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Brain Waves 3: Neuroscience, conflict and security

This report considers some of the potential military and law enforcement applications arising from key advances in neuroscience.

Key findings

  • Neuroscientists have a responsibility to be aware from an early stage of their training that knowledge and technologies used for beneficial purposes can also be misused for harmful purposes.
  • The development of an absolutely safe incapacitating chemical weapon is not technically feasible because of inherent variables such as the size, health and age of the target population, secondary injury and the requirement for medical aftercare.
  • Countries adhering to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) should address the definition and status of incapacitating chemical weapons under the CWC at the next Review Conference in 2013.

Neuroscience is a rapidly advancing field encompassing a range of applications and technologies that are likely to provide significant benefits to society, particularly in the treatment of neurological impairment, disease, and psychiatric illness.  However, this new knowledge also suggests a number of potential military and law enforcement applications.

These applications tend to serve one of two main goals. Performance enhancing applications seek to improve the efficiency of one’s own forces – for example by optimising recruitment, training and operational performance or improving treatments for rehabilitation. Performance degrading applications seek to diminish the performance of one’s enemy – for example through the development of weapons such as incapacitating chemicals.

The report considers some of the key advances in neuroscience, including neuropharmacology, functional neuroimaging and neural interface systems, which could impact upon these developments and the policy implications for the international community, the UK government and the scientific community.

See all reports from the project: