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Nerve Gas To Be Used for Crowd Control in the UK?

Royal Society scientists tell of 'incapacitating chemical agents' investigation

- Common Dreams staff

A neuroscience research team has announced that the UK may be planning on implementing nerve gas and other chemical agents for domestic law enforcement. Scientists commissioned through Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, says that the government commissioned them to research new developments in neuroscience that would 'be of use to the military'. The group of scientists has become aware that the government may be preparing to use incapacitating chemical agents for crowd control.

The Independent reports:

Leading neuroscientists believe that the UK Government may be about to sanction the development of nerve agents for British police that would be banned in warfare under an international treaty on chemical weapons.

A high-level group of experts has asked the Government to clarify its position on whether it intends to develop "incapacitating chemical agents" for a range of domestic uses that go beyond the limited use of chemical irritants such as CS gas for riot control.

The Royal Society working group says the Government shifted its position to allow the development of more severe chemical agents, such as the type of potentially dangerous nerve gases used by Russian security forces to end hostage sieges.The experts were commissioned by the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, to investigate new developments in neuroscience that could be of use to the military. They concluded that the Government may be preparing to exploit a loophole in the Chemical Weapons Convention allowing the use of incapacitating chemical agents for domestic law enforcement. [...]

The Royal Society working group says the Government shifted its position to allow the development of more severe chemical agents, such as the type of potentially dangerous nerve gases used by Russian security forces to end hostage sieges. "The development of incapacitating chemical agents, ostensibly for law-enforcement purposes, raises a number of concerns in the context of humanitarian and human-rights law, as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)," the report says.

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Wired reports:

A working group led by the Royal Society has warned the scientific community and the Government to tread carefully when entering the ethical minefield that is the use of neuroscience.

A report published today by the Royal Society tackles the divisive issue of the potential uses of neuroscience research by the military or security forces -- whether to improve the performance of our troops, to "diminish" the performance of the enemy or, perhaps most controversially, in law enforcement. [...]

Professor Rod Flowers, a biochemical pharmacologist at Queen Mary University of London, said the latest scientific insights into human brain is leading to novel ways of degrading human performance using chemicals.Rod Flowers was chairman of the working group that produced the paper and is Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London. He says: "We know that neuroscience research has the potential to deliver great social benefit -- researchers come closer every day to finding effective treatments for diseases and disorders such as Parkinson's, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and addiction. However, understanding of the brain and human behavior coupled with developments in drug delivery also highlight ways of degrading human performance that could possibly be used in new weapons, especially incapacitating chemical agents.

"This is why it is so important that UK government is clear about its reasons for the changes made to its interpretation of the law enforcement exemption in the CWC. It's absolutely crucial that countries adhering to the CWC address the definition of incapacitating chemical agents under the CWC at the next Review Conference in 2013." [...]

Ethical issues aside, Flower questions whether the resources being used for neuroscience research for potential military applications might not be better deployed elsewhere: "The application of neuroscience research in the development of enhancement and degradation technologies for military and law enforcement use raises significant ethical considerations. Support for this type of research is potentially diverting funding and resources away from other important social applications such as the treatment of neurological impairment, disease and psychiatric illness. This is why it should be subject to ethical review and as transparent as possible."

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