CYBORG Soldiers: France enters the race for Bionic Troops with United States and China.
After United States DARPA's BRAIN initiative and China's increasing approach towards militarization of biotechnology, French bioethics panel issued clearance to apply technologies for biological enhancements of troops.
“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”
Norwegian diplomat Christian Louis Lange - Nobel Peace Prize speech 1921
Just a week after United States Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe made the claim that China is experimenting on PLA troops to create soldiers with ‘biologically enhanced capabilities’, a French military bioethics panel has issued clearance to develop and apply technology to enhance “physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities” of French Troops. We don't know much about these enhancements for now, so we will dive into how China and US are paving their way for future warfare because France is likely to go into the same technological developments and social dilemmas associated with these enhancements like the rest of the world specially United States will go.
China’s militarization of biotechnology:
CYBORG soldiers, a concept we have seen in Hollywood a lot, from ‘Universal Soldier’ and ‘Bloodshot’ to ‘Robocop’ and ‘Captain America’ had always a scientific base in movies whether is through gene editing or technological enhancements and augmentations.
In 2010, Guo Jiwei, a professor at Army Medical University wrote a book ‘War for Biological Dominance’ discussing the importance of biology in future warfare. In 2015, He Fuchu, President of the Academy of Military Sciences pointed out that biotechnology is the new strategic commanding height and this man now lead whole military science enterprise of China. Retired General and former President of National Defense University discussed seven domains of modern warfare in 2017 including biotechnology.
He Jiankui from The Time
“Modern biotechnology development is gradually showing strong signs characteristic of an offensive capability,” He stated in his book.
2018 gave us He Jiankui’s experiment at Southern University of Science and Technology China in which he modified CCR5 genes in human embryos using CRISPR gene editing technology, facing a global backlash and condemnation from scientific society. Later, the investigation done by the Wall Street Journal portrayed a ‘horrible’ picture of ongoing Gene-editing trials in China. In an instance cited by WSJ, a man treated to cure Cancer using CRISPR - Cas9 tool, died of heart stroke, although he didn’t have a history of heart diseases, and they didn’t even investigate his death.
Beijing Genomics institute, leader of human genetic research in China announced a project with the Government approvals, ‘China National Gene bank’ aimed to become the biggest data source of genes in the world. Its presence across the globe, partnerships with American institutions like University of California and Children Hospital of Philadelphia indicates that the company has access to American’s genetic information, and it's a crucial point of concern for Washington.
Two American scholars Elsa Kania and Wilson Vorndick wrote a paper last year with the title of China’s Military Biotech Frontier discussing the increasing approach of Chinese military generals toward militarization of biotechnology. CRISPR gene editing tool, considered generally unethical in the west, has been used immensely in China in applications ranging from using on animals to create human organs, to create highly muscular dogs for policing. In another instance, Chinese - American Neuroscientist Mu-Ming Pu at the Institute of Neuroscience (ION), Shanghai is experimenting with animals to cure human diseases and disorders but Kania, expert on Chinese defense technology at the Center for a New American Security, and Vorndick, a consultant on China matters and former U.S. Navy officer, citing a 2016 report published by Chinese Military “Evaluation and Research on Human Performance Enhancement Technology,” referring CRISPR technology as one of three technologies capable to enhance human combat performance, feared that experiments are not just limited to peaceful applications. Although there have been some arrests as well in China on unethical biotechnological experiments including the arrest and trial of He Jiankui, who modified genes of twin babies as In Dec last year he got sentenced to jail. But If all the written work by retired and on duty PLA Generals & officials and history of not just Chinese military but Armies throughout the globe tells us one thing, is that China will go to any limits to get one step ahead of the United Stated.
John Ratcliffe from CNN
Ratcliffe’s office doesn’t respond to queries for details of such enhancements. The Trump administration has fed Anti-China rhetoric from blaming COVID-19 spread to nearly everything and John played a vital role so no doubt if even in his last days of Office, he decided to make such claims. Joe Biden has chosen Avril Haines as new Director of National Intelligence, former Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama and the first women to hold the position of Director of Central Intelligence Agency and although she has good relations with Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwanese leading envoy to the United States and even considering the fact that Joe Biden has hinted to not reverse the trade tariffs imposed on China, Biden’s Foreign policy for China won’t be as aggressive and drastic as Donald Trump’s was.
As far as China is concerned, “There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing's pursuit of power.” Ratcliffe said. French development on the other hand comes with some restrictions, like not applying technologies which will meddle with basic humanity of soldiers and there will of how much power should one use. In the end, enhancements should not disturb a soldier’s civilian life. This clearance also include development of medical cures for stress, pain and fatigue.
You’re wrong if you think United Sates has no dark side. They can propagate as much as info about China, posturing Washington doesn’t allow such ‘unethical approach’ but facts states otherwise.
Future isn’t far - 2050:
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced BRAIN (Brain Research through Advance Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative in 2013 supposedly to treat and cure brain disease, leading to research on data transfer between the brain and the digital world. Where such studies can offer revolutionary cures to disabled people to control artificial limbs, they also pave the way to a future in which troops can control all the military equipment from fighter jets and radars to machine guns, just using their brain. China might not be the only country hiding its military objectives behind medical researches.
In November 2019, a report written by the Department of Defense study group concerning Biotechnologies for Health and Human Performance Council entitled
‘Cyborg Soldiers 2050: Human/Machine fusion and the implications of the future of DoD’ implied that the current pace of research in militarization of biotechnology in the US can lead to such ‘super soldiers’ living among us in the United States somewhere by 2050. The study stated various possible biological improvements form Ocular and Auditory enhancements to muscle control and neural enhancements for two-way data transfer. The Report also predicted the disturbance in ethical, societal and legal structure of states with the introduction of individuals with such capacities to society and proposed recommendations for the Pentagon to handle such imbalances and future safety concerns.
In Aug 2020, Dr. Peter Emanuel and Dr. Diane DiEuliis, authors of this paper appeared in a Podcast ‘Left of Boom’ for Military.com. Basically, they were part of the Secretary of the Defense red team, constituted of scientists and bio-engineers and tasked with to know what’s coming in the future. Where Blue team in military tries to use technology effectively , red team tries to think like their enemy.
“We're we've already seen integration of man and machine over many years, the use of defibrillators, of pacemakers to some extent” Peter stated.
Ocular implants in the human eye can will enable troops to see if they are blind and that’s an enhancement but if they are not blind, it will grant them the ability to see visuals, normal humans can’t and that’s an augmentation.
Same goes for auditory enhancements. Whether it's about being able to hear from greater distances or filtering out sounds to focus on just one of them. As far as muscular control is concerned, a version of it is already happening under many DARPA programs where injured soldiers, who have lost their limbs can get a prosthetic arm that they can control directly from the nervous system and even from a distance using Bluetooth. In other possibilities, It can enable the soldiers to do unimaginably difficult tasks, like something they never did or trained for before. Like doing a backflip by pressing a button while having no training of gymnastic in your entire life.
In the end there is a lot of discussion about trust issues like If one soldier in a unit gets these enhancements, and he receives the data to which nobody else has access to in his unit then there is a crucial need of very strong bonding between the members of a unit to function properly. One more point is how such biologically ‘enhanced’ individuals will be integrated in a normal society. If they have a suit, they that can be taken from them before leaving the building like weapons but if they have bio implants, that can’t be separated from them. These individuals will have the ability to see and hear what others can’t, to do physically what others can’t and of course how will the data generated by these individuals will be handled. All of these questions need to be answered and although DoD report tries to do so but this isn’t the last report and t it shouldn’t be because these biological enhancements are not fiction anymore, they are real and such individuals will be among us in two or three decades. Internet was also started as a military project and today everybody has access to it. Success of such above mentioned products will make many commercial giants to jump in and develop them commercially and then these enhancements won’t be limited to just military applications. We might soon feel a need to redefine social, ethical and legal dynamics both within the military itself and in the society at large as well.