Possible problems with military use of non-lethal weapons

Stephen Coleman

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    The development and use of new technologies raises a number of ethical issues, particularly when the discussion focuses on new military technologies. However, a simple examination of the legal implications of the use of new military technologies fails to include the ethical issues surrounding these technologies, especially since law almost inevitably lags behind technological developments. The case of non-lethal weapons is an interesting one. Existing international law covers the use of some specific types of non-lethal weapons while remaining silent on others. While there are many reasons why it might be attractive to equip military personnel with non-lethal weapons, particularly when those military personnel are engaged in “operations other than war”, many problematic issues about such a decision exist which ought to be highlighted. This paper notes some of these problems, including issues that might arise in international law with regard to the principle of discrimination when non-lethal weapons are used, and problems that can arise due to differences between the ways non-lethal weapons are tested during development and how those non-lethal weapons are used in the real world. This second problem is highlighted through discussion of the problems that have arisen through police use of non-lethal weapons in domestic law enforcement situations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-199
    Number of pages15
    JournalCase Western Reserve Journal of International Law
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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