What I want to talk to you about today is some of the problems that the military of the Western world — Australia, United States, the UK and so on — face in some of the deployments that they're dealing with in the modern world at this time. If you think about the sorts of things we've sent Australian military personnel to in recent years, we've got obvious things like Iraq and Afghanistan, but you've also got things like East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and so on.
And a lot of these deployments that we're sending military personnel to these days aren't traditional wars. In fact, a lot of the jobs we're asking military personnel to do in those situations are ones that, in their own countries — Australia, the US and so on — would actually be done by police officers. So there's a bunch of problems that come up for military personnel in these situations, because they're doing things they haven't really been trained for. And they're doing things that those who do them in their own countries are trained very differently for and equipped very differently for.
Now, there's a bunch of reasons why we send military personnel, rather than police, to do these jobs. If Australia had to send 1,000 people tomorrow to West Papua, for example, we don't have 1,000 police officers hanging around that could go tomorrow, and we do have 1,000 soldiers that could go. So when we have to send someone, we send the military — they're there, they're available, and heck, they're used to going off and doing these things and living by themselves and not having all this extra support. So they are able to do it in that sense. But they aren't trained the same way police officers are, and they're certainly not equipped the way police officers are, so this has raised a bunch of problems for them when dealing with these issues.
One particular thing that's come up that I am especially interested in, is the question of whether, when we're sending military personnel to do these sorts of jobs, we ought to be equipping them differently; and in particular, whether we ought to be giving them access to some of the nonlethal weapons that police have. Since they're doing some of the same jobs, maybe they should have some of those things.
And there's a range of places you'd think those things would be really useful. For example, when you've got military checkpoints. If people are approaching these checkpoints and the military personnel are unsure if this person's hostile or not, say this person approaching here, and they say, "Is this a suicide bomber or not? Is something hidden under their clothes? What's going to happen?" They don't know if the person is hostile or not. If the person doesn't follow directions, they may end up shooting them, and then find out afterwards either, yes, we shot the right person, or, no, this was just an innocent person who didn't understand what was going on. So if they had nonlethal weapons, then they would say, "We can use them in that sort of situation. If we shoot someone who wasn't hostile, at least we haven't killed them."
Another situation: this photo is from one of the missions in the Balkans in the late 1990s. This situation is a little bit different, where maybe they know someone is hostile; they've got someone shooting at them or doing something else that's clearly hostile, throwing rocks, whatever. But if they respond, there's a range of other people around who are innocent people, who might also get hurt. It'd be collateral damage that the military often doesn't want to talk about. So again, they'd say, "With access to nonlethal weapons, if we've got someone we know is hostile, we can do something to deal with them, and know that if we hit anyone else, at least we're not going to kill them."
Another suggestion has been, since we're putting so many robots in the field, we can see the time coming where they're actually going to send robots out in the field that are autonomous. They'll make their own decisions about who to shoot and who not to shoot, without a human in the loop. So the suggestion is, if we're going to send robots out and allow them to do this, maybe it would be a good idea if they were armed with nonlethal weapons, so if the robot makes a bad decision and shoots the wrong person, again, they haven't actually killed them.
Now, there's a whole range of different sorts of nonlethal weapons, some of which are available now, some of which they're developing. You've got traditional things like pepper spray, OC spray up at the top there, or Tasers over here. The one on the top right here is actually a dazzling laser, intended to just blind the person momentarily and disorient them. You've got nonlethal shotgun rounds that contain rubber pellets instead of the traditional metal ones. And this one in the middle here, the large truck, is called the Active Denial System, something the US military is working on at the moment.
It's essentially a big microwave transmitter. It's sort of your classic idea of a heat ray. It goes out to a really long distance, compared to any of these other sorts of things. Anybody who is hit with this feels a sudden burst of heat, and just wants to get out of the way. It is a lot more sophisticated than a microwave oven, but it basically is boiling the water molecules in the very surface level of your skin. So you feel this massive heat, and you go, "I want to get out of the way." And they think this will be really useful in places where we need to clear a crowd out of a particular area, if the crowd is being hostile. If we need to keep people away from a particular place, we can do that with these sorts of things.
So there's a whole range of different nonlethal weapons we could give military personnel, and there's a whole range of situations where they're looking at them and saying, "These things would be really useful." But as I said, the military and the police are very different.
Yes, you don't have to look very hard at this to recognize that they might be very different. In particular, the attitude to the use of force and the way they're trained to use force is especially different.
The police — and knowing because I've actually helped to train police — police, particularly in Western jurisdictions at least, are trained to De-escalate force, to try and avoid using force wherever possible, and to use lethal force only as an absolute last resort. Military personnel are being trained for war. So they're trained that, as soon as things go bad, their first response is lethal force. The moment the fecal matter hits the rotating turbine —
you can start shooting at people. So their attitudes to the use of lethal force are very different, and I think it's fairly obvious that their attitude to the use of nonlethal weapons would also be very different from what it is with the police.
And since we've already had so many problems with police use of nonlethal weapons in various ways, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of those things and relate it to the military context. I was very surprised when I started to do this to see that, in fact, even the people who advocated the use of nonlethal weapons by the military hadn't actually done that. They generally seemed to think, "Why would we care what's happened with the police? We're looking at something different," and didn't seem to recognize they were looking at pretty much the same stuff.
So I started to investigate some of those issues, and have a look at the way police use nonlethal weapons when they're introduced, and some of the problems that might arise out of those sorts of things when they actually do introduce them. And of course, being Australian, I started looking at stuff in Australia, knowing from my own experience of various times when nonlethal weapons have been introduced in Australia.
One of the things I particularly looked at was the use of OC spray — oleoresin capsicum spray, pepper spray — by Australian police, and seeing what had happened when that had been introduced, and those sorts of issues. And one study that I found, a particularly interesting one, was in Queensland, because they had a trial period for the use of pepper spray before they actually introduced it more broadly. And I went and had a look at some of the figures here. Now, when they introduced OC spray in Queensland, they were really explicit. The police minister's and a heap of public statements were made about it. They were saying, "This is explicitly intended to give police an option between shouting and shooting. This is something they can use instead of a firearm in situations where they would have previously had to shoot someone."
So I looked at all of the police shooting figures. And you can't actually find them very easily for individual Australian states; I could only find these. This is from an Australian Institute of Criminology report. You can see, in the fine print at the top: "Police shooting deaths" means not just people shot by police, but people who have shot themselves in the presence of police. But these are the figures across the entire country, and the red arrow represents the point where Queensland said, "Yes, this is where we're going to give all police officers across the entire state access to OC spray." So you can see there were six deaths sort of leading up to it, every year for a number of years. There was a spike a few years before, but that wasn't actually Queensland. Anyone know where that was? Wasn't Port Arthur, no. Victoria? Yes, correct. That spike was all Victoria.
So it wasn't that Queensland had a particular problem with deaths from police shootings and so on. So, six shootings across the whole country, fairly consistently over the years before.
The next two years were the years they studied — 2001, 2002. Anyone want to take a stab at the number of times, given how they've introduced this, the number of times police in Queensland used OC spray in that period? Hundreds? One? Three? A thousand is getting better. Explicitly introduced as an alternative to the use of lethal force — an alternative between shouting and shooting. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if Queensland police didn't have OC spray, they wouldn't have shot 2,226 people in those two years.
In fact, if you have a look at the studies they were looking at, the material they were collecting and examining, you can see the suspects were only armed in about 15 percent of cases where OC spray was used.
It was routinely being used in this period, and, of course, still is routinely used — because there were no complaints about it, not within the context of this study, anyway — it was routinely being used to deal with people who were violent, who were potentially violent, and also quite frequently used to deal with people who were simply passively noncompliant. This person is not doing anything violent, but they just won't do what we want them to. They're not obeying the directions we're giving them, so we'll give them a shot of the OC spray — that'll speed them up. Everything will work out better that way. This was something explicitly introduced to be an alternative to firearms, but it's being routinely used to deal with a whole range of other sorts of problems.
Now one of the particular issues that comes up with military use of nonlethal weapons — and people actually say, "There might be some problems" — there's a couple of particular problems that get focused on. One of those problems is: nonlethal weapons may be used indiscriminately. One of the fundamental principles of military use of force is that you have to be discriminate; you have to be careful about who you're shooting at. So one of the problems suggested with nonlethal weapons is that they might be used indiscriminately — that you would use them against a whole range of people, because you don't have to worry so much anymore.
And in fact, one particular instance where I think that actually happens was the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in 2002, which probably a lot of you, unlike most of my students at ADFA, are old enough to remember. So, Chechens had come in and taken control of the theater. They were holding something like 700 people hostage. They'd released a bunch of people, but they still had about 700 people hostage. And the Russian military police special forces, "Spetsnaz," came in and stormed the theater. The way they did it was to pump the whole thing full of anesthetic gas. And it turned out that lots of the hostages died as a result of inhaling the gas. It was used indiscriminately. They pumped the whole theater full of the gas.
And it's no surprise that people died, because you don't know how much gas each person is going to inhale, what position they'll fall in when they become unconscious, and so on. There were, in fact, only a couple of people who got shot in this episode. So when they had a look at it afterward, there were only a couple of people who'd apparently been shot, by the hostage takers or by the police forces trying to deal with the situation. Virtually everybody that got killed got killed from inhaling the gas. The final toll of hostages is a little unclear, but it's certainly a few more than that, because other people died over the next few days. So this was one problem they talked about, that it might be used indiscriminately.
A second problem people sometimes talk about with military use of nonlethal weapons — and it's actually why, in the chemical weapons convention, it's very clear that you can't use riot-control agents as weapons of warfare — is that it's seen that sometimes nonlethal weapons might be used not as an alternative to lethal force, but as a lethal force multiplier: that you use nonlethal weapons first, so your lethal weapons will actually be more effective. The people you'll be shooting at won't be able to get out of the way. They won't be aware of what's happening, and you can kill them better. And that's exactly what happened here. The hostage takers who had been rendered unconscious by the gas were not taken into custody; they were simply shot in the head. So this nonlethal weapon was being used in this case as a lethal force multiplier, to make killing more effective in this particular situation.
Another problem I want to quickly mention is that there's a whole heap of problems with the way people are actually taught to use nonlethal weapons, and get trained about them and then tested and so on. Because they're tested in nice, safe environments, and are taught to use them in nice, safe environments — like this, where you can see exactly what's going on. The person spraying the OC spray is wearing a rubber glove to make sure they don't get contaminated, and so on. But they're never used like that.
They're used out in the real world, like in Texas, like this:
["Police Taser Great-Grandmother During Traffic Stop"]
I confess, this particular case was one that piqued my interest in this. It happened while I was working as a research fellow at the US Naval Academy. News reports started coming up about this situation, where this woman was arguing with a police officer. She wasn't violent. In fact, he was probably six inches taller than me, and she was about this tall. And eventually she said to him, "Well, I'm going to get back in my car." And he says, "If you get back in your car, I'm going to tase you." And she says, "Oh, go ahead. Tase me." And so he does. And it's all captured by the video camera running in the front of the police car. So, she's 72. And it's seen that this is the most appropriate way of dealing with her.
And there are other examples of the same sorts of things, where you think, "Is this really an appropriate way to use nonlethal weapons?" "Police Chief Fires Taser into 14 year old Girl's Head." "She was running away. What else was I suppose to do?"
Or Florida: "Police Taser 6-year-old Boy at Elementary School." And they clearly learned a lot from it, because in the same district: "Police Review Policy After Children Shocked: 2nd Child Shocked by Taser Stun Gun Within Weeks." Same police district. Another child within weeks of Tasering the six-year-old boy.
Just in case you think it's only going to happen in the United States, it happened in Canada as well:
["Mounties Zap 11-year-old Boy"]
And a colleague sent me this one from London:
["Arrested Man, 82, Shot with Taser"]
But my personal favorite, I have to confess, does come from the US: "Officers Taser 86-year-old Disabled Woman in her Bed."
I checked the reports on this one. I looked at it. I was really surprised. Apparently, she took up a more threatening position in her bed.
I kid you not, that's exactly what it said: "She took up a more threatening position in her bed." OK.
But I'd remind you — I'm talking about military uses of nonlethal weapons, so why is this relevant? Because police are actually more restrained in the use of force than the military are. They're trained to be more restrained in the use of force than the military are. They're trained to think more, to try and De-escalate. So if you have these problems with police officers with nonlethal weapons, what on earth would make you think it's going to be better with military personnel?
The last thing that I would like to say: When I'm talking to the police about what a perfect nonlethal weapon would look like, they almost inevitably say the same thing. They say, "It's got to be something that's nasty enough that people don't want to be hit with this weapon. So if you threaten to use it, people are going to comply with it. But it's also going to be something that doesn't leave any lasting effects." In other words, your perfect nonlethal weapon is something that's perfect for abuse. What would these guys have done if they'd had access to Tasers, or to a manned, portable version of the Active Denial System — a small heat ray that you can use on people and not worry about.
So I think yes, there may be ways that nonlethal weapons will be great in these situations, but there's also a whole heap of problems that need to be considered as well.
Thanks very much.
Pepper spray, Tasers, tear gas, rubber bullets — these "non-lethal" weapons are being used by more and more local police forces, as well as military forces brought in to control civilian crowds and other situations. Despite their name, non-lethal weapons have been known to cause deaths ... and as Stephen Coleman suggests, there are other, more insidious hazards as well. He explores the complex ethics — and the unexpected consequences — of using non-lethal weapons to control civilians.
Stephen Coleman studies applied ethics, particularly the ethics of military and police force, and their application to human rights.
Stephen Coleman studies applied ethics, particularly the ethics of military and police force, and their application to human rights.