Reducing the Damage of War

By Andrew Greig

(From Medact’s newsletter Communique – Winter 2011 page 6.)

War is a health hazard, which is why Medact campaigns to reduce violent conflict. As the technology of war has developed – from stone axe to atom bomb – so has the damage. Even a ‘very small’ nuclear war could cause millions of deaths.  Obviously our highest priority is to prevent nuclear conflict, but wars are likely to continue for a while at least. One approach to this problem is to opt for damage limitation. Although we would prefer that people did not become addicted to heroin, we minimise the harm by giving users new syringes. The focus of the Non-Lethal Weapons for Peace campaign is to reduce the harm caused by the weapons of war. What if we had ‘weapons’ that protected us from invasion and restrained the aggressors – but without killing and wounding? Such ‘non-lethal weapons’ (NLWs) are becoming available. They include stun guns and other devices. Both North American and European military are beginning to invest in NLWs. The spending is minute compared to that on lethal weapons research – but it’s a start. NLWs are not perfect. They can be used by tyrants and thugs, but if you’re alive, at least you have hope. The greatest advances in human health have come from technologies such as disinfection, anaesthesia, surgery and immunisation. Perhaps the technologies of non-lethal weapons could reduce the hazards to our health that arise from war.

Andrew Greig worked with a CARE Australia medical team in Zaire and Rwanda in 1994. He is Coordinator of the Non-Lethal Weapons for Peace Campaign  and author of ‘Taming War – Culture and Technology for Peace’. For further details about the book and on obtaining a copy (electronic or print) contact .