Neurowarfare

jack from mass effect charging for a punch

This is an interesting one that is kind of flying under the radar.

SOF operators do not currently receive any direct training on neurowarfare (indeed, most are unfamiliar with the concept entirely), and published research is strikingly limited. Of the small number of academic publications on the topic, only a handful directly address neurowarfare. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are uniquely positioned to confront the complex and dynamic threats neurowarfare poses but is currently under-prepared to take up the challenge. Part of the reason is a lack of general awareness. Although US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) prioritizes neuroscience research and innovation, especially for cognitive enhancement, comparatively less is known about neuroweapons that cause cognitive degradation.

CHANGING HEARTS AND BRAINS: SOF MUST PREPARE NOW FOR NEUROWARFARE

Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “neurowarfare” before, but I understand the concept. This is how the authors define it:

Neurowarfare is the strategic takedown of a competitor through the use of neuroweapons that remotely “target the brain or central nervous system to affect the targeted person’s mental state, mental capacity and ultimately the person’s behavior in a specific and predictable way.

Ok, but wait a minute, isn’t this kind of like psychological operations?

Psychological operations share similar goals but achieve them through communication, typically over the long-term. Neuroweapons physically manipulate the brain and achieve immediate effects.

Right – these are the things that physically affect the brain. This is tough stuff. Ouch.

It’s an interesting article and I agree with the authors that we need to be accounting for this. Our adversaries do not share the same ethical concerns regarding the use of new technology to gain advantage. This is not a domain that we want to show up blind in.

The authors make three key recommendations:

  1. Train and educate the SOF enterprise on neurowarfare
  2. Conduct research (cognitive degredation research)
  3. Develop doctrine

The authors rightfully acknowledge the biggest challenge we face in this realm regards the ethics of it all.

The most difficult—and likely to be the most contentious—are the serious moral and ethical concerns of whether the United States should consider pursuing offensive neuroweapons. Should the United States pursue an offensive capability, even if only discovered accidentally through private sector research? If so, what sort of weapons would be morally acceptable to use and how should they be employed? Should these weapons be reserved for high-priority targets or will we get to a point where neuroweapons are routinely employed in conjunction with more traditional forms of warfare?

I have two chief concerns with this. One, anything “neuro” will likely be thought similarly as “psychological,” which people tend to treat as a “dirty word.” Second, when we “split” instead of “lump” the work becomes so specialized so as to be difficult to explain – or use.

And as always, Small Wars Journal continues to publish interesting things that remain on the margins of debate. This is another one that deserves discussion.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.