Human enhancements as biological weapons

A newly published research paper examines whether medical enhancements under development for soldiers could or should have them considered biological weapons.

The U.S. military is making substantial investments into neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics that have potential to drastically improve the abilities of soldiers. Professors of law, medicine and philosophy from Case Western University and California Polytechnic University say that it is critical to examine the problems that may arise from experimentation that could challenge our current ethical beliefs.

The paper, entitled "Enhanced Warfighters: Risks, Ethics and Policy," focuses on how scientific advancements to overcome basic human frailties risk becoming more than just tools because, for all practical purposes, they can be integrated into the human body.

The writers examine the role international law may play in the use of human enhancements.

"Is there a sense in which enhancements could be considered as "weapons" and therefore subject to legal instruments such as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention?" the writers ask. "How do norms related to human-subject research and medical ethics impact military enhancements?"

Since current enhancements generally do not directly harm others, enhanced soldiers would not be considered weapons in any direct sense, the authors state.

"Yet in a broader sense, the warfighter is not only a weapon but perhaps a military's best and oldest weapon," the authors said. "They have cognitive and physical capabilities that no other technology currently has, and this can make them ethical, lethal, and versatile. The human fighter, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, would be the last remaining weapon when all others have been exhausted. So in this basic sense, the warfighter is undeniably a weapon or instrument of war."

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is silent on whether human enhancements can be considered biological weapons, but it does anticipate some unforeseen developments in fields of scientific experimentation. It is, however, generally assumed that biological agents are microscopic in size and directed towards one's adversaries and not towards one's own soldiers. The BTWC is not explicit on the assumption and does not directly define what a biological agent is. Applying the BTWC to human enhancements is possible, but not a clearly defined matter.