War without weapons

Written by Sarmad Ishfaq 12:00 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations

Weather Warfare & Climate Modification – A War Without Weapons

Though mostly recognized for its use by states like the UAE to produce more rainfall, weather modification can prove to be destructive if malicious intent is involved. Sarmad Ishfaq addresses America’s past weaponization of weather, namely Operation Popeye, and how the superpower has managed to exploit the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) – a treaty on weather warfare. He argues that even in contemporary times, the possibility of the weather being used as a weapon cannot be ruled out.
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About the Author(s)
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Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.

What is Weather Modification?

While the title of this piece might sound perplexing and belonging to a sci-fi movie, the truth is that weather warfare and modification are a reality. Humans have been experimenting with the weather for both non-military and military purposes for decades to the extent that it’s capable of taking the form of a war without weapons. Weather modification is the process of deliberately altering or manipulating the weather and such activities have taken place as early as the 1800s.

The most common method for weather modification, which has become quite prevalent in contemporary times, is cloud seeding – this is a way to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds. Cloud seeding has a storied past – in 1946, General Electric (GE) successfully “set off the world’s first artificial snowfall with a bag of dry ice.” GE teamed up with the US armed forces and incepted Project Cirrus, which was the first attempt to modify a hurricane.

Another early example of cloud seeding was the Thailand Royal Rainmaking Project in 1954, which aimed at increasing rainfall to aid in agriculture. In modern times, the UAE has become a massive exponent of cloud seeding as the Emiratis perennially partake in the process to catalyze precipitation due to the lack of rainfall in their country.

China has an active weather modification program that has been used regularly for many years and, most recently, is being employed to fight the drought in Sichuan province (still ongoing). There are over 50 nations today that practice weather modification, which includes Israel, India, South Africa, and Australia among others.

A War Without Weapons

There is, however, an uglier side to weather modification as well. Perhaps it is human nature that we weaponize seemingly everything – in this case, even the climate is no exception. Weather warfare is the use of weather modification and geoengineering methods to manipulate the weather to weaken an enemy. This includes utilizing artificial rainfall, floods, snow, hurricanes, tsunamis etcetera to amputate a country’s military and/or its economy, perhaps without even firing a single bullet.

The US Department of War conducted weather experiments in the 1800s by purchasing $9,000 of explosives and gunpowder to detonate them in hopes of manifesting rain.  In the 1940s, under Project Cirrus (mentioned above), one of the GE researchers and a Nobel Prize Laureate, Dr. Irving Langmuir, asserted that rainmaking or weather control can be as powerful as an atomic bomb – he urged his country to harness the unfathomable power of weather warfare.

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During the Cold War, the security dilemma present between the two superpowers of the time, the USSR and the United States meant that both states were not only embroiled in a nuclear arms race, space race, and propaganda war but also a far-less documented weather warfare race.

Operation Popeye

Operation Popeye was a military cloud seeding project conducted by the US Air Force, to wage a new type of war without weapons, during the Vietnam War from 1967-1972. It is the only confirmed militarization of meteorology in the world. This was a highly confidential project that later was declassified. The general aim was to prolong the monsoon season in Vietnam and “block North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”

The operation cost around $15 million and spanned five years. Cloud seeding was done by artificially introducing chemicals such as silver iodide, lead iodide, or dry ice into clouds by using aircrafts such as C-130s. According to Colonel Ed Soyster, his team was expected to deliver 4 objectives as instructed by the Department of Defense (DOD): “soften roads, cause mudslides, wash out river crossings, and extend soggy conditions.”

The motto of those conducting this Machiavellian plan was “Make mud, not war”. Reportedly, from 1967-1972, 2,602 flights were made and 47,409 units of cloud seed cartridges were used. Historians claim that the project induced up to 35 inches of rain. Lowell Ponte, a former researcher for International Research and Technology Corporation, a Pentagon “think tank,” claimed that the US also conducted weather modification activities from 1969-1970 in Cuba.

This project allegedly was called “Project Nile Blue” however; the aim was to cause droughts in Cuba rather than rainfall. The US Department of Defense refuted all claims by Mr. Ponte. Although the alleged Project Nile Blue fell under the public’s radar, Operation Popeye in Vietnam created a big splash when its details were leaked to the US press and masses in the 1970s.

Congressional hearings were organized and more information was demanded from the US armed forces and government. President Nixon denied that the project even existed and the US armed forces also denied any complicity until the files were declassified.

Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD)

After much back and forth due to the mounting pressure of using a war without weapons (weather warfare) in Vietnam, it is alleged that the US weather modification research had ceased and funding was halted. Weather warfare had become such a threat that an international treaty called the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) was signed, which barred the use of the weather in a military or belligerent capacity. ENMOD was referred by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 31/72 and was approved on 10 December 1976.

Commentators, however, state that the wording of the treaty is articulated in such a manner that weather modification can still take place without breaking the law. The treaty writes, “States parties undertake not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to another State party.”

One can discern how the preceding italicized words in the treaty created a giant loophole for states such as the US to exploit. The UN’s website deliberating on ENMOD itself states that efforts were made to eliminate or clarify the restrictive clauses i.e. “having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects” (known as the “troika”) but “consensus on such a removal could not be reached.”

In the mid-1990s, US’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instructions (CJSCI), a military body, interpreted ENMOD’s “troika” for meteorological and oceanographic operations as the following:

  1. Widespread. Encompassing an area on the scale of several hundred square kilometers.
  2. Long-lasting. Lasting for a period of months or approximately a season.
  3. Severe. Involving serious or significant disruption or harm to human life, natural and economic resources, or other assets.
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Therefore, the above definitions gave the US military considerable leeway to carry out any future nefarious weather warfare activities while still following the law technically.

“Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025”

All this led to a research paper in 1996 published by US armed forces officials titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025.” It was written at the behest of the US chief of staff of the Air Force, Ronald R. Fogelman, to examine how the US can maintain its hegemony in air and space. “If the US intelligence community did ignore the weather for a while, ‘Owning the Weather’ certainly made up for it.”

The paper discusses in prodigious detail how the US should manipulate the weather militarily to maintain its hegemony in the air. It discusses how the US can use cloud seeding and other weather modification techniques to generate fog, rain, storms etcetera to further its goals in the skies. It even converses on fictional scenarios that could take place in the future and what the US response should be.

The authors while cognizant of weather warfare’s verboten state under ENMOD rely on the CJSCI’s definition to exploit the “troika” (explained earlier) and argue that weather warfare can be conducted “within the boundaries of established treaties.” The paper being quite technical and detailed, states, “From enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns to complete dominance of global communications…weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary.”

The authors conclude that akin to the atomic bomb, the US armed forces should look to influence the power of the weather as well and warn in an almost entitled manner that “it is clear that we cannot afford to allow an adversary to obtain an exclusive weather modification capability.”

Besides this paper, there was a previous one also sanctioned by the US armed forces about weather warfare. This was titled “SpaceCast 2020” (written in 1992) and was directed by the Chief of Staff of the Air force – it discusses space capabilities as well as a counterforce weather control system for the modern fighter.

Before we leap to the last section, please be aware that I have purposefully omitted weather-related conspiracy theories such as the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (better known as HAARP) as well as “chemtrails” left by high-flying airplanes from this piece. This is because such assertions/theories are unvalidated and obfuscate real weather warfare activities.

Is Weather Warfare Being Used Today?

Since no ordinary person such as myself can provide any evidence of whether or not weather warfare is being used today, I will infer a few things here. I personally believe that the US’ voracious appetite for absolute power remains unsated. With the staggering rise of China as an economic and military superpower in the modern world, it is logical to think that the US would be utilizing weather warfare. Why wouldn’t it?

During the Cold War, the USSR and its communist bloc were the obvious threats to the US, and therefore, there was an active weather warfare program to counter them. Today nations like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and especially China are perceived as threats to the national security of the US. This means the US still has a motive.

Secondly, unlike weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs (which only the United States is guilty of using), tracking if a country used weather warfare is probably very challenging since it’s a war without weapons. Furthermore, a country as shrewd as the US can easily hide behind the guise of “climate change” if any suspicions arise about weather tampering being committed. Climate change is a scientific reality and we have seen how the Earth’s weather has changed in the past decades; therefore this pretext could potentially allow or does allow the US to use weather warfare unabated.

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Professor Alan Robock is a senior US climatologist and a distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, New Jersey. He was also a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author at the time when the group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – therefore, his reputation precedes himself. In 2015, Professor Robock expressed great concern that US intelligence agencies might be eying to implement weather warfare.

Robock narrates that he became suspicious of this when two men approached him and said that they were CIA consultants. “They said: ‘We are working for the CIA and we’d like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we be able to detect it?’ I think they were also thinking in the back of their minds: ‘If we wanted to control somebody else’s climate could they detect it?’”

Recently there have been a few conspiracy theories that fault the US or an anti-Pakistan state for the floods that have affected 1/3rd of the country. Could the US be behind these floods in Pakistan or for that matter any other natural disaster in recent times? Again, there is no evidence to suggest this because, as mentioned, it would be too difficult to ascertain such a thing. The better question would be: Is it technically possible for the US to do such a thing? From what it could accomplish half a century ago, it probably is. 

Now you might be asking yourself that just because the US can do such a heinous thing, does not mean it would. Well, you must recall that this is the same country that broke countless humanitarian laws in Iraq and Afghanistan let alone in the innumerable wars and battles it has faced around the world since its birth – however, no US president has been impeached for war crimes or tried in an international court.

As soon as Putin invades Ukraine, the Western media cries about war crimes but what about the nearly 400,000 people who met violent deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan (according to Brown University) as a result of the US-led post-9/11 wars? The estimated 400,000 number includes civilians who died at the US or its allies’ hands but is not limited to it. Perhaps I am employing a hackneyed argument against the United States but definitely not an incorrect one. Justice cannot have double standards.

Let us also not overlook that if it were not for declassifications, the public would be in complete obscurity when it comes to US culpability vis-à-vis its past crimes such as torture, rendition, assassinations, and coups/regime changes etcetera around the world. Professor Alan Robock harbors similar sentiments, “I’d learned of lots of other things the CIA had done that didn’t follow the rules…”

Additionally and therefore, it is also not far-fetched to suggest that the average person would be wholly oblivious of what confidential technologies a country, especially a superpower, possesses. Countries like the US and China have a myriad of top-secret weapons and conduct surreptitious projects that the masses do not even know about let alone can fathom.

Therefore, the US could have been and perhaps is still controlling the climate for its ulterior motives, ones that involve waging a war without weapons. It also appears that if this is the case, it can continue to do so in an indomitable fashion for the foreseeable future.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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