The U.S. military needs to hasten funding and development of nonlethal weapons,
including chemicals that could be used to calm or control crowds who might threaten
U.S. bases abroad, according to a report by the National Research Council.
The report released Monday drew a harsh reaction from peace activists, especially
in light of the unintended civilian casualties last week in Moscow, where Russian
soldiers used a sleep-inducing gas against Chechen hostage- takers in a Moscow
theater. The gas killed many civilians in the theater, especially the very young
and the elderly.
Gases and other "nonlethal weapons are an additional way to provide greater
security for military bases and protect our forces," said Miriam E. John, vice
president of Sandia National Laboratories's California branch in Livermore. She
chaired the committee that wrote the report.
Especially worthwhile would be the development of "calmative" gases that can
calm large groups, or "malodorant" -- foul smelling -- gases that can repel them,
says the report, titled "An Assessment of Nonlethal Weapons Science and Technology."
The report also urges the military to beef up its development of other so-
called nonlethal weapons, which would "incapacitate people or materiel while minimizing
unintended death and damage."
These include "a vehicle-mounted system that uses heat produced by high- power
microwaves to stop vehicles and vessels" without harming the occupants, and robotic
vehicles and sensors that can track potential enemy threats.
The NRC is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences
and National Academy of Engineering, which advise Congress on science and technology.
The report's conclusions are intended for perusal by the military in general,
although the report itself was developed by an NRC branch with ties to Navy and
Marine Corps operations.
Peace activists attacked the report as unwise and ill-timed, particularly in
the aftermath of the Moscow tragedy.
"They're talking about upgrading a whole new piece of the military- industrial
complex," charged Andrew Lichterman, a spokesman for Oakland-based Western States
Legal Foundation, one of the leading peace groups in the western United States.
"We're not having the national debate we need about what these massive military
forces are for."
The NRC report is "terribly, terribly irresponsible" and biased by its ties
to the military, said Edward Hammond, head of The Sunshine Project. The Austin,
Texas-based group has critiqued U.S. weapons developments including so-called
The Pentagon agency charged with developing nonlethal weapons is the six- year-old
Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD). That agency "got what it wanted in
the (NRC) study: a green light to continue development of gas weapons," Hammond
In the late 20th century, U.S. military futurists began advocating research
and development of such nonlethal weapons to minimize civilian and enemy casualties
in wartime. On Congressional order, the U.S. Defense Department responded in 1996
by creating the JNLWD as a branch of the U.S. Marine Corps.
However, the Navy "has made little investment in nonlethal weapons science
and technology," complained the NRC report. The report was sponsored by two of
the agencies that would benefit from increased funding: the Directorate and the
Office of Naval Research.
In a phone interview, John, a chemist by training, said the directorate spends
roughly $30 million a year. So far it has spent its money largely on low-tech
nonlethal devices such as rubber bullets and "sticky foam," which can bog down
Although the report doesn't recommend a specific amount of increased spending
for R&D on nonlethal weapons, John said the military should consider doubling
the amount -- especially on higher-tech weapons such as the calming or smelly
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle