In This Review

Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Modern Warfare
Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Modern Warfare
By John B. Alexander and Tom Clancy
St. Martin's, 1999, 256 pp

Among the more fascinating military technical developments today are nonlethal weapons: "sticky foam" that entangles and incapacitates intruders, oddly named chemical agents like "cadavercine" with evil odors, dazzling strobe lights, nausea-inducing acoustic beams, super-acids that eat holes in tires, and even pheromones that render areas too revolting to occupy by virtue of the vermin they attract. There is something comic in such descriptions, but the truth is that militaries will increasingly rely on "nonlethals" for operations among civilian populations such as peacekeeping, hostage rescue, and suppression of fanatical sects. Alexander, an army veteran affiliated with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is one of the foremost advocates of such weapons. Although his comments range from the perceptive to the trite to the bizarre ("Education is a national security issue!" he erupts at one point), he nonetheless lays out systematically the case for "nonlethals" while promoting caution in their use. Although he does not always convince, he has produced an important book -- even for those who think that bullets and explosives will constitute the essence of military power for the foreseeable future.