By Frederico Carvalho

Download the complete articleMilitary applications of scientific work-Site WFSW

Frederico Carvalho is Chair of the Executive Board of OTC, the Portuguese Organization of Scientific Workers, and Vice-President of the Executive Council of the World Federation of Scientific Workers. He holds a PhD in Neutron Physics

A small flame shines at Park Ueno, Tokyo, in remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A small flame shines at Park Ueno, Tokyo, in remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Technological developments are taking place at an accelerated pace. We are all aware of such developments, their potential as well as their likely consequences in the short- and medium-term. However, people’s awareness of the current situation varies, depending on the information they possess and their ability to interpret it critically, in the specific context of the society or social group they belong to, live and work in…..

…..In a report dated August 2014, Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions emphasizes the concerns raised by the increasing use of technologies that “despersonalize” the use of force, including armed drones, not only in armed conflict but also in law enforcement and domestic contexts. Those technologies are presently on sale everywhere and are used by law enforcement agencies and private security companies for “crowd control; action against specific classes of perpetrators, such as prison escapees (…) and provision of perimeter protection around specific buildings”…..

……The operation of directed-energy laser weapons (which use the same acronym as the autonomous robotic weapons ― LaWS or Laser Advanced Weapons Systems) is based on the emission of a laser beam against a target to be destroyed or disabled. The beam can hit its target from a great distance ― 1 km or more ― without dispersion or loss of energy while travelling through the atmosphere, which would prevent the beam from causing the desired effect. The effect on the target is usually a steep rise in temperature at the point of impact. The increased temperature can melt metal, cause a fire or explosion if the target carries explosives. The US Navy has tested and declared operational laser weapons that destroyed several types of targets: rocket grenades; small vessels; drones and small missiles. At the end of 2014, a directed-energy laser system was installed aboard the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock ship. The system was tested and is operational and can be used against drones, small aircraft and high-speed boats. The power range of the new weapon is unknown but it is estimated to lie between 15 and 50 kW. At the beginning of 2015, the USS Ponce had been deployed to the Persian Gulf…..

…Cyberwars carried out on Earth, including the selective diffusion of computer viruses and hacking activities (although it should be noted that not all actions by so-called hackers are negative) are a fertile ground for disabling key infrastructures, including energy supply, transportation, health services, water supply, communications, industrial plants, etc. In this way, a potential enemy may be paralyzed without the precise origin of the attack being known. That is why more technologically-advanced nations are presently investing significant human, material and financial resources in preventing cyberattacks but also, it must be said, in creating the capabilities to carry them out.

Weapons, drugs and the traffic of human beings are some of the most lucrative businesses of our time. They are carried out on the margins of lawfulness, ethics, morals and human and environmental rights. All make use of technological developments and the advancement of scientific knowledge. Only by making the public aware of the dangers of the inappropriate use of such developments can we minimize the associated risks. The role of the scientific community could be decisive in this regard. It is a community of women and men whose education allows them to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the new possibilities opened up by science and technology. However, to engage public opinion so that it may act as catalyst for a political process, the identification and explanation of potential risks cannot be confined to the scientific community itself. A community, incidentally, where a significant number is unaware of such issues for lack of interest, of time or relevant information outside their specific professional expertise. Promoting a civic activism that will engage common men and women is of the utmost importance. We see the present paper as a modest contribution to that end.


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