they used their only other option. They fired on the van, killing seven women and children. (4) Such incidents continued, with US warfighters unable to tell if an advancing driver was a suicide bomber, or an innocent civilian fleeing danger or unable to understand the signs. But, checkpoint casualties eventually declined with warfighters' use of non-lethal systems, like dazzling lasers for warning and vehicle stopping devices. (5)

Non-lethal weapons fill gaps between verbal warnings and lethal force. They are often urgently needed by U.S. forces, and since 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Non-Lethal Weapons program has helped meet those needs. …

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