Paper Delivered at the 6th Non-Lethal Weapons Consortium, Ettlingen, Germany –  May 16–18 2011


Andrew Greig

Sometime Visiting Scholar, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney, Australia

Coordinator: Non-Lethal Weapons Campaign




This paper follows on from John Alexander’s keynote speech at the 2008 Symposium on the need for advocacy. It briefly reviews changing perceptions of NLWs and assesses current attitudes in the community.  It then suggests strategies for educating the community about non-lethal weapons.

 Understanding of NLWs in the general community is not high. While the use of such devices as Tasers in civil protection may be familiar, the idea of deploying NLWs in the military context is not. Even within the military, NLWs are mostly regarded as a useful addition to the armoury, but not as a total replacement for lethal arms.

 Those working in the NLW field are developing increasingly effective technology, but defence forces around the world have not, to date, shown any serious commitment to replacing their conventional lethal weaponry with NLWs. This paper argues that the overall objective of the NLW movement is not just to reduce lethality in human conflict but if possible to eliminate it completely

 There is some urgency. Despite the reduction of stocks of nuclear missiles by the great powers, there has been a parallel trend to proliferation in other countries. The risk of a nuclear war triggered by a rogue state or by terrorists increases year by year. Adoption of a NLW approach worldwide would invalidate any need for nuclear weapons. A wide understanding of the concept of NLWs and of their importance in preventing nuclear conflict will be essential to any progress in adopting them.   

A comprehensive communication strategy needs to be developed which will educate and inform various stakeholders across the world community about NLWs and about their importance in reducing and finally eliminating the grief and damage caused by conventional lethal armed conflict.

The Vision

Let me start with the vision.  I believe that we humans could quite soon achieve world peace. We could protect our cities and our nations and also protect human rights and do all this without using lethal weapons

We humans are very clever with technology. Each year, indeed each month, we invent another smart device which helps us with surgery, with engineering construction, with international communications, or with space travel – or even with entertaining ourselves at home. Unfortunately each month at least, somewhere in the world, we invent a new clever lethal device for killing or injuring other human beings. We say such devices – weapons – are for “protection” or for “defence”.

Despite this, I am very confident that because we are so skilled and resourceful, we can also develop the technology that we need to maintain law and order and to protect us from aggression without killing or injuring people. And that of course is almost certainly the underlying vision of all of us here at this symposium.

The Problems

At present we are much occupied with the details of bringing this vision to reality. We need to have devices which do protect us from aggressors – which incapacitate and constrain – but which also do not cause death or major injury. We also have to make sure that the use of these devices is properly managed. We have to develop the protocols, the legal framework and the training to reduce misuse of the technology. Much valuable research in this area has been described at previous symposia. Much more no doubt will be revealed at this symposium.

In the course of our work on NLWs we inevitably encounter many problems and these problems may distract and dishearten us. I suggest that at times, because we are so involved, we may lose touch with the underlying vision. We may at times forget that, in addition to developing the technology, a very important role for us is to communicate to our fellow human beings why we need the technology – to educate them about the potential of non-lethal weapons in attaining world peace.

To summarise: we must continue our work in developing non-lethal technology. We have to have the tools for the job, but we need funding for our task, so we also need to tell the world about NLWs.  When people around the planet truly comprehend the potential of NLWs then there will be no problem in finding as much support as we require – the money and the skills – to continue researching and developing the technology.

How do we educate the community? I suggest that one of the first things we must do is to find out how many people in the community even understand the term ‘non-lethal weapon’. My own very informal research in my home town of Sydney Australia revealed that more than half the people I asked had either never heard of non-lethal weapons, or if they had, had no real idea of what they were.

Of those people who have heard of non-lethal weapons, for many, NLWs are tricky gadgets used by police forces to subdue the public. John Alexander pointed out in his keynote address at the last symposium that in the media “most frequently there have been negative articles decrying injuries inadvertently caused by the use of NLWs.”  The media have generally missed the main focus – which is that the purpose of NLWs is to reduce pain and damage to human beings.

And there is another problem. The one set of people who do understand the term ‘non-lethal weapon’ is the military. Probably, by far the major funding for NLW research comes from military organisations. To date, however, the generals have not been prepared to give up their lethal weapons. As yet there seems to be no wide acceptance of the possibility of completely non-lethal warfare.  We may not commend this attitude – but we should not condemn it. The role of the military is to protect against aggression.  Understandably, it has to be convinced that lethal weapons can be totally replaced by NLWs and that lethal weapons can be discarded.


So in educating the community, we have a number of challenges. We need to:

  • Explain exactly what NLWs are
  • Change the perception that NLWs are instruments of oppression, used by police, that often injure and kill people
  • Put across the message that NLWs are not just an extra tool for the military, but that ultimately they should completely replace lethal weapons.

A Case History – the Environment

How do we set about communicating the vision? To help us, let’s look at another campaign for social change – the environment movement.  Forty years ago, the word ‘environment’ – now on everybody’s lips – was used almost entirely by biologists. One major trigger for change was air pollution from coal smoke and car exhausts,

When people in the community begin to realise the harm to their health, they made their governments pass laws to prevent the sale of raw coal to households, to make power stations put smoke filters on their chimneys and to compel car manufacturers to fit catalytic converters on the exhaust systems. When city people found that their children were developing high levels of lead in their blood, they made their governments force the oil companies develop lead free petrol.

The harm from warfare is a little different. It’s not usually a continuous annoyance like polluted air. The pain and grief of war tends to come and go. Sometimes it is far away from us inIraqorAfghanistan, orAfrica(although this doesn’t stop our military around the world from lobbying for bigger and better lethal weapons – new fighter aircraft, warships, missiles and pilotless lethal drones).

At the moment, most people know that armed struggle – the violent resolution of conflict between groups of people – employs technology which causes injury and death. But mostly they are not really conscious of any alternative, so they have not yet made their governments insist that new technologies are developed for our defence that do not cause such damage. They do not yet ask the question “If we can build motor vehicles which do not poison the air that we breathe, could we not develop weapons that protect but do not injure and kill?”

Of course, individual car manufacturers were not going to build cars with catalytic converters unless the law said that all manufacturers must do so. The extra technology would increase the price of their cars and they would not be able to compete. It was only when laws were passed to make pollution illegal for the whole industry that the car makers started building the new systems.

Individual armies are unlikely to move to non-lethal weapons unless international law compels them to do so. Or, on the other hand – (and this may well happen before too long) – non-lethal weapons are developed which are more effective at certain tasks than lethal weapons. Indeed, arms manufacturers may well start investing in NLWs when they can see good profits in doing so.

Educating and Marketing

The title of this paper is “Educating the Community about NLWs”. I did consider using the title “Persuading the Community to move to NLWs” or even “Marketing NLWs”.

I chose “Educating” because to me that conveys a deeper and more complex process. To persuade someone to do something is often a short-term approach. I may successfully persuade you to try a new brand of toothpaste and you may use it for a short time – before changing to another brand or to the one you used before – or you may even stop brushing your teeth altogether. On the other hand, I may be able to educate you about tooth decay and about oral hygiene. You will then be in a position to make ongoing decisions which will allow you to avoid toothache and have clean breath.

A very important issue as well, is that NLWs have a number of problems. We’ll be hearing about some of them during the symposium. The community has to educated about the bad news as well as the good news.

A successful education campaign does, however, contain elements of marketing. Campaigns which educate people in order to change their behaviour – like driving more safely or stopping smoking – are often described as social marketing campaigns.

Our educational campaign would aim to get people to understand that it is the lethal technology of war which causes most of its pain and grief and the community has the power to change that technology. There would also be an element of social marketing, because we would hope to change people’s behaviour, so that they use non-lethal rather than lethal weapons.

A communication strategy

Those who develop information campaigns for business and for the government start with a strategy, often known as a communication strategy.

I suggest that in our education (and social marketing) campaign we need to do the same. Developing a good communication strategy can be quite complex and there are a number of valid ways to go about it. Here’s a very brief outline of just one approach we could take.


First we would clarify our aims, of which there are a number. One of them could be ‘that most people will understand the term “Non-Lethal Weapon’.


We would then need to review the history of NLWs and the research.  One component could be research on current attitudes to NLWs.


We would need to look at the issues, for example that ‘so-called’ NLWs are sometimes lethal.


We would need to identify our stakeholders. There are the broad constituencies: the community, government, the media. These include major categories of stakeholders such as the Military, the United Nations, Multi-National companies, Arms Manufacturers and Schools and Universities. There are also even narrower and more localised sectors, such as the local peace group or the local community radio station.

We would need to analyse the interest the stakeholder might have and also they influence they could exert. All these factors would affect our strategy.

 Target Audiences

Among all our stakeholders we could then identify target audiences. In our case there would be quite a number – ranging from primary school teachers to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Core Messages

We would need to develop core message to deliver to our various target audiences. Some would be specific, to a specific audience, for example

“Before long, propeller entanglers will be more profitable to your shareholders than explosive torpedoes”

Some would be more general:

“Much of the damage of war is a result of its lethal technology”

“We don’t have to use lethal technology in resolving international conflict”

“If we do not move soon towards non-lethal solutions, nuclear weapons will spread around the world”

There would be some warning messages too, such as:

“Some NL technologies are still very dangerous”

Communication channels and resources

We would then explore the channels of communication that we might employ. There are many of them: talks and conferences, scientific papers, books, the mass media (television, radio, the internet) and social media like Facebook and Twitter.  We would hope to introduce the ideas into the curricula of schools and universities and to develop learning resources in print and electronic media.

Programs for action

Our strategy would be to direct the appropriate messages to the chosen target audiences using the best channels of communication. There are probably scores of possible programs. Here are just four:

  • Ask our military leaders what strategies they have in place to develop non-lethal technologies
  • Promote courses on NLWs in peace studies programs at universities.
  • Whenever lethal war breaks out, raise the question in the media as to whether a non-lethal approach might have been possible.
  • At budget time, question the government’s expenditure on lethal weapons.

Most communication strategies have at least two more categories:

Timetable and Budget

The timetable would depend on the rest of the strategy. With nuclear weapons spreading round the world action will need to start soon.

Implementing a communication strategy on our scale would certainly require money. However, if the ideas are good and the will is there, the funding will follow. 

Where do we go from here?

There is no doubt that we have a challenge in front of us. We have to change the mindset of people around the world as to how they see war. Most people do not want war, but they know that occasionally they may have to fight a war to defend themselves. To win such a war, at present they will usually believe that they have to kill their aggressors.

We have to lead people to realise that it is possible for humans to defend themselves and win wars without killing or injuring their aggressors and without being killed or injured themselves.

John Alexander in his paper at the 5th Symposium proposed that we set up an organisation that would provide accurate information about NLWs to the community. It would have a number of other roles, such as developing safety standards and it would advocate the use of NLWs. He even gave it a draft name “NLW World Wide Watch Organisation”.

I suggest that John Alexander’s idea of a not-for-profit international organisation should be taken forward. Indeed we already have the basic organisation in place. It’s a de facto association of professional non-lethal weapons practitioners and it happens to be called the European Symposium on NLWs. We probably need to change the title and set up some kind of support structure. The Symposium itself would, I hope, continue, but its offspring might be called something like “The NLW Association” – or perhaps “The International NLW Association”.

But this is only a start. Our activities have to grow and spread much more widely. A good communications strategy will suggest scores if not hundreds of possible initiatives, from the individual to the international. Individual activity is important.

We need many activities at many levels all around the world. Here at this symposium we have a gathering of highly intelligent NLW practitioners from all around the world. Every one of us can be an ambassador for NLWs in some way.

I suggest that among us here right now we can start to generate and then begin to implement a very substantial number of ideas on educating our own local communities – and in turn the world community – about NLWs.