The Pentagon's 'Nonlethal' Gas
JNLWD spokesman Shawn Turner says the military has recently abandoned research on calmatives but not because of international legal issues. "It's really been a matter of budget constraints more than anything," says Turner. "We've looked at calmatives in the past, but we just don't have the funding right now."
Not so, says Edward Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, an Austin, Texas-based public-interest group that deals with biological and chemical weapons issues. "The JNLWD has been fascinated by calmatives since its inception, and it is chomping at the bit to use them," he says. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Sunshine Project has obtained a host of interesting Pentagon documents that reveal the Pentagon's deep and continuing attraction to calmatives, including tests on animals and possibly even human subjects. The documents also reveal an internal Pentagon debate on how to get around what is consistently described as the "challenge" of international treaties.
Research on calmatives was discontinued for several years in the early 1990s because of fears that the weapons violated existing international law. Not to be deterred, legal minds in the military came up with two arguments that exploit what they think are loopholes in the treaties, enabling them to restart R&D efforts on calmatives. And the Pentagon has tried to advance its arguments through a vigorous public relations campaign to counter what Pentagon planners have described as the "CNN factor"--media stories that might "elicit such negative public or political reactions as...that NLWs violate international treaties."
One Pentagon document, produced after a JNLWD-led joint US and British seminar on calmatives in urban warfare, called on the United States to "continue current efforts to develop and execute a public information campaign plan." This and other documents show an almost Orwellian obsession with language and led to debates on whether to call them "nonlethal" or "less than lethal." Some in the military have even tossed around the term "weapons of mass protection." This obsession with terminology has a lot to do with the fact that the Pentagon's two arguments for the legality of calmatives are essentially semantic.
The first argument involves reclassifying calmatives as a riot-control agent. One Pentagon document from 1999 notes that "calmative and gastrointestinal convulsives, if classified as riot control agents, can be acceptable." Other Pentagon documents suggest shifting the funding for studies of calmatives to the Justice Department or Energy Department to avoid legal problems, and that is just what has happened. A University of Pennsylvania calmatives research project, which was once funded by the Pentagon, is now being underwritten by the Justice Department, furthering the argument that they are being studied solely for use by law-enforcement agencies.
It is a rather transparent smokescreen. The head of one of the studies is the former director of the JNLWD. And numerous documents reveal that the Pentagon has developed a range of weapons capable of delivering calmative chemicals, including specialized bullets, landmines and a mortar round developed by General Electric. "It is hard to see how mortar rounds can be used in domestic law enforcement," notes Harvard's Meselson. Other documents show that Marine Corps officers have received training in chemical warfare doctrine by the JNLWD.
The second Pentagon argument for the legality of calmatives involves the definition of war under existing international law. Sure, incapacitants might be banned during war, goes the argument, but how do you define war? The Pentagon says the term is limited to offensive international war, which would exclude actions like the one in Mogadishu and other "peacekeeping" efforts that seek to enforce international law. Pentagon planners have put this type of mission into the nonwar category of "military operations other than war."
"This is a description that can be applied to every conflict since World War II," says the Sunshine Project's Hammond. And the kind of ambiguous, low-intensity conflict that took place in the Persian Gulf and Mogadishu is just what is depicted in the various scenarios envisioned by military planners laying out appropriate uses for calmatives. One hypothetical scenario for calmative use cited by the Pentagon even involves hungry civilians rioting at a food distribution center.