LENS Essay Series: “Use of Force in the 21st Century: Does Neurological Enhancement Change the Use of Force Equation?”

Can science enable soldiers to become not just superior warfighters, but also people better equipped to make legal and moral judgements about the use of force?  That’s the intriguing question addressed in today’s post which is the latest addition to LENS’ online Essays on Law, Ethics and National Security SeriesIt’s from a super-smart rising Duke Law 3L, Kirsten Bleiweiss, and her article is entitled, Use of Force in the 21st Century: Does Neurological Enhancement Change the Use of Force Equation?” 

Let’s face it, science – and especially neuroscience – has already produced means to enhance aspects of human performance, and we should only expect more in the not-too-distant future.  Ms. Bleiweiss unpacks the implications of such developments by examining how certain enhancements could impact decision-making in use-of-force settings.  While she offers some cautions, she does strike some optimistic notes about the potential for better decision-making that these developments might enable.  At the same time, she offers specific recommendations for nation-states contemplating science-enhanced troops.

As you can see from her awesome bio, Ms. Bleiweiss’ talents are a true blend of both the arts and sciences.  The abstract to Kirsten’s paper is below, but be sure to read her full essay here.


A commander or soldier deciding whether to use force in the international context must comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality under the constantly changing conditions of a stressful environment. This paper analyzes how neurological enhancements (“neuroenhancements”), like pharmaceuticals and neuroscience-focused technologies, affect the use of force calculus.

The paper proceeds in four parts. Part I defines “human enhancement” and explores technological and pharmaceutical examples used in the military context—focusing on those that increase perception and processing, increase focus and alertness, and decrease or prevent emotions. Part II outlines the legal principles in jus ad bellum decision-making. Part III analyzes the effect of human enhancements on the use of force legal principles. Part IV offers several recommendations based on the preceding analysis.

This paper argues that neuroenhancements provide advantages to commanders and soldiers primarily by improving decisionmakers’ abilities to learn about and understand the facts related to an attack and the potential opportunities for response, potentially decreasing the response time needed in making the use of force decision, and lessening inaccuracies and inefficiencies associated with fear, stress, and anger.

However, because the reasonable consideration of available information, not the amount of information, determines whether a use of force is justified, neuroenhancements may not affect the justifiability of using force. Instead, neuroenhancements could improve deciding whether a use of force is in fact necessary and proportional. Thus, while States should be careful in implementing and monitoring use of these scientific advances, neuroenhancements could help to avoid resorting to the use of force.

About the author:

Kirsten Bleiweiss is entering her third year at Duke University School of Law, during which time she will serve as the Editor-in-Chief of the Duke Law & Technology Review.

Prior to law school, Kirsten received her Master’s degree in Bioethics and Science Policy at Duke University and worked on topics at the intersection of law, science, and society in the Science, Law & Policy Lab.

Kirsten attended the University of Southern California for her undergraduate degrees, majoring in neuroscience and political science.  Following graduation, Kirsten will be working in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

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