The U.S. approach to international conflicts in the post-Cold War period—how we think about them and what actions we take—is enormously affected by America's capabilities to quell them by diplomatic, economic, and military means. To date, the United States has been trapped between classic diplomatic table-thumping and indiscriminate economic sanctions on the one hand, and major military intervention on the other hand. But a new and effective middle option may emerge in the future, one that could lend weight to U.S. crisis diplomacy in situations such as the conflict in Kosovo and offer new capabilities for pressuring adversaries or fighting wars with minimal loss of life. This potential new option could come in the form of non-lethal warfare.
To explore this potential and its impact on policy, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored this independent Task Force to assess the current status of non-lethal weapons development and policy. The Task Force found that while the military services have been examining non-lethal possibilities for years, weapons development and thinking usage has been very slow. This report recommends that the administration take three urgent steps: first, set clear guidelines for working through the pros and cons of when and how these weapons might be employed; second, provide substantial new funds for research and development; and third, ensure better leadership and coordination of this process within and among the military services. Until the administration is ahead on these fronts, and the Defense Department engages in a much more serious and systematic evaluation process, the Task Force judges that policy-makers will be in no position to determine just how useful non-lethal weapons might be and set policy accordingly.