09 May 1999

How NATO blacks out Belgrade

9 May 1999
The Times of India

How NATO blacks out Belgrade

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: In The Mahabharata, Krishna used his shield to plunge the
battlefield into darkness. NATO --which is apparently the closest thing we
have to God these days -- prefers carbon. Using technology first tested on
Iraq, US F-117s have repeatedly dropped bombs containing carbon particles
over Yugoslav electricity plants, causing short-circuits and widespread
power disruptions. Belgrade and other cities have suffered massive
blackouts. Hospitals have been forced to run on generators, water supply is
disrupted and public transport brought to a standstill.

According to Indian scientists familiar with weapons technology, the bomb
explodes over the target and then showers electric transformers and lines
with millions of carbon particles. ``These particles disperse in the air. As
soon as they settle down, there is a charge and then `bang!', '' said one
senior scientist who preferred not to be identified. According to him, the
process of repair is incredibly complicated as with every passing wind,
fresh particles descend. ``During the Gulf War, the US used carbon fibres.
This time it seems the bombs contain minute particles which form a cloud.''
These particles get into impossible nooks and crannies in transformer boxes
and even porcelain switches. ``A full clean-up can take days,'' he said.

Though this carbon bomb is supposed to be a ``non-lethal weapon,'' the
scientist did not rule out the possibility of human beings inhaling the
deadly particulate matter. Asked what counter-measures were possible against
the weapon, he was blunt: ``None. The only way is to deny the enemy mastery
over the skies.''

Washington's growing fixation with ``non-lethal weapons'' is tied to its
desire to intervene in conflict zones around the world without much loss to
it of human life. Apart from carbon bombs and lasers, research is proceeding
on ``stickums'' and ``slickums'' which impede vehicle or foot traffic,
incapacitating biological substances and even acoustic weapons. The purpose:
to wear down the morale of civilian populations and limit the ability of the
enemy to strike back. The experience of Somalia --where lone snipers shot
down US helicopters -- has led Pentagon planners to focus on lasers. ``A
laser device strapped on a helicopter could be scanned to blind anyone
looking in the direction of the aircraft,'' argues Major Joseph Cook III. To
minimise indiscriminate blinding, the laser could even be calibrated to
target only those looking ``persistently,'' he says.

In a seminar at JNU in January this year, Dr K Santhanam, chief adviser
(technology) to the Defence Research and Development Organisation, expressed
fears that ``intervention by some powerful country or group of countries...
is likely to increase with the possession on non-lethal weapons.'' This was
because ``proper media management'' would allow the intervention to be
projected as ``humanitarian,'' he argued.

According to C Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute for Defence
Studies and Analyses, the use of new weapons by NATO also raises serious
ethical problems. ``Techno-strategic considerations combined with power not
only redefine the boundaries of law but also of ethics,'' he said.
``Somebody has to tell NATO that this is not on. You cannot just go and
disrupt Yugoslavia's power supply like this.''

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