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News :: Human Rights
US Defense Science Board calls for strategic use of calmative chemical weapons
23 Oct 2004
Berlin Information-Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS)
The Sunshine Project
Joint News Release
16 April 2004

The US Defense Science Board, a senior advisory body to the Pentagon, has recommended exploration of the use of calmatives as strategic weapons. Calmatives, such as anesthetic or psychoactive drugs, are the same type of weapon was that tragically used at the end of the Moscow Theater siege in October 2002. The lethality of calmatives is difficult to predict, and will vary by the concentration and circumstances they are used in.

In its recently released report titled Future Strategic Strike Forces, the Defense Science Board (DSB) outlines new technologies to increase US long-range strategic capabilities over the next 30 years. The DSB suggests, "Calmatives might be considered to deal with otherwise difficult situations in which neutralizing individuals could enable ultimate mission success." The report names two categories of individuals as possible targets, advocating, "when striking rogue or terrorist leadership, the mission is to kill the leaders themselves" and "to decapitate regimes".

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prohibits all kinds of chemical weapons, lethal and less-lethal. "If the US government is considering calmatives for strategic leadership targeting, this is going to be a more than a controversial issue," says Otfried Nassauer, the director of the Berlin Information-Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS), an independent think tank specializing in military affairs, "however, the impact on the CWC might become worse, if not a non-proliferation nightmare."

The DSB admits that the "treaty implications are significant" if the US pursues a new generation of calmative chemical weapons as a strategic asset. Yet the DSB calls on the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, the Pentagon office charged with developing so-called non-lethal weapons, including calmatives, to "broaden [its] tactical and operational focus to consider the strategic applications and associated treaty issues."

Thus, after specifically recommending consideration of chemical weapons in attacks to disable, derange, or do worse to US enemies' leaders, the DSB's report appears to encourage the US Department of Defense to engage in political efforts to weaken the CWC. According to Jan van Aken of the Sunshine Project Germany, "The US government seems to be readying to attack yet another arms control treaty as soon as new technology becomes available that is militarily interesting."

The DSB provides further, ambiguously phrased, advice on 'non-lethal' weapons, stating that there is a need for "Non-lethal effects directed at the physiological or psychological functions of specific individuals or the populace. Applications of biological, chemical, or electromagnetic radiation effects on humans should be pursued."

The odd language of the second sentence, referring to applications of effects, is of concern. Since the official end of US offensive chemical weapons research in the early 90s, JNLWD has funded the work of ex-chemical weapons makers and their protégés, who are reviving old programs under the 'non-lethal' name. JNLWD has classified research programs and, for at least two years, has taught Marine Corps officers classified classes on 'non-lethal' anti-personnel chemical weapons. In 2002, it engineered another recommendation for development of calmatives, which turned into an embarrassing situation for the US National Academy of Sciences.

According to Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project US office, "The convoluted language of the DSB recommendation is no accident. It is crafted to avoid blatant endorsement of illegal weapons, yet in a manner so that it can also be read to support JNLWD's chemical weapons work, both applied and political. We fear that JNLWD has new chemical weapons that are nearly ready for use, and that the DSB recommendations reflect another attempt to take JNLWD's chemical program out of the closet and put it on the battlefield."

More information on the Defense Science Board report Future Strategic Strike Forces can be obtained from Otfried Nassauer at BITS,

The report itself can be downloaded from the internet from or

Additional information on the US efforts to develop new 'non-lethal' chemical weapons can be found at or by contacting the Sunshine Project offices in the US and Germany.
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This work is in the public domain
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