Environmental warfare can be roughly defined as the conscious and intended modification of geophysical events in order to achieve tactical advantage in the battle space. The geophysical attributes that are intended in the definition can be classified in weather phenomenon, tectonic dynamics and oceanic dynamics. The level of locality of weapons of such kind is subject to a debate that crosses boundaries with the range of definitions applied to weapons of mass destruction.
Are there known applications of environmental warfare in the recent past?
If yes, what are the current capabilities of deployment in the battle space of today?
The first question has a straight forward answer: yes. The complex conflict in Vietnam was the first indication on what would the late 20th, early 21st century theaters of war will showcase. The logistic and human hardships of Guadalcanal, the Solomons and New Guinea, in WWII, derived from jungle conditions, entangled in Vietnam with highly mobile communist guerrillas that had excellent knowledge of the terrain, slowly but surely painted a gloomy and progressively tragic picture of the Vietnam operation. Over commitment and a mindset that if Vietnam falls, all of South East Asia falls, led to over inflated responses from the United States. The infamous operation “Rolling Thunder” covered the Vietnamese landscape with more bombs than have been deployed in whole of Western Europe during WWII. The lack of experience in dealing with versatile, fast-moving, focused targets, and thereof, the lack of tactical solutions to tackle them, led to a large scale war meant to target an invisible, mobile enemy.
Unconventional tactics were applied, including a weather modification program, dubbed “Operation Popeye”. During the period of March 20, 1967 until July 5, 1972, daily air raids were made by C-130 Hercules and F-4C Phantom aircraft. Besides routine weather reconnaissance missions that also acted as cover, they also deployed large quantities of silver iodide in the atmosphere, a process called cloud seeding. They wanted to increase rainfall and maintain soil saturation high over the normal period of the monsoon, consequently disrupting transportation routes. Results have shown a 30% increase in targeted areas but have not necessarily proven the tactical worth of the system. Instead, it opened the United States Army to the realm of environmental warfare. In a time were M.A.D. was not only applicable but also a vivid psychological truth for most of the population around the Northern Hemisphere, weather warfare did not receive much press attention but became a point of interest for U.S. national security stakeholders such as Robert S. McNamara. Regarding the war in Vietnam, in a 2003 documentary film, “The Fog of War”, the former Secretary of Defense shares eleven lessons that he has drawn in the course of his prestigious and versatile career. The 10th lesson states: “In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil”. The proportion of evil that the United States engaged in, in the Vietnam War is controversial and debatable. But the scale and monstrosity of M.A.D. demanded for global striking capabilities that would not have such a destructive force as nuclear weapons, but still target large areas and cause severe damage to infrastructure and population morale.
“Angels don’t play this HAARP”
The answer for the second question posted above isn’t as easy as the first one. As with all advanced weapons programs, the secrecy and the level of clearance needed to access information are extremely high. Monopoly over high-tech, global reaching weapons is a strategic advantage that can shape the course of history. Previously, the Allied victory in WWII was based, amongst other factors, on pioneering application of radar and cynic use of nuclear weapons. Future conflict will be shaped in a similar fashion by a new generation of weapons, more sophisticated and complex than ever before. Proof of recent United States interest in environmental warfare possibilities is a 1996 report called Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025, issued by a specialized committee of high ranking officers from the Air University, the “Intellectual and Leadership Center of the Air Force”. The 44 page report postulates threatening scenarios for the United States to face in 2025, scenarios that need unconventional solutions. The Executive Summary of the report hauntingly states “A high-risk, high-reward endeavor, weather-modification offers a dilemma not unlike the splitting of the atom. While some segments of society will always be reluctant to examine controversial issues such as weather-modification, the tremendous military capabilities that could result from this field are ignored at our own peril.” It meticulously presents how currently existing technology such as UAV aircraft, microwave devices and lasers could help implement this strategy by increasing rainfall, suppressing or seeding fog and even induce lightning on targets under a thunderstorm. The report also has two other important highlights that are relevant for this analysis. First is the reference to ionosphere interference in order to modify space weather and improve telecommunications. In terms of transmitting information in the battle space, the line of sight problem can be surpassed through ionosphere excitation with high energy beams. The ionosphere when heated changes its refracting properties and acts as a mirror for the incoming telecommunication waves, retransmitting them on wider bands of wavelengths, which allows larger volume of information to be passed on.
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is a research program funded by the United States Air Force and United States Navy together with DARPA and a series of public universities, designed to see how interference with the ionosphere can have military applications. Its main experimental instrument is the Ionospheric Research Instrument, a high-power radio frequency transmitter facility operating in the high frequency band. Even though the official stated scope of this program is scientific research, coupling this 250 million dollar endeavor with the above mentioned report, we can conclude that it could have far reaching ramifications in U.S. foreign policy, ramifications that are not disclosed due to national security issues. From this point on, we can only speculate on the intensity of the research, if indeed it has only communicational optimization in plan or if it is an important part of a larger defensive strategy that the U.S. is mounting. To further add to the substance behind the military capabilities that can be derived from this, a transcript from a 8th August, 2002 meeting of the International Affairs and Defense Committee of the Russian Parliament states: “Under the HAARP program the USA is creating new integral geophysical weapons that may influence the near-Earth medium with high-frequency radio waves […] the significance of this qualitative leap could be compared to the transition from cold steel to firearms, or from conventional weapons to nuclear weapons.”
The current international convention, under the tutelage of the United Nations that prohibits the use of environmental warfare is the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD), formally the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques. It has 32 ratifications and 48 signatory parties. Even though the initiator of this convention was the United States through a Senate resolution from 1973, it seems that they are at the forefront of this field.
In a 1997 book called “Angels don’t play this HAARP – Advances in Tesla Technology”, writer and lecturer Nick Begich postulates the possibility that this system is intended to be integrated or even to replace the current Aegis ship based systems or ground sites such as Deveselu, Romania. The consequences of a tighter or even a complete control over air space participants such as incoming missiles could open new geopolitical doors for the United States, being freed from the Russian or Chinese nuclear deterrent.
Tectonic warfare is a constituent of environmental warfare and it is included as a concept in the ENMOD Convention. It is not as properly documented as weather alteration systems but had some spotlight attention in the last decades. Some notable examples are the 2010 allegations from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who claimed that the Haiti earthquake was due to an U.S. tectonic weapon. Of course, these allegations were made under the auspices of deteriorated relations between the two countries and have not been supported by hard proof. More information about tectonic experiments are leaking from the former Soviet Union, were two secret operations, “Volcano” and “Mercury” have taken place in Kyrgyzstan, from 1987 until 1992. Although there are no reports of an existing specialized device that with the help of some new technology could induce earthquakes in its vicinity or in wider perimeters, underground nuclear testing reports have shown some possibility of use to generate tectonic movement. The phenomenon of chimney formation and the collapsing chamber that come with underground nuclear explosions have determined ground fractures and aftershocks. If a large nuclear device would be detonated in a seismic active zone there is a rational possibility that it could trigger a domino energy displacement that could generate in turn earthquakes.
The drop that changed the balance
A second highlight from the Air University report that is quite significant for this article is the mention of nanotechnology as a future means to control the weather. It predicts that around the year 2025, clouds of intelligent nanoparticles could have sufficient computational power to change their characteristics, such as buoyancy, opacity and directly influence weather. As nanotechnology is still in its infancy, it is quite hard to imagine artificial, intelligent clouds that have military objectives. But recent developments in quantum computation are encouraging enough to support the nanotechnology industry that is intrinsically linked with quantum simulation. Due to their properties, nanoparticles are the key to achieve full spectrum artificial weather. By modifying conductivity they can focus lightning strikes on certain targets, or can increase or decrease temperature in hot/cold air fronts causing hurricanes to appear.
What can we predicted, using data available today for the geopolitical equilibrium of tomorrow?
Certainly, a race for ultimate weapons is still going on, maybe not at the high pace imposed by the Cold War, but benefiting from new technological advances. The American first step in the acquisition of the nuclear bomb gave them a new negotiating stance with the victors and the defeated parties of WWII, a stance that did not last very long thanks to brilliant Soviet intelligence work. The next super weapon cannot be as destructive as the atomic bomb in terms of fallout and quarantine zone. It also must have great psychological impact. If splitting the atom and releasing its awesome energy was an incredible technical feat, giving the American army and leadership an image of technological supremacy, an environmental device would have an even more tremendous psychological footprint, because the ability to change and manipulate the weather portrays a nation or population with godlike, discretionary powers. It also has the advantage of exculpation. In case of nuclear attack, leaving the reflex response from the other nuclear party aside, the nation/country that pushed the launch button is clear and/or traceable. In the hypothetic use of a weather weapon it could benefit from the sense of confusion of who has triggered it or even if it is a natural or artificial event.
Geopolitically wise, ownership of such a weapon is a game changer. Taking for example the feasible existence of an ionospheric based communication system in U.S. possession, the coordination between the constituents of the U.S. Navy fleet would improve dramatically, consequently improving battle tactics and battle space positioning and giving them a significant edge in owning the global ocean. Going further on the technological scale, possession of ionospheric alteration devices that could trigger damage to missiles within a certain portion of airspace is invaluable. U.S. geopolitical agenda preaches for impregnable defense systems against nuclear attack, thus freeing U.S. foreign policy of constraints. Coupling the principles of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the possibilities given by HAARP, in the near future we could effectively see a practical realization of Festung North Atlantic, an area covering Europe, America and Canada, that is invulnerable to ballistic missiles. This would dramatically improve the power of the West relative to Russia and China. Alternatively, if tectonic programs were in fact actively pursued in Russia during and after the Cold War, serious challenges could be faced by the U.S. and Japan. Tectonic weaponry, even if at concept level, could benefit from the veil of secrecy and confusion. Russian tectonic capabilities could strike the entire Pacific Rim coastline, with major targets as Los Angeles, Tokyo, Shanghai, San Francisco and could mask the attack under the frequent and heavy tectonic activity in this sector. In a final stage of nanotech use for ENMOD, the pace of a hypothetic arms race would surge and create great geopolitical tension and conflict prone fault lines. A monopoly for this kind of weapon would tip the scale dangerously, even if this entity is the United States, Europe or Japan, or a combination of these. The likelihood of one of these countries to have such a weapon before Russia and China is quite high. But that is not necessarily a positive thing. It is very dangerous to acquire invulnerability and/or the ability to project power anywhere in godlike fashion. Even though America and Europe are at the forefront of democracy and liberty, the ability of overwhelming power to pervert moral pillars of society is tremendous and not to be underestimated. Applying mirror theory tells us that even if we see West society as a social model where individuals are given the best chance for achieving happiness and success, there are many other competing civilizations that are far from sharing this point of view, not only at a governmental level, but more significantly, at an individual level. A huge military leap for the United States could act as a glue or motivation for other countries to align themselves against the Americans. An already strong anti-American sentiment is growing in intensity, from the Middle East, Central Asia to China, Russia and South America that could boost in intensity if faced with complete and absolute military supremacy.
The choices that America is facing in the near future are by no means simple ones. It is their clear and utmost responsibility to maintain the American way of life and to preserve the rights and advantages that the American people are currently enjoying. It is not a question if other poles of power around the world will catch up economically, it is a question of when. America, I believe, has long understood that in a world dominated by chaos in international relations corroborated with a relative and constant decline in American power, pushing forward within the global South for democracy and freedom is a courageous and laudable endeavor but not a very profitable one in the long run. Over committing and stretching armed forces around the world is a major problem in current American foreign affairs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relative American power to surface area diminished considerably, inheriting dominance over former Soviet sphere of influence. In a world where everybody is playing Realpolitik America must do the same. In the final paragraph of his book, Diplomacy, H. Kissinger reiterates an old Spanish saying: “Traveler there are no roads. Roads are made by walking”. Maybe the road that America is walking in the 21st century is one made with environmental changing capabilities.