Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics, and Policy

115 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2013 Last revised: 8 Aug 2015

Maxwell Mehlman

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Patrick Lin

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Keith Abney

California Polytechnic State University

Date Written: January 18, 2013

Abstract

The United States military is making substantial investments to develop technologies that would enhance the ability of warfighters to complete their missions safely and effectively. Driven by neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, and other emerging technologies, this research includes combating sleep deprivation, improving cognitive performance, increasing strength, reducing muscle fatigue, and other enhancements to the human body and mind.

As with other emerging military technologies, such as robotics and cyber-capabilities, human enhancement technologies challenge existing laws and policy, as well as underlying ethical values. But while the implications of human enhancement generally have been widely discussed, little analysis currently exists for the military context — specifically operational, ethical, and legal implications of enhancing warfighters, such as: How safe should these human enhancements and new medical treatments be prior to their deployment (considering recent controversies such as mandatory anthrax vaccinations)? Must enhancements be reversible or temporary (considering that most warfighters will return to society as civilians)? Could enhancements count as “biological weapons” under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (considering that the term is not clearly defined)?

This report begins an investigation into these and other issues in order to identify problems that policymakers and society may need to confront. We start with an analysis of international and domestic law, military policy, bioethics, and risk assessments. Then we offer a new framework for evaluating human enhancement technologies in a military context. As an initial model, we also discuss further considerations — related to character and honor, as well as broader social impacts — that can be integrated later into this evaluative framework.

Keywords: enhanced warfighters, soldiers, military, human enhancement, bioethics, biotechnology, international humanitarian law, legitimate military purpose, necessity, consent, dignity, transparency, neurosceince, biotechnology, robotics, biological weapons, ethics, risk assessment, military policy

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Mehlman, Maxwell and Lin, Patrick and Abney, Keith, Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics, and Policy (January 18, 2013). Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2202982 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2202982

Maxwell Mehlman (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States

Patrick Lin

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo ( email )

San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
United States

HOME PAGE: http://ethics.calpoly.edu

Keith Abney

California Polytechnic State University ( email )

San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
United States

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