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Particle Beam Weapons

Particle beam weapons have a considerable potential in terms of the development of effective defensive weapon as well as offensive one. However, the development and implementation of particle beam weapons confront not only technological but also legal problems. In fact, the use of particle beam weapons may be strategically important and opens the way to so-called star wars but the existing international legislation prohibits the development and implementation of the weapon at the level of outer space. In this regard, the development of effective particle beam weapons is likely to raise a number of legal issues. On the other hand, particle beam weapons face considerable technological problems. Even though the idea of the development of the particle beam weapon dates back to the 1930s, when this idea was first suggested by Tesla, who started first developments in this field, the technical development of particle beam weapons is still a problem and technological challenge even for leading nations, such as the US. As a result, today, the creation of particle beam weapon is still rather a theoretical development than actually existing weapon that can be created and implemented.

First of all, it is worth mentioning the fact that particle beam weapon is the weapon that uses an ultra high energy beam of atoms or electrons to damage a material target hitting it and, thus, disrupting its atomic and molecular structure. Theoretically, this weapon can have a huge destructive power. Therefore, this weapon can be used in defensive as well as offensive purposes at the strategic level. The idea of the development and the implementation of such weapon was first suggested by Tesla in the 1930s, when World War I revealed the importance of the development of a powerful weapon that could stop military conflict fast due to fast and destructive impact of the use of the particle beam weapon on the potential enemy [4]. Remarkably, at first the idea of Tesla was rejected by the US and some European governments, although the scientist had developments in this field and was probably close to the creation of the particle beam weapon. However, he has never created one.

As technology progress, the idea of particle beam weapons revived, especially, when the confrontation between the US and the USSR has grown particularly strong and the use of the nuclear weapon became a real threat for the survival of the mankind [3]. In such a context, particle beam weapons became strategically important. In fact, both laser and particle beam weapons have major potential defensive applications against ballistic missiles and other offensive projectile weapons; and as offensive weapons both offer the possibility of a highly discrete attack without much of the extensive collateral damage associated with the deployment of strategic nuclear weapon [2]. Therefore, particle beam weapons could be used to deploy the offense involving the use of nuclear weapon. Moreover, by the late 1980s, the development of the particle beam weapon became a part of strategic plans of the US. To put it more precisely, President Ronald Reagan, in his speech of 23 March 1983, asked the rhetorical question whether we might base our security not on the threat of retaliation against Soviet nuclear attack, but by living absolutely protected against nuclear weapons. The outpouring of funds in the ensuing Strategic Defense Initiative-SDI-energized a lot of technical work (and even more rhetoric) about space-based beam weapons-neutral particle (hydrogen atom) beams or space-based lasers [1].

Therefore, particle beam weapon was strategically important for both the US and the USSR, while other countries had not technological, military and economic potential to develop such weapon. At the level of strategic doctrine, two effects stand out. First, the keystone of strategic deterrence (at least as formulated and understood in the United States) has been the certain ability to penetrate enemy defenses with weapons that survive an initial attack and inflict a level of destruction that is unacceptable to a potential attacker. To the extent lasers and particle beams produce effective ballistic-missiles defense (BMD), they undercut the penetrability basic to the deterrent threat [5]. Second, the notion of extremely accurate weapons that produce essentially no collateral damage intensifies the debate about counterforce weaponry, damage limitation, and the likelihood that such weapons lower the firebreak (the point at which nuclear weapons are used) by making the outcomes of strategic exchange less devastating [6].

Therefore, the particle beam weapon was a strong instrument that could play the determinant part in the development of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the Cold War ended, while the particle beam weapon has not been implemented yet. Nevertheless, the end of the Cold War did not put the end to the development of particle beam weapons because such weapon still had a huge potential in terms of both defense and offense. Therefore, the development of this weapon was still strategically important.

However, the development of particle beam weapon confronts a number of challenges. First of all, the development and implementation of the particle beam weapon confronts legal issues because the existing international legislation and weapon control policies that was implemented in the 1980s limit the development and implementation of such weapon. To put it more precisely, star wars are beyond the existing legal ground that makes the implementation of such weapon illegal and is likely to raise the negative response from the part of the international community. In practical terms, this means that the country developing and implementing the particle beam weapon is likely to face strict sanctions or collective action from the part of the UN and international community. In such a situation, the existing international legislation limits and discourages the development of the particle beam weapon.

Furthermore, there is even a more serious challenge to the development of the particle beam weapon which is more serious that legal issues. This problem is technological. To put it more precisely, in spite of a considerable progress of existing technologies, the particle beam weapon is the threat to the international community and stability in the world but states would hardly refuse from the development of such weapon, if they had technologies that could contribute to the creation of the particle beam weapon. To put it in simple words, the modern technology still fails to provide researchers and developers with technologies and tools that are essential for the creation of the particle beam weapon. Nevertheless, leading countries carry on working on the development of the particle beam weapon that can give a strategic advantage to the country that creates this weapon. This weapon could have opened the way for the leadership in the global arm race but the end of the global arm race discourage countries to invest substantial funds in the development of the new weapon, especially today in the time of economic recession.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the development of the particle beam weapon is still one of the important goals in the military development of leading nations. However, the development and implementation of such weapons is likely to confront numerous legal problems. In addition, the contemporary technology does not have the ground for the practical development and the implementation of projects that can lead to the creation of the particle beam weapon. Nevertheless, many countries are interested in the development of such weapon because it gives them a strategic advantage in the international politics and military development.



[1] R.L. Garwin. Space Weapons or Space Arms Control? Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 145, No. 3, Sep., 2001, pp.243-259.
[2] D. B. Kates, Jr. and Kleck, Gary. The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997.
[3] A.L. Kellermann, et al. “Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership” New Engl. Journal of Medicine, 327, 1992, pp.467-72.
[4] A.L. Kellermann. “Firearm Related Violence: What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us.” American Journal of Public Health, 84, 1994, pp.541-42.
[5] D. Lester. Gun Control: Issues and Answers. Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas, 1984.
[6] T.L. Roleff. Gun and Crime. New York: Green Haven Press, 2003.
[7] D.M. Snow. Lasers, Charged-Particle Beams, and the Strategic Future, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 95, No. 2 Summer, 1980, pp. 277-294.