When Lethal Force Won't Do

By Colonel Dennis B. Herbert, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Technology and the More Likely Contingencies

Technology must be tailored to "deal with the most likely contingency requirements," wrote defense expert Anthony H. Cordesman. 2 Much has been said about the technology needed for future force-on-force contests, but the more likely contingencies are those conducted amid a deteriorating social order in the developing world. Of the 27 conflicts that occurred in 1996, only one was an interstate conflict; the rest were internal. In fact, almost all conflicts since the Gulf War have been intrastate. 3 General C. C. Krulak, Commandant of the Marine Corps, best characterized the conflict we face on the horizon: "Future war is most likely not the son of Desert Storm; rather it will be the stepchild of Somalia and Chechnya." 4

This likelihood already is apparent to naval forces. Over the past 18 months, they have been called on to protect U.S. interests in such disintegrating nation-states as Albania, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. Since the Gulf War, the Navy and Marine Corps team has responded to more than 55 crisis missions. 5 Almost all have been the result of a devastated social order, caused by natural disasters or oppressive regimes. In addition, a more active role for forward deployed naval forces is envisioned for what has been called the "age of chaos." They are likely to be used for "selective and committed engagements" and "prompt crisis response." As the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps recently wrote, "the United States and the world cannot afford to allow any crisis to escalate into threats to [their] vital interests." 6

These contingencies will require more than lethal technologies. Conflict is shifting from the open battlefields to densely populated urban centers, making the combatant and the noncombatant almost indistinguishable. In this environment in particular, the "use of deadly force always runs the risk of civilian casualties," points out retired Navy Captain Michael J. Cuomatos, who commanded the amphibious task force during the withdrawal from Somalia. 7 This reality is reflected in world casualty rates. According to some estimates, civilians account for more than 75% of the deaths in today's conflicts. 8

The problem of distinguishing combatants from noncombatants will only get worse as urbanization increases. Relative to 1990, global urban population is expected to triple by 2025, reaching four billion people or 61% of the world's total population. 9 This increase will exacerbate the growing unrest that already exists in many urban areas.

In this environment, reliance solely on lethal technologies may contribute more to instability than stability. In some cases, the use of lethal force will be seen as too disproportionate a response to be a credible threat. In Bosnia recently, it failed to deter an angry mob of Bosnian Serbs that overwhelmed Norwegian forces in the town of Derventa. 10 In other cases, the use of lethal force can alienate the civil populace and strengthen resistance, as the Russian Army learned in Chechnya. 11

The Emergence of Nonlethal Technologies

For the first time, technology is making it possible to use coercive force while minimizing casualties. The Marine Corps already has demonstrated the potential of off-the-shelf nonlethal technologies during the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Somalia. More recently, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory has incorporated nonlethal technologies into experiments that are intended to develop future warfighting concepts. In addition, technologies that once were regarded as science fiction now lie within the realm of the possible. Such technologies as acoustics, electromagnetic pulse, and beamed energies offer the promise of nonlethal capabilities.

A debate rages over such capabilities. Critics of nonlethal capabilities have regarded them as a "weak knee-ed" approach to warfare. However, as one Marine captain involved in recent warfighting experiments put it, nonlethal capabilities require a paradigm shift in the use of force. Their focus is not so much the physical destruction of enemy forces and territory—which Clausewitz saw as a prerequisite for victory—as it is imposing our will on opponents, which Clausewitz saw as the overarching aim in conflict.

In the coming security environment, nonlethal capabilities will be vital to the readiness of naval forces to meet these more likely contingencies. First, they can fill a major gap in capabilities between verbal warning and deadly force. Opponents already have recognized this vulnerability and attempted to exploit it. Using women and children as shields, the forces of Somali warlords maneuvered against and confronted Marines during Operation Restore Hope.

Nonlethal capabilities go beyond filling a vulnerability gap—they provide options. They can be used to delay, degrade, and deny enemy capabilities. In the messy conflict that can occur in operations other than war, these increased options translate into greater freedom of action for naval forces. In addition, nonlethal capabilities tend to be less provocative, compared to lethal force. They are less likely to alienate the people whose support we seek in a crisis region. Should they prove ineffective, that only provides greater justification for lethal force.

There is a bigger reason for nonlethal capabilities—they are indicative of American values. It has long been a goal of our National Security Strategy to promote democratic values on the world scene. 12 The dilemma we face when lethal force is the only option was best described by Marine Corps Reservist CWO5 Charles "Sid" Heal, a lieutenant in the Los Angles County Sheriff's Department: "It is . . . difficult to make a case for a successful humanitarian effort while killing the people you were sent to protect." 13 The same can be said for promoting democratic values. Nonlethal capabilities enable naval forces to maintain the moral high ground, especially when confronting ruthless opponents.

Nonlethal capabilities also will be critical to maintaining public support for forward deployed naval forces and their operations. The American people recognize that conflict will result in death and injury, but they are not likely to tolerate operations that result in unnecessary casualties—enemy or friendly. This truth was evidenced in the public reaction to Iraqi casualties along the "highway of death" after coalition air attacks during the Gulf War. "The [TV] reports make it look like wanton killing," said then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell. This reaction contributed significantly to the war's early end. 14

All of this does not argue for nonlethal capabilities to supplant lethal force. Most supporters of nonlethal capabilities recognize that they must be backed by lethal force. "By themselves, nonlethal systems are not a credible deterrent," points out Dr. John B. Alexander of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. 15 Nor should they be considered a mandatory precursor to lethal force. Deadly force should be used whenever the situation dictates. Nonlethal capabilities are merely a supplement to the combined-arms inventory that naval forces already possess.

The Complexity of Nonlethal Technologies

For all the reasons that exists for seeking nonlethal capabilities, there are an equal number of challenges—if not more. Developing such technologies is the first major challenge. It goes beyond the ordnance and ballistics technologies associated with most weapon systems. Nonlethal capabilities cut across the range of science, from acoustics to thermal technologies. Some nonlethal technologies pose extraordinary developmental challenges. As a recent Congressional Research Service Study points out, "Whether technologically complex nonlethal weapons will work as advertised awaits conclusive tests, some of which have not yet been devised." 16

Somalia again serves as an example. Acoustic devices offer tremendous potential for nonlethal capabilities and were considered for deployment by Marines for crowd control. However, such devices were rejected because they were untested. Their effects on pregnant women and the elderly and infirm largely were unknown. 17

It is not enough just to develop nonlethal technologies. "Technology will only be valuable to the extent that it is integrated into an effective force structure," notes Anthony Cordesman.l8 This will be easier said than done with many nonlethal technologies, particularly emerging ones.

Their integration into an effective force structure requires that at least ten major areas be considered: (1) rules of engagement; (2) safety standards; (3) countermeasures; (4) public opinion; (5) measures of lethality; (6) legal implications; (7) medical implications; (8) environmental issues; (9) training programs; and (10) consequence management. In many of these areas, this integration will venture into uncharted waters.

Rethinking Research and Development

"The linkage between military-related science and technology and the university community is long-standing," states the President's National Security Science and Technology Strategy. 19 Good reasons exist for this linkage. In many cases, only the university could provide the research necessary for-the development of critical technologies—and this will be especially true for nonlethal technologies. They pose a unique and unprecedented challenge in research and development.

The difficulty in developing nonlethal technologies lies in the fragmented approach that has existed to date. Based on 50 years of defense research, the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University realized that many technologies offer nonlethal applications. For example, some acoustic technologies developed for underwater warfare may be used to stop a vehicle—the introduction of cavitation to fuel systems might shut down a vehicle's engine—but the collateral effects of these technologies are largely unknown.

In addition, some technologies were applicable for crowd control, but it was recognized that their use could have broader implications. The medical effects on a child might differ from those on an adult male. Some substances also could have long-term environmental consequences for water quality and crop growth. Assessing these far-reaching implications of potential nonlethal technologies goes beyond the scope normally considered by a single research entity.

Nonlethal technologies also demand a paradigm shift in research and development, as they require a highly integrated and multidisciplinary approach. To meet this requirement, Penn State established the Institute for Nonlethal Defense Technologies. The significance of this initiative is that it brings the assets of a broad-based, research-intense university to bear on the problem of nonlethal technologies.

In this effort, the initial research and development is conducted by the Applied Research Lab. The College of Engineering provides the nondestructive testing, as well as the modeling and analysis that are so critical to nonlethal technological development. It also assists in the integration of these technologies with sensors and robotics. The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences evaluates the effects of weather on nonlethal technologies, and the Environmental Resource Research Institute assesses environmental impact.

The medical effects of proposed technologies must be assessed to determine if they really are nonlethal. In addition, medical personnel should cover the employment of nonlethal capabilities and be able to treat any possible effects. This expertise is provided by the College of Medicine, and the College of Health and Human Development provides research in biomechanics and neuroendocrine responses.

According to "DoD Instruction 5000.2 - Defense Acquisition Management Policies and Procedures," all U.S. weapons and munitions must undergo legal reviews during development, procurement, and deployment.20 These reviews are intended to ensure compliance with the laws of war and any moral/ethical obligations. Penn State's Dickinson Law School and The Institute for Policy Research and Evaluation provide expertise in this area, to include evaluating nonlethal technologies for compliance with arms-control agreements.

This effort is best characterized as a combined-arms approach to research and development. It is intended to ensure unity of effort among a variety of diverse disciplines and ultimately achieve a very complex end: nonlethal capabilities..

For the first time, science offers us the ability to do more than just kill opponents. Such capabilities will be critical to naval forces facing chaos in the littorals. The complexity of this world and these technologies demands more than just business as usual, however. It means thinking anew not only in the operating forces but also in our research laboratories.

1 Phillips Laboratory press release, "Laser Technology Used in Somalia May Aid Law Enforcement." 26 September 1995.

2 Anthony H. Cordesman, "Compensating for Smaller Forces: Adjusting Ways and Means Through Technology," in Strategy and Technology (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute. U.S. Army War College, 1992), 12.

3 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. SIPRI Yearbook 1997, ch. 1.

4 Robert Holzer. "Krulak Warns of Overreliance on Technology," Defense News, 7-13 October 1996, pp. 4, 32.

5 Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, "U.S. Marine Corps Stump Speech," January 1997. The speech states that the Marine Corps responded to 54 crisis missions as of that date. Albania's evacuation in March 1997 puts the count at 55.

6 Adm. Jay L. Johnson, USN, and Gen. C. C. Krulak, USMC, "Forward Presence in a Violent World," Surface Warfare, July/August 1997, p. 4.

7 William B. Scott, "Panel's Report Backs Nonlethal Weapons," Aviation Week, 16 October 1995, p. 50.

8 Ruth Leger Silvard, "World Military and Social Expenditures 1996," World Priorities, 1996, p. 7.

9 Silvard, "World Military and Social Expenditures," p. 31.

10 Dana Priest and Lee Hochstader, "NATO Troops, Serbs Face Off in Bosnia," Washington Post, 9 September 1997, p. A-14.

11 Maj. R. C. Finch, USA, "Emerging Threats: A Focus of Future Battle-Chechen Fighter Shamil Basayev," Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS, July 1997.

12 A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement," February 1995, p. 7. Promoting American values has been a consistent theme in National Security Strategies since 1987.

13 CWO5 Charles "Sid" Heal, USMCR, "Nonlethal Technology and the Way We Think of ‘Force,"' Marine Corps Gazette, January 1997, p. 27. Sid Heal was the principal advisor to Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force, on the use of nonlethal options during Operation United Shield.

14 Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf, USA (Ret.), It Doesn't Take a Hero: The Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), p. 468.

15 Dr. John B. Alexander, "Nonlethal Weapons Demand Expands as Missions Change," National Defense, March 1996, p. 35.

16 John M. Collins, "Nonlethal Weapons and Operations: Potential Applications and Practical Limitations," Congressional Research Service, 14 September 1995, p. CRS-4.

17 Douglas Pasternak. "Wonder Weapons," L'S News, 7 July 1997.

18 Cordesman, "Compensating for Smaller Forces," p. 8.

19 National Security Science and Technology Strategy, p. 16.

20 Collins, "Nonlethal Weapons and Operations," p. CRS-5.

Colonel Herbert is the Program Development Manager of the Institute for Nonlethal Defense Technologies, Applied Research Laboratory, at Pennsylvania State University. He is an aviator, a veteran of three tours in Vietnam, and served in various command and staff positions in his 28-year career.



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