Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne is likely to find himself in hot water, over his recent suggestion to test new, non-lethal weapons on Americans–before they’re used on the battlefield. He believes that prior, domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over “safety concerns.”
“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” said Wynne.
Not only is this idea illogical–by his standard, we should have dropped an atomic bomb on a U.S. city before the strike on Hiroshima–it also puts us on a slippery slope, allowing the international community to essentially dictate what weapons can and cannot be used.
Secretary Wynne is a very bright man, there are fatal flaws in his approach. First, he has apparently forgotten the central premise behind any weapons system–deterrence. One reason we pursue weapons technology–even the non-lethal variety–is to dissuade our adversaries from striking us. If you do attack, the reasoning goes, the damage we inflict with our systems will be more pervasive, even if the weapon doesn’t kill you. So, strike us at your own peril.
Secondly, there’s that nagging question of exactly what the international community might allow, and trying to conform U.S. defense policy to meet a double standard. By my count, the U.S. has, over the past 50 years, been chastized by members of the “international community” for (a) the menace posed by its nuclear arsenal; (b) the danger from its chemical and biological arsenal; (c) the menace from its stockpiles of conventional arms; (d) its sale of weapons around the globe; (e) our refusal to support an international ban on landmines; (f) our pursuit of strategic missile defenses, and (f) our use of depleted uranium munitions. Let me get this straight: it’s now imperative that we test non-lethal weapons on our own people so we can avoid criticism by people who criticize us anyway?
Here’s a better idea: announce plans that we’re working on Buck Rogers Death Ray that will vaporize anything in its path, and that this weapon will be used on our enemies in combat, as required. That will achieve much more of a desired effect than any domestic testing program for non-lethal weapons. History records that our adversaries have a much greater respect for strength than timidity. Attempting to calibrate our weapons testing (and potential employment) to the vagaries of the international community is not a viable defense strategy.