Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rules for Psychotropic War?

Foreign Policy reports sardonically on the DOD's research into cognitive enhancers for warfare in this article, entitled "This is Your Brain on War."

Could pills one day replace bullets in an army’s arsenal? It might sound like science fiction, but thanks to new advances in pharmaceuticals and neuroscience, the next generation of conflict may indeed move from the battlefield to the brain. That’s according to a recent report commissioned by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to map the future of cognitive warfare.
Yep, the old "It Might Sound Like Science Fiction but..." we seem to be hearing that about most new weapons in the US arsenal: nonlethals, autonomous weapons, and now psychotropic drugs or cybernetic technology designed to give militaries an edge.
Combat in years to come, according to the report, will be dramatically influenced by breakthroughs in neuroscience that can be adapted for defense purposes. These developments might involve improving a soldier’s ability to process information with chemicals that alter brain chemistry or computer hardware that interfaces directly with the brain... The U.S. military is also interested in applications that impair its enemies’ performance. These could range from neural-imaging technologies that tell interrogators when a prisoner is lying, to aerosols that destroy an adversary’s will to fight or drugs that alter their moods, even increasing their trust as they are attacked.
Should we be troubled? And if so how much? Citizens associated with say yes. Yet international rules governing such weapons have yet to be written. One set of precautionary principles are already on the books however: Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions reads:
"In the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, a High Contracting Party is under an obligation to determine whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by this Protocol or by any other rule of international law applicable to the High Contracting Party."
In other words, governments should consider whether new weapons meet basic war law standards before developing them. The key questions to ask are whether the weapons can be controlled and used discriminately and whether they are humane or would instead cause unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury. The US has not ratified AP 1 and so is not technically required to review new weapons thus, but historically has done so nonetheless. Perhaps instead of trying to get these weapons banned in advance, activists should put the burden of proof on the government to make the case that they are consistent with the rules of war.

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