Pharmacological Performance Enhancement and the Military

Exploring an ethical and legal framework for ‘supersoldiers’
Research paper Updated 11 December 2020 Published 11 November 2020 ISBN: 978 1 78413 409 9
Image shows two soldiers resting

Major Héloïse Goodley

Former Army Chief of General Staff Visiting Research Fellow, International Security Programme

Militaries are investing in research and development programmes to enhance the performance of their soldiers, exploring pharmacological solutions to improve soldier strength, mental capacity, recovery, and resistance to fatigue and trauma.

Any improvement in the cognitive, physical or emotional capabilities of soldiers can increase survivability and mission success. But the possibilities for the pharmacological enhancement of soldiers raise important ethical and legal concerns that are unique to the military environment.

This paper presents scenarios in which performance enhancement of military personnel would be ethically permissible, given the unique nature of warfare; examines the impact of implementing performance enhancement programmes on soldier human rights and on broader society; and argues that drug use in the military should not become routine, in compensation for poor planning, or equipment and training shortfalls.