Reproduced exactly as it originally appeared at the following address:
India's National Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 16 :: No. 02 :: Jan. 16 - 29, 1999
WAR AND ETHICS
To own the weather
The U.S. has covertly pursued a military operation, launched during the
Vietnam War, to acquire weather modification technology for possible use
M. S. VENKATARAMANI
ON November 30, 1993, U.S. military officials and representatives of some major corporations who had gathered in Orlando, Florida, for an interservice-industry conference looked forward to an address by the Chief of the United States Army, General Gordon R. Sullivan. The General was known to be a vivid and eloquent visualiser of the decisive role that the U.S. military services should play in the 21st century. The audience of military and corporate officials looked forward to yet another inspiring call from the General for even greater efforts to build "what can and will be Force XXI."
An emphatic point that the General made in his speech had profound implications for the "international community," but, regrettably, it has evoked very little attention. General Sullivan said:
As we leap technologically into the 21st century, we will be able to see the enemy, day or night, in any weather and go after him relentlessly. The technology is there, waiting for us to pull it all together. Own the Night. Own The Weather.
THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
OTW - "Owning The Weather" - has become the credo of the Pentagon. If under present and foreseeable circumstances atomic, chemical, and biological weapons cannot be used, OTW has come to be viewed by U.S. planners as the key to sustaining their country's military and economic dominance in the 21st century. They stress that continued U.S. leadership in frontier technologies will be indispensable to achieving the objective. In an article in a military journal in February 1992, General Sullivan stated: "Today warfare is dependent more on the microprocessor than on the steel mill." In another article he asserted that the U.S. "must have over-matching technology that will provide the means to apply overwhelming and decisive combat power" against an adversary. Through continuous modernisation and effective exploitation of leading-edge technologies U.S. researchers must find new systems that would offer increased range and lethality. By implementing such a strategy, the U.S. could achieve "the definitive overmatch capabilities that we seek," Sullivan declared. General Jimmy Ross emphasised the vital importance of "winning the information war", at a symposium on the theme sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army in February 1994. "OTW is crucial to out-thinking the enemy and winning the information war, controlling the environment for round-the-clock continuous operations and executing precision strikes," he argued.
IN the closing years of the 19th century, Captain Alfred T. Mahan preached the gospel of naval power as the surest path for America's pursuit of Great Power status. In the inter-War years, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell eloquently depicted air power as the key to America's attainment of global dominance. During the Second World War, eminent scientists had little difficulty in convincing President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the acquisition of atomic weapons capability, in conjunction with the certainty of naval and air pre-eminence, would ensure America's global dominance far into the future. "One bomb for a city; two bombs for a war," exclaimed John Foster Dulles when commenting on the surrender of Japan after the atomic raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But U.S. military planners had no intention to rest on their oars. For over four decades that followed, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and "international communism," as also the Korean and Vietnam wars, created an environment and brought high levels of funding that they were not slow to exploit. They were able to initiate massive R&D efforts to explore even far-out concepts and push forward their quest for ever more powerful and lethal weapons and techniques to be tested "in the battlefield of the future." One point that was emphatically stressed by "the father of the nuclear submarine", Admiral Hyman C. Rickover, was that the U.S. "should be planning now for a war that may erupt 15 or more years from now."
For over 40 years, the U.S. has encouraged research in what has been depicted as "weather modification" for beneficial purposes and also, on the quiet, for possible use in war. Initially the pace was rather slow because of complacency induced by naval and air superiority and the monopolistic possession of what was then regarded as "the ultimate weapon"- the nuclear bomb. But when the Soviet Union developed rapidly its own nuclear and thermonuclear capability, greater attention was paid by U.S. planners to alternative techniques that might be useful in case the actual use of the "ultimate weapon" and of chemical and biological agents was not feasible. Thus in the very year (1957) when the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General Thomas D. White, called for U.S. "control" of space, a Presidential Advisory Committee on Weather Control concluded its labours. It reported sombrely that "weather modification could become a more important weapon than the atom bomb."
Soviet acquisition of parity in nuclear weaponry reduced the likelihood of a direct military confrontation between the two superpowers and evoked overt and covert activities by them in support of or against contending factions in several countries. By mid-1960 the Pentagon received the assurance that U.S. researchers were ready with a modest weather modification project. The Vietnam War was in progress and provided an opportunity to try out the project under combat conditions. I found documents relating to U.S. decision-making (for the initiation of the operation) in the National Security Files of President Lyndon Johnson in the Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.
"Project Pop Eye"
ON September 15, 1966 McNamara submitted a memorandum to President Johnson informing him about the imminent launch of the operation. "Project Pop Eye is a covert and highly classified operational experiment which we plan to run within the next few weeks in the Laotian panhandle," he stated. The objective of the experiment would be to damage the Ho Chi Minh Trail structure in Laos by heavy rain and thereby reduce North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam through the Laotian panhandle. McNamara noted that during the normal monsoon season vehicular traffic through the trail was virtually halted because rainfall greatly softened road surfaces and turned them into mud. Project Pop Eye would enable the Pentagon to determine "the feasibility of increasing the rainfall during the current monsoon season and possibly extending the duration."
The Secretary of Defence said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the theatre commanders in Vietnam had expressed their concurrence with "the experiment". The State Department and the U.S. Ambassador in Laos approved of the operation on the condition that it would be conducted covertly. McNamara wrote that the operation would commence within about 20 days - "just prior to the end of the monsoon season". The low level of concern shown by the top U.S. policymakers for "the just opinion of mankind" in the outside world and in the U.S. itself is strikingly brought out in McNamara's peroration:
I have authorised the program to proceed even though there may be some objections raised by the international scientific community - if there is a breach in security. Such possible objections have not, in the past, prevented the carrying out of military operations considered to be in the interests of our national security.
McNamara's statement was an authoritative acknowledgement that it was established practice for Washington to regard as legitimate its right to engage in any military or covert operation that it considered necessary to promote U.S. security interests. Washington had no obligation to pay attention to objections that might be raised by the "international scientific community."
Project Pop Eye was evaluated by the Pentagon as having yielded satisfactory results and the programme continued until 1972, indicating that it had the blessings of the Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger team. Work in the area of weather modification was certainly not abandoned after the Vietnam War. It has acquired significant momentum in the Clinton Administration, although there are indications of efforts to play down its scope and objectives. In a recent report some OTW enthusiasts in the military services claim that the Defence Department's initial attempts at acquiring a capability to influence rainfall through Project Pop Eye "provide a foundation for further development of a true capability for selective precipitation modification." The statement is not quite true because R&D in the area had not been halted after Pop Eye; the use of the word "selective" is also misleading. The authors, because of certain constraints to be mentioned shortly, are obligated to project the appearance that they and the Pentagon are currently concerned only with the issue of acquiring a capability for "increasing or decreasing precipitation over the short term in a localised area." Equally open to question is their assertion that "the U.S. Government made a conscious decision to stop building upon the foundation" laid by Project Pop Eye activities.
THE first constraint was a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977 prohibiting the hostile use of environmental modification techniques. The second constraint was the subsequent "Convention on the Publication of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques", of which the U.S. was a signatory. As in many other instances, Washington was successful in having the terms of the convention defined in a fashion as could facilitate such interpretations by itself as would serve its purposes. The Convention prohibited military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques that could result in "widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects". Washington certainly had no intention of halting its extensive research programmes on weather control techniques whose military or hostile "use" only was prohibited by the Convention.
It is inferred that in the early 1990s, President Bill Clinton and Defence Secretary William Cohen made the decision to move with significantly greater speed in the weather control area. The speech of General Sullivan, cited earlier, was a curtain-raiser. Although the rest of the world had virtually forgotten the Convention on the Prohibition of Military and Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, the Pentagon needed to make it appear that its research and operational activities were fully in consonance with the terms of the Convention. In a paper on policy and guidelines on "Meteorological and Oceanographic Operations" (January 10, 1995) the Pentagon provided for itself its own definitions of the terms "widespread," "long-lasting" and "severe" mentioned in the Convention. "Widespread is defined as encompassing an area on the scale of several hundred kilometres; long-lasting means lasting for a period of months, or approximately a season; and severe involves serious or significant disruption, or harm to human life, natural or economic resources, or other assets," according to a footnote in a report by a group of U.S. military officers working on OTW issues.
The policy and guidelines paper of the Pentagon may not reveal the full intentions of the military leadership or the level of efforts undertaken to attain projected capabilities in one or more areas of weather control. Discussing issues of this kind in a different context in his work Can America Win the Next War?, the veteran military correspondent of The New York Times, Drew Middleton, wrote that though the Pentagon had repeatedly denied the existence of plans for a particular interventionist action of great importance, "such plans do exist and are continually revised." He added that the Pentagon's denials "should not be taken too seriously." The Pentagon might assert that no "official sanction" had been given for a specified project, but the same project could be "a prime topic of conversation" in top military circles. A prime topic during the last few years has been "Owning The Weather".
FOLLOWING President Clinton's re-election in 1996, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force issued an important directive, which called for an examination of "the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will need to remain the dominant air and space force in the future." The theme prescribed for the programme was "Air Force 2025". Among the studies submitted in compliance with the directive was one entitled "Weather As A Force Multiplier: Owning The Weather In 2025." The seven military officers who produced the report expressed grateful appreciation for "a wealth of technical expertise and innovative ideas" that had been provided for their study by a senior member of the U.S. Air War College. We will use the term "OTW 2025" in referring to this particular document.
The core of OTW 2025 is presented in the following terms:
In 2025 U.S. aerospace forces can 'own the weather' by capitalising on emerging technologies and focussing development on those technologies to war-fighting applications. Such a capability offers the war fighter tools to shape the battlespace in ways never before possible. It provides opportunities to impact operations across the full spectrum of conflict and is pertinent to all possible futures.
Describing weather modification as a high-reward endeavour, OTW 2025 asserts that "the tremendous military capabilities that could result from the field are ignored at our peril," It adds:
From enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns (Project Pop Eye) to complete dominance of global communications and counter space control, weather modification offers the war fighter a wide range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary.
OTW 2025 claims that its focus is primarily on "localised and short-term forms of weather modification" as prescribed by the Pentagon's memorandum on policy and guidelines. The memorandum itself, as mentioned earlier, embodied the Pentagon's own self-serving definitions and interpretations of the Convention on the Prohibition of Military And Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques. The horrendous vistas of supposedly "localised and short-term forms of weather modification" include "generation and dissipation of precipitation clouds, and fog; modification of localised storm systems; and use of the ionosphere and near space for space control and communications dominance."
A detailed description and analysis of the proposals put forth by OTW 2025 are outside the purview of the present examination of the antecedents and evolution of U.S. activities in the field of weather modification for military purposes. A fair idea of what is sought to be achieved through weather control techniques to help the U.S. and "friendly forces" and to overwhelm the adversary can be obtained from a table offered by OTW 2025 entitled "Operational Capabilities Matrix". There are a number of highly disturbing scenarios depicted in OTW 2025 illustrating the capabilities tersely mentioned in the table(reproduced here). To cite one example - storm research for lightning modification - to increase the intensity of lightning. OTW 2025 states:
Concepts to explore include increasing the basic efficiency of the thunderstorm, stimulating the triggering of the mechanism that initiates the bolt and... induces lightning strikes on the desired targets as the storm passes over their location.
OTW 2025 states that the technologies for the weather modifications it suggests "range from technically proven to potentially possible." The authors of the study confidently indicate that the combination of drive, motivation and resources present in the U.S. will produce the technology to acquire a true weather modification capability, as evidenced by "the lessons of history".
Were there any risks involved if their proposals or even more radical concepts are implemented? The risk that OTW 2025 emphatically sets forth is of another country acquiring a true weather modification capability ahead of the U.S. Many scientists worry about the unforeseeable consequences of drastic interference with the forces of nature. One critic is reported as saying about the OTW enthusiasts: "They're like boys playing with a sharp stick, finding a sleeping bear and poking it in the butt to see what's going to happen."
The issue is certainly important enough to warrant a "wake up" call to the international community and the United Nations.
Dr. M. S. Venkataramani is former Dean and Professor of American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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