A Winning Combination for Strategic Paralysis*

Maj Jonathan W. Klaaren, USAF
Maj Ronald S. Mitchell, USAF

It is the year 2001, and industrialized country X is preparing to invade an ally of the United States. Honoring a previously signed alliance, the US contemplates military action against X and chooses a course of action designed to convince X not to invade our ally's territory. Prior to the establishment of a new government in X in 1999, X was an ally of the US. A strong feeling exists that if we could impose strategic paralysis on X by disrupting the connection between command structures and military forces, the regime would delay or cancel its decision to invade and return to normal relations with us. The challenge lies in achieving strategic paralysis without harming X's population, infrastructure, or fielded military forces. Harming X's population or infrastructure would create negative feelings and hinder the reestablishment of normal relations. US public opinion will not tolerate excessive loss of life on either side, and if infrastructure were destroyed, rebuilding following the conflict would be costly and timeconsuming. What can the US military use in its current arsenal to help accomplish the objective within these constraints? Precision guided munitions (PGM) could cause strategic paralysis but would still result in costly destruction, possible collateral damage, andžvery likely-unintentional loss of life. What if a new type of weapon could impose strategic paralysis on X without destroying its infrastructure or causing unintentional loss of life? Such a weapon does in fact exist-it is called nonlethal technology.

As the twentieth century comes to a close, the US military finds itself evaluating and modifying its cold war structure to meet a new, unstable, dangerous, and frequently violent international political environment. A large part of this evaluation consists of balancing a rapidly declining military budget and force structure against increased involvement in regional conflicts. We need a new vision-one that breaks down old military doctrine and strategy and replaces it with new ideas and technology. Looking toward the twentyfirst century and the future of regional conflicts, we in the military must consider nonlethal warfare in our future campaign planning instead of simply dismissing the term as an oxymoron. We must clearly state that we do not consider nonlethal warfare a panacea or a means to an end-in and of itself. Instead, our focus should be that the services must provide warfighting commanders with the best possible options to meet the strategic objectives they are given by the national command authorities (NCA).

Therefore, nonlethal technology must be considered one of many very effective tools that war fighters can use to meet their objectives. In the very near future, it will become clear that nonlethal methods have applicability across the entire spectrum of conflict, including crime, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and total war. Given our recent involvement in numerous regional conflicts and the growing potential of future involvement, it is fitting that we address nonlethal warfare in terms of what it can do to paralyze an enemy who supports regional conflict. Our position is that future conflicts will demand the use of nonlethal warfare, which can be applied at the strategic level to cause paralysis within the enemy state. Further, we contend that aerospace platforms can provide an effective method for the employment of nonlethal weapons.

The term nonlethal warfare sparks a wide range of emotions, particularly among military professionals. Although nonlethal weapons have been used sporadically throughout history, the concept of nonlethality as a new category of warfare is in its infancy. The Department of Defense (DOD) is studying this new concept but at much too slow a pace. We need a spark-a thoughtprovoking, legitimate demonstration of the logical use of this new and controversial idea. This is our intent-to ignite the interest of military professionals to study nonlethal warfare and to include it in the planning process. In particular, we discuss the use of nonlethal warfare as one method of imposing strategic paralysis in order to prevent or-if necessary-support future conflict. We provide a definition of nonlethal warfare that we used throughout our research and briefly explain the types and capabilities of nonlethal technology. We address strategic analysis and strategic paralysis through the use of parallel warfare. Following a discussion of nonlethal employment, we provide justification for its immediate development. The article concludes by addressing future challenges and areas that need further research.

Nonlethal Warfare--What Is It?

Our research has clearly shown that although the term nonlethal warfare has many definitions, the types, capabilities, and potential applications of nonlethal technology are limited only by the imagination of the developer. Dr John Alexander of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico defines nonlethal warfare as the application of technology that allows force to be projected while minimizing the potential for lethal consequence. This force is projected with weapons that disrupt, incapacitate, or otherwise degrade the functioning of targets without unintentionally crossing the "death barrier." Nonlethal warfare allows commanders to control people and situations in which the application of lethal force is undesirable. Some attributes of nonlethal warfare are (1) expanded options for warfighting commanders, (2) controlled levels of physical damage, (3) no unintentional loss of life, and (4) achievement of strategic paralysis.1

We recognize that even with these goals, nothing can be purely nonlethal in every case. Although the term nonlethal warfare may change and despite the fact that a definition is not universally agreed upon, the concept will most certainly take on increasing importance in future conflicts. Of the multitude of types and capabilities of nonlethal weapons under study, many are classified and in various stages of development.

Nonlethal warfare is not new-it has been around for centuries. Numerous past conflicts provide good examples of the use of nonlethal weapons. Recently, Operation Desert Storm included a variety of applications (such as the use of carbon fibers to degrade the Iraqi electrical power system)2 that demonstrated the potential benefits of using nonlethal technology in warfare. The effectiveness of nonlethal weaponry in historical examples, including Desert Storm, shows that nonlethal warfare is, in reality, already a part of our arsenal. Modern advances in technology have given rise to a wide variety of types and capabilities of nonlethal technology. Promising areas for development of future nonlethal applications are abundant. Especially promising are advances being made in artificial intelligence, microelectromechanical devices, information sciences, biomedical sciences, and a host of other emerging technologies.

Nonlethal Warfare forStrategic Paralysis

All the US military services are presently working on numerous types of current and emerging nonlethal capabilities that can be used for nonlethal warfare. However, what is lacking-and should be established immediately-is an appropriate, broadbased joint concept that considers nonlethal warfare as a means of delaying or defeating a potential enemy at the strategic level. Once this concept is developed, the services can pursue a coordinated research, development, and acquisition program on nonlethal warfare that meets the needs of the concept. Such an approach could produce strategies of nonlethal warfare that the US could employ in a coordinated and synergistic fashion to cause paralysis within an enemy system. This paralysis could prevent a state from conducting aggressive actions, stop a war from occurring, or significantly weaken the enemy's strategic warfighting capabilities and allow time for deployment of conventional forces. Unfortunately, DOD is "putting the cart before the horse." The services are developing their own capabilities (primarily tactical) and giving little thought to integrating the capabilities of nonlethal warfare into a coordinated employment strategy that can strategically defeat an enemy. We must develop and employ a strategy of nonlethal warfare, basing it on an approach that maximizes the services' combined effectiveness in defeating an enemy. But where do we go from here?

A successful strategy of nonlethal warfare requires a comprehensive understanding of the enemy's strategic, operational, and tactical makeup and of the interrelationships among these elements. From this understanding, one can deduce the enemy's centers of gravity and, if appropriate, target them with a nonlethal strategy involving a series of parallel attacks (simultaneous offensive attacks on many of the enemy's critical centers of gravity) to paralyze the enemy state.

Although nonlethal warfare can be applied to the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war, application at the strategic level is most effective in achieving national security objectives. The key is a strategy of nonlethal warfare that gets inside the adversary's strategic decisionmaking cycle and targets crucial centers of gravity to reduce or eliminate the state's capabilities to prepare for and effectively conduct war. Armed with this understanding, planners can develop a strategy that uses strategic paralysis and parallel attack to deter or defeat a potential enemy or enemies at minimum cost in casualties, manpower, and money.

Combining the concept of strategic paralysis and parallel attack in a strategy of nonlethal warfare could provide a much more flexible, less costly, and less destructive option for the NCA. This strategy would allow for the employment of nonlethal warfare options prior to a war, with the aim of reducing or paralyzing the enemy's warfighting capability and forcing the leadership to call off plans to wage war. If war did occur, then the options employed earlier would have weakened the enemy's warfighting potential so that the conflict would be shorter and therefore less costly in terms of people and budgets. Additionally, the use of nonlethal weapons at the operational and tactical levels would complement the use of conventional weapons. The possibility of "fighting" a nonlethal war and forcing a belligerent to change his decision to go to war is attainable only if civilian and military leaders seriously consider the development of a strategy of nonlethal warfare and the collateral challenge of applying it to achieve victory.

Employment of Nonlethal Technology

How would we employ this nonlethal technology? We should use it early in a conflict and in such a way that targeted leaders are unaware of its application. The objective of this strategy would be to disrupt leadership to such an extent that it would reconsider going to war. Innovative weapons and approaches for conducting these types of operations offer opportunities to apply the military instrument of power and stop a potential outbreak of war. By using technology to get into the enemy's networks, we could use electronic bullets from a remote site to destroy specific components of the regime's command and control equipment. Nonlethal weapons for attacking electricity already exist in the US arsenal. Also at our disposal are microbes or chemicals that alter petroleum products, rendering them useless. One can effectively disrupt most of a nation's transportation system through nonlethal means. Airpower could drop microbes or chemical agents on roads and airports to ruin them or to damage the rubber tires of vehicles that use the roads. We could drop different agents or caustics on rail lines to deteriorate the lines or to prevent train cars from generating the friction they need to move. We could also affect the economic infrastructure by infiltrating the state's electronic financial network and causing general economic chaos among the government and its people.

Nonlethal attacks against the governmentalpolitical infrastructure could concentrate on a campaign to discredit leadership. An information blockade against a developed state would prove disastrous in the short term and worsen with time. A state's population is the most powerful force within any state. Therefore, influencing population to accept peaceful objectives should be a key focus for any strategy of nonlethal warfare. Media manipulation is an especially effective nonlethal method of influencing population. We could use the capabilities of nonlethal warfare-especially audio and video synthesis-against a state's media to alter messages from leaders. These are but a few examples of employing nonlethal technology at the strategic level. The bottom line is obvious: nonlethal warfare, especially at the strategic level, may prevent a state from continuing its attempt to achieve unacceptable objectives prior to war.

Nonlethal employment requires us not only to think toward the future in terms of development, but also to match existing capabilities with nonlethal requirements. Specifically, we must address intelligence and delivery systems up front to ensure initial success when we employ nonlethal technology.

Intelligence requirements for nonlethal warfare include accuracy across all intelligence disciplines. We must address such requirements at the same time we develop nonlethal weapons. We must have appropriate sensors to provide "targeting" data to the nonlethal weapon and to assess the effect of its employment. This intelligence will be a critical factor in enabling delivery systems for nonlethal weapons to attack the right mix of targets.

Virtually every weapon system in the current military inventory is capable of delivering nonlethal weapons. Even currently lethal offensive systems such as the F15E Strike Eagle or the Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile can be considered nonlethal if they are used in operations that minimize casualties. Therefore, the central question in selecting a delivery platform for nonlethal warfare is not the type of platform it is but what types of weapons it carries and how those weapons affect the target. Simply stated, the best delivery platforms-aerospace platforms-already exist in the US arsenal.

The inherent strengths of aerospace power make its platforms the delivery method of choice for employing nonlethal technology. The flexibility of airpower allows for a tailored, quick, and appropriate response using longrange missiles, aircraft, and spacebased systems to achieve national objectives. Nonlethal delivery platforms of the future would need to incorporate stealth-including not only aircraft and missiles but also spacebased systems. In the long term, perhaps the nonlethal war fighter would be capable of firing an electronic bullet from a computer terminal in the Pentagon to destroy a belligerent's computer or electrical grid on the other side of the world. In the short term-and for selected nonlethal weapons-aerospace forces will continue to be the dominant delivery platforms.

Justification for Employing Nonlethal Technology

Any research on a new idea in this time of change and austere funding must include justification for its employment. The character of war is changing and is being shaped by such external factors as the spiraling cost of defense, public opinion, the media, and dualuse technology. Nonlethal warfare is one way-and at this moment is the most promising way-to satisfy these constraints. The cost of fielding a military in today's world is an important issue. Shrinking defense budgets will prohibit us from acquiring all of the weapon systems required to perform our future mission. With fewer weapon systems, fewer troops, and a reduced training budget, we will need to drastically alter the way we fight a war. Nonlethal warfare is the force multiplier necessary to fill the gap caused by downsizing; at the same time, it provides us with a method for strategically paralyzing an enemy system. We also take into consideration the effectiveness of nonlethal technology in controlling the total cost of prosecuting a future war by addressing three major areas: (1) the cost of deploying forces to the theater of operations, (2) the cost of all personnel employed and materiel used during the course of the war, and (3) the cost of rebuilding the enemy's infrastructure. In all these areas, nonlethal technology affords costeffective alternatives.

In addition to cost considerations, several other factors justify the incorporation of nonlethal weapons into our military arsenal: public opinion, the media, and dualuse technology. Public opinion shapes the decisions of America's leadership regarding armed conflict. Because nonlethal warfare limits bloodshed, it will be endorsed by the American public as a positive approach for conducting future wars. In an age of instant communication, capabilities available to the media have an increasingly important impact on military operations. The media serves as a conduit of information-not only to the American public, but also to the rest of the world. We need to eliminate the notoriety associated with war. If we use nonlethal technology to achieve paralysis, eliminate unintentional killing, and erase signs of visible destruction, then perhaps in some situations we can rid the news of sensationalism. Without a riveting story to tell, the media may be silenced. One last advantage of nonlethal warfare is its applicability to the civilian sector. Developing these weapons with a dual use in mind will greatly assist the efforts of our law enforcement communities. Currently, little is available to law enforcement short of deadly force. A means of safely subduing a suspect without using deadly force would be a significant addition to the war on crime. Such uses of nonlethal weapons are endless. Drug interdiction, border patrols, antiterrorism, and riot control are good examples.

Future Challenges

Although the American military has always preferred clearcut, warwinning scenarios that lend themselves to current doctrine and strategy, the reality is that operations short of total war are here to stay. These operations require effective planning and maximum use of resources to obtain objectives as quickly as possible and without high restoration costs. Nonlethal weapons are a form of future technology that meets these requirements. Despite the applicability of nonlethal warfare, many associated challenges need to be addressed in the near future. Issues such as education, pushpull technology, joint operations, vulnerability, moral considerations, and policy will help frame the essence of nonlethal warfare.

With many types of nonlethal weapons already developed, our first priority is to educate potential users on the capabilities of these weapons. Nonlethal proponents are just beginning to spread the word through symposiums, conferences, and workshops. They need to go one step further, however, and conduct an information campaign that introduces the concept of nonlethal warfare to commanders and to requirements organizations of operational commands. Currently, the best method of accomplishing this is to have developers of nonlethal weapons (agencies such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency [ARPA], military laboratories, and national laboratories) visit the operational commands. We need to stress how these weapons will be force multipliers and how they can work independently or in concert with conventional weapons. We also need to solicit ideas concerning what capabilities these commands envision for the future because such capabilities will drive the development of nonlethal weapons.

How, then, do we accelerate the process to ensure that nonlethal technology is available in the immediate future? The answer lies with the warfighting commanders in chief (CINC), who establish requirements based on their responsibilities and possible future objectives. CINCs must consider nonlethal warfare in all aspects of their planning processes and must identify those requirements for development that can be employed in the future to expand their warfighting options. Only when these requirements become clear can the development of nonlethal technology gain the focus it now needs to meet the requirements of the war fighter.

Certainly in this day of joint operations, it becomes increasingly important that we address nonlethal technology in terms of its applicability to all military services. We must establish an organization within DOD that monitors nonlethal technology and looks carefully at military requirements to ensure that services are not duplicating each other's efforts. This agency must also monitor the critical aspects of defense against nonlethal technology (see below). Additionally, this information center could serve to educate DOD about nonlethal capabilities and make dualuse technology available to the Department of Justice for civilian law enforcement.

If we can develop a good working relationship with the operational commands, we will have the concept of pushpull technology in place. The concept works as follows. First, the laboratories and defense analysis organizations develop the technology and make users aware of its possibilities (pushing the technology). Subsequently, the operational commands must incorporate this new technology into existing or future weapon systems (pulling the technology). Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) already has a system in place to implement this concept. AFMC has a system representative (SYSREP) at each operational command who works directly with the requirements directorate, feeds them information on new technology, and sends the command's future requirements back to AFMC. The command's approach has been very successful in the past and will definitely help move nonlethal technology out of the starting block. Contractors will play a similar role in the development of nonlethal technology. As in the past, these businesses will continue to market their products directly to the requirements organizations of major commands.

Being serious about nonlethal technology means providing incentives for businesses to develop these technologies. The best way to do this is through governmentsponsored programs. In 1993, for example, ARPA provided grant money to regional business alliances. Comprised of civiliansector businesses and government organizations, these alliances competed for grants to develop new technologies (welding processes, new composite materials, etc.). The scope of this program could be expanded to include nonlethal technology, so long as the educational efforts described previously are successful. Of course, a market for nonlethal technology must exist if a program such as this is to be feasible.

The final challenge is perhaps the most important and most difficult. As the US military develops and uses nonlethal technology, it must ask the question, Is the United States more vulnerable than any other country in the world to the very technologies it is developing? As we analyze potential enemies as systems, it becomes obvious that we are indeed vulnerable to nonlethal strategic paralysis. Now is the time to consider our vulnerability and build defenses. As technologies are researched, developed, and fielded, they must be accompanied by technology that defends us in case of proliferation. Nonlethal technology cannot always be maintained as a highly classified system that is inaccessible to enemies. In many cases, the first usage of a technology may spark development of that weapon by a potential adversary. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that we discuss defense against nonlethal warfare at great length in the very near future.

In addition, we must address moral and legal issues surrounding nonlethal warfare. The use of nonlethal weapons presents an important legal dimension, especially as regards the law of armed conflict. This law requires that only objectives of military importance be attacked but permits the use of sufficient mass to destroy those objectives. At the same time, one must avoid unnecessary and wasteful collateral destruction. Properly employed nonlethal weapons meet these criteria; however, we need more indepth study to further address the law of armed conflict.

Most of the nearterm work with nonlethal weapons will continue to be geared toward antimateriel uses. However, current treaties must be renegotiated to take into account other nonlethal technologies. Certain chemical and biological uses of nonlethal technology may be acceptable, given the nonlethal aspects of their use. Although international agreements currently proscribe the use of chemical or biological warfare in water and food supplies, these agreements came at a time when offensive chemical and biological warfare sought to kill the enemy. New forms of chemicals and microbes would not kill; instead, they would merely have a temporary effect on the population and conceivably could save lives by averting combat. Such weapons would most likely be in chemical or biological form. Chemicals placed in the water could indirectly affect agriculture and population by discoloring the water to make it appear undrinkable, slowing crop growth, or even temporarily altering the mental states of potential enemies. Clearly, we must address the incapacitation of humans and the moral dilemma that surrounds this emotional issue.

Another controversial issue is the use of mindaltering drugs to influence the population of enemy states. According to Dr Stuart Yudofsky of Baylor University, psychopharmacology (the science of drugs that affect the mind) is on "the brink of revolution."3 Previously, psychopharmacology had concentrated on the development of drugs that modify brain chemistry of mentally ill patients, which led to the development of drugs such as Prozac during the late 1980s. Presently, scientists are studying "normal" brains and determining which chemicals cause certain personality traits. Imminent breakthroughs in this area will lead to the possibility of "madetoorder, offtheshelf personalities."4 Additionally, these new drugs are supposed to have no serious side effects and no addictive properties.5 Potentially, psychopharmacology has great application for nonlethal warfare and should be followed closely to ensure that its offensive and defensive potentials are well understood. Although the United States may choose not to pursue mindaltering drugs as a weapon, other states may hold a different view. For that reason, it is imperative that we understand this capability. In short, technologies of the future will be able to incapacitate humans. If this option is the most efficient way to obtain strategic objectives, should we limit its use?

We must also remember that issues of morality and ethics do not begin and end solely with the consideration of target selection. We must look beyond these temporal musings to beg the question of the nonfatal control of other human beings and their societies. What of sovereignty and autonomy-of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as others perceive it? The Soviets feared this very form of nonlethal domination via the Reaganera threats of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and "star wars" technology.

In 1984, George Orwell's antiutopian classic, "Big Brother" has nonlethal control of society's every thought and action. Control-not killing-is the moral issue here. The US must increase its pace in the understanding and development of nonlethal technologies in order to avoid falling victim to them. Certainly, the judicious use of these technologies will help curb the senseless loss of life and societal destruction graphically witnessed in two world wars. Just as the development and capabilities of nonlethal technology are limited only by the imagination of the developer, so too are the ethics and morality of its use limited only by the avarice or compassion of its user. Employed with compassion and tempered with concern for the rights of all people, nonlethal technology could stifle despots, paralyze tyrants, and cool hottempered governments, thus making them more receptive to open negotiations.

Finally, if we want to make nonlethal warfare a viable part of our military arsenal, we must create a policy for it. Having all of these "hightech" weapons would be wonderful, but they are worthless without an appropriate policy for their application. A clearly defined policy would give us the authority to specify when and how we would utilize them.


We maintain that future conflicts will demand the use of nonlethal warfare and that aerospace platforms can provide an effective method for the employment of nonlethal weapons. We supplied a definition of nonlethal warfare and explained some of the types available, as well as their capabilities. With nonlethal weapons in mind, we briefly examined strategic analysis of an enemy as a system and discussed the use of these weapons to achieve strategic paralysis. We provided justification for the future development of nonlethal technologies by focusing on the costeffectiveness of these systems. Finally, we presented some problems and issues associated with nonlethal warfare and defined future challenges for military professionals. Our research for this article was an eyeopening experience for us. But it is only the beginning. We hope it ignites the interest of the military community. Taking a leadership role in the development of nonlethal warfare and planning for its effective use in the future will ensure our position as the world's leading superpower in the twentyfirst century.&127;


1. John B. Alexander, Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., presentation on nonlethal weapons and limitedforce options, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 27 October 1993.

2. David A. Fulgham, "Secret CarbonFiber Warheads Blinded Iraqi Air Defenses," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 27 April 1992, 18-20.

3. Sharon Begley, "One Pill Makes You Larger, One Pill Makes You Small . . ." Newsweek, 7 February 1994, 37.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.


Maj Jonathan W. Klaaren (BS, Miami University [Ohio]; MAS, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) is an operations officer and instructor at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He has served as a weapons system officer (WSO) for the F-4 and F-111 and as chief of F-111 formal training at Tactical Air Command and Air Combat Command. A graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College, Major Klaaren will begin F-15E training in July at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.

Maj Ronald S. Mitchell (BS, Texas Christian University; MA, University of Northern Colorado) is executive officer, academic instructor, and research advisor at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He has served as a launch officer and evaluator in the Minuteman and Peacekeeper systems and as a maintenance officer in the ground launched cruise missile (GLCM) system. He was also a squadron commander and instructor at the United States Air Force Academy. Major Mitchell is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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