Geophysical warfare

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Author: V.S. Frolov
Date: July-September 2005
From: Military Thought(Vol. 14, Issue 3)
Publisher: East View Publications
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,372 words
Lexile Measure: 1630L

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In the summer of 2004, an unprecedented drought hit Cuba. The clouds of dust kicked up by hot winds were reminiscent of tornadoes typical of Cuba's "unkindly northern neighbor"--the United States of America. The dust storms snuffed out many lives. The hot winds blowing at speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour, with gusts of 100-120 kmh, blocked the nostrils of people and animals making breathing almost impossible. There was not a single salutary rain cloud above the island. Although at times there appeared on the horizon blue-indigo purple rain clouds, they stubbornly skirted Cuba as if bewitched. The nation was threatened with total loss of its crops and its arable lands turning into desert. It was rumored there was an undeclared war on--a geophysical war.

Geophysical warfare (also known as weather or biophysical warfare) is a term meaning deliberate environmental modification for military purposes. (1) First effects of such modification were in stark evidence in the wake of World War I. Resulting from the military operations, artillery shelling, the building of defense installations and lines of communication 100,000 hectares of arable land and 600,000 hectares of forest land were laid waste in France alone. It was possible during four years of the war to procure 100 million cubic meters of lumber, but 18 million cubic meters of lumber was cut down and ruined during the course of military operations; 12 million cubic meters was cut for civilian needs; further 22 million cubic meters was carted away by the German forces of occupation and 11 million cubic meters went for the military needs of the allied forces. (2)

The natural environment of France had barely recovered when World War II broke out and brought more devastation. Direct military operations in the country destroyed 400,000 hectares of woodland and 100,000 hectares more burned owing to guerilla operations. (3) Nearly 60 years after the wounds inflicted on the environment are still smarting. Poland still feels the effects of the war against the guerilla movement waged by Hitlerite forces in the 1940s when the German occupiers cleared entire forests to prevent the Polish patriots from hiding in them.

A fresh impetus to hostile use of environmental modification was given in the latter part of the 20th century. The Pentagon launched, for the first time in human history, a veritable campaign to destroy on a planned basis the natural environment and provoke an ecological disaster in countries of Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam). U.S. President Richard Nixon told a White House press conference at the height of the war in Vietnam that Americans would employ chemical weapons only in defense, with the exception of defoliants and tear gas. According to Pentagon chiefs, the so-called humane geophysical warfare, "warfare with no blood," was more effective from the standpoint of disabling and destroying personnel, and contaminating territories than frontal offensives with the use of napalm, heavy tanks and artillery.

Herbicides and defoliants were especially widely used agents in the Vietnam War. The former usually...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A147603626