Last November 4 the Naval Studies Board of the National Research Council issued a report calling on the U.S. to increase its research into "calmatives," drugs that could be used to control and sedate unruly or hostile groups of people. Whereas most of the board's research had been finished a year earlier, the report was especially timely: nine days before, Russian troops had used a gas to subdue Chechen rebels in an attempt to rescue the 700 hostages they were holding in a Moscow theater. The gas--actually a nebulized aerosol said to contain fentanyl, an opiate used as an anesthetic--killed more than 100 hostages.
The U.S. looked into calmatives in the 1980s and 1990s, but the development of many types of chemical agents slowed or stopped in the wake of the Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified in 1997. The rise of terrorist activity throughout the world has led many military experts to believe that some kind of knockout gas would be helpful. Andrew Mazzara, a retired U.S. Marine colonel who heads the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies at Pennsylvania State University's Applied Research Laboratory, states that the Russian example highlights a need for "more research rather than less" into nonlethal means of incapacitating hostage takers.
This article was originally published with the title Storm before the Calm.