Weapons of mass destruction

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Weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is a term used to describe a munition with the capacity to indiscriminately kill large numbers of living beings. The phrase broadly encompasses several areas of weapon synthesis, including nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) and, increasingly, radiological weapons.

The term first arose in 1937 in reference to the mass destruction of Guernica, Spain, by aerial bombardment.<ref>"The term Weapons of Mass Destruction was first used in the London Times in 1937, according to Robert Whealey, writing on H-Diplo. It was used to describe a Luftwaffe German air force attack on the town of Guernica, Spain. The attack reportedly lasted for 3 hours and destroyed 70 percent of the town and killed a third of the population." [1]</ref> Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and progressing through the Cold War, the term came to refer more to non-conventional weapons. The phrase entered popular usage in relation to the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. Terms used in a military context include atomic, biological, and chemical warfare (ABC warfare), nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) after the invention of the hydrogen bomb, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN), recognizing the threat of non-explosive radiological weapons.

Due to the indiscriminate impacts caused by WMD, the fear of WMD has shaped political policies and campaigns, fostered social movements, and has been the central theme of many films. Support for different levels of WMD development and control varies nationally and internationally. Yet understanding of the nature of the threats is not high, in part because of imprecise usage of the term by politicians and the media.


[edit] Historic use of the term WMD

[edit] Origin

The first record of the term Weapon of Mass Destruction is from a December 28, 1937 Times article on the bombing of Gernika, Spain, by the German Legion Condor during the Spanish Civil War:

"Who can think without horror of what another widespread war would mean, waged as it would be with all the new weapons of mass destruction?"

This was in reference to blanket bombing of Guernica, during which 70% of the town was destroyed. Nuclear weapons did not exist at this time, but biological weapons were being researched by Japan ([2]), (see Unit 731), and chemical weapons had seen wide use.

In 1946, soon after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United Nations issued its first resolution. It was to create the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)), and used the wording:

"...atomic weapons and of all other weapons adaptable to mass destruction".

An early use of the exact phrase in an international treaty was in Outer Space Treaty of 1967, however no definition was provided.

[edit] Use in Arms Control

Since then, "WMD" was used widely in the arms control community. The terms Atomic, Biological and Chemical (ABC) weapon, and then Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) weapon were introduced over time. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972 explicitly includes biological and chemical weapons within the WMD framework:

"Convinced of the importance and urgency of eliminating from the arsenals of States, through effective measures, such dangerous weapons of mass destruction as those using chemical or bacteriological (biological) agents".

The expanded definition is also supported by UN Resolution 687, 1991, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, 1993.

[edit] The Cold War and the War Against Terrorism

WMD had fallen out of use since the early Cold War era, when it was primarily a reference to nuclear weapons. At the time, the US stockpiles of thermonuclear weapons were regarded as a necessary deterrent against an all-out strike from the Soviet Union (see Mutual Assured Destruction). Hence the less dysphemistic military term strategic weapons fell into favor with US policy-makers who approved of, or at least condoned, the amassed American nuclear arsenal.

In 1990 and during the 1991 Gulf War, WMD was resurrected and used prolifically by politicians and the media, despite having a fairly antique aura. This time, it was a reference to the stockpiles of an adversarial country, specifically, the chemical weapons that were in Iraq under Hussein’s regime (ironically, sold to him by many of the same countries now arrayed against him[citation needed]). At the dawn of the War against Terrorism, the dysphemistic quality of the term served the function for which it was intended, namely, motivating the US populace to war. Weapons of mass destruction replaced strategic weapons in the common American lexicon. After 9/11, it would be the anthrax attacks, and the multitude of hypothetical smallpox terrorist attack scenarios in the media that would shape the prevalent image of a weapon of mass destruction into a device of bioterrorism. This usage reached a crescendo with the 2002 Iraq disarmament crisis and the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that became the primary justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Because of its prolific use, the American Dialect Society voted WMD the word of the year in 2002 ([3]), and in 2003 Lake Superior State University added WMD to its list of terms banished for "Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness" ([4]).

The most widely used definition is that of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons (NBC) although there is no treaty or customary international law that contains an authoritative definition. Instead, international law has been used with respect to the specific categories of weapons within WMD, and not to WMD as a whole. The acronym NBC is used with regards to battlefield protection systems for armored vehicles, because all 3 involve insidious toxins that can be carried through the air and can be protected against with vehicle air filtration systems. However, there is an argument that nuclear weapons do not belong in the same category as chemical, biological, or "dirty-bomb" radiological weapons, which have limited destructive potential (and close to none, as far as property is concerned), whereas nuclear weapons are immensely destructive and could be said to belong in a class by themselves.

The NBC definition has also been used in official US documents, by the US President ([5], [6]), the US Central Intelligence Agency ([7]), the US Department of Defense ([8], [9]), and the US General Accounting Office ([10]).

Other documents expand the definition of WMD to include radiological or conventional weapons. The US military refers to WMD as:

Weapons that are capable of a high order of destruction and/or of being used in such a manner as to destroy large numbers of people. Weapons of mass destruction can be high explosives or nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons, but exclude the means of transporting or propelling the weapon where such means is a separable and divisible part of the weapon.([11])

While in US civil defense, the category is now Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE), which defines WMD as:

(1) Any explosive, incendiary, poison gas, bomb, grenade, or rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces [113 g], missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce [7 g], or mine or device similar to the above. (2) Poison gas. (3) Any weapon involving a disease organism. (4) Any weapon that is designed to release radiation at a level dangerous to human life. This definition derives from US law, 18 U.S.C. Section 2332a and the referenced 18 USC 921. Indictments and convictions for possession and use of WMD such as truck bombs, pipe bombs, shoe bombs, cactus needles coated with botulin toxin, etc. have been obtained under 18 USC 2332a.

The US FBI also considers conventional weapons (i.e. bombs) as WMD: "A weapon crosses the WMD threshold when the consequences of its release overwhelm local responders". Gustavo Bell Lemus, the Vice President of Colombia, at the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, quoted the Millennium Report of the UN Secretary-General to the General Assembly, in which Kofi Annan said that small arms could be described as WMD because the fatalities they cause "dwarf that of all other weapons systems - and in most years greatly exceed the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki" ([12]).

Chemical weapons expert Gert G. Harigel considers only nuclear weapons true weapons of mass destruction, because "only nuclear weapons are completely indiscriminate by their explosive power, heat radiation and radioactivity, and only they should therefore be called a weapon of mass destruction". He prefers to call chemical and biological weapons "weapons of terror" when aimed against civilians and "weapons of intimidation" for soldiers. Testimony of one such soldier expresses the same viewpoint ([13]). For a period of several months in the winter of 2002-2003, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz frequently used the term "weapons of mass terror," apparently also recognizing the distinction between the psychological and the physical effects of many things currently falling into the WMD category.

An additional condition often implicitly applied to WMD is that the use of the weapons must be strategic. In other words, they would be designed to "have consequences far outweighing the size and effectiveness of the weapons themselves" ([14]). The strategic nature of WMD also defines their function in the military doctrine of total war as targeting the means a country would use to support and supply its war effort, specifically its population, industry, and natural resources.

The Washington Post reported on 3/30/2006: "Jurors asked the judge in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui today to define the term "weapons of mass destruction" and were told it includes airplanes used as missiles". Moussaoui was indicted and tried for the use of airplanes as WMD under 18 USC 2332a (see above).

[edit] WMD use and control

See also: Arms control

The development and use of WMD is governed by international conventions and treaties, although not all countries have signed and ratified them:

In 1996 the International Court of Justice provided an advisory opinion regarding the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The statement is an authoritative legal pronouncement but not legally binding. It stated that any threat of the use of force, or the use of force, by means of nuclear weapons that is contrary to Article 2, paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter or that fails to meet all the requirements of Article 51 would be unlawful.

Adopted by the UN Security Council on April 28, 2004, UN Resolution 1540 recognizes the threat posed to international peace and security by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery. It calls upon greater effort by nations to limit proliferation of such weapons.

Weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, are rarely used because their use is essentially an "invitation" for a WMD retaliation, which in turn could escalate into a war so destructive it could easily destroy huge segments of the world's population. During the Cold War, this understanding became known as mutually assured destruction and was largely the reason war never broke out between the WMD-armed United States and Soviet Union.

Weapons of mass destruction are used to justify the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against "rogue states" thought to be in danger of possessing or developing them. Opponents of this strategy note that the United States is the country that possesses one of the greatest arsenals of WMD on earth, and the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons in its attacks (at Hiroshima and Nagasaki), whereas others argue that the strategy is aimed solely at those whose intentions may be dangerous and that the current nuclear powers have all shown an unwillingness to use their WMD outside extreme circumstances, whereas the US has no similar guarantees with nations like North Korea.

[edit] WMD Use, Possession and Access

[edit] Nuclear weapons

The only country to have used a nuclear weapon against an opponent is the United States. There are eight countries that have declared they possess nuclear weapons and are known to have tested a nuclear weapon, only five of which are members of the NPT. The eight include: People's Republic of China; France; India; Pakistan; Russia; the United Kingdom; the United States of America; and North Korea. Israel is considered by most analysts to have nuclear weapons numbering in the low hundreds as well, but maintains an official policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither denying nor confirming its nuclear status. Iran is suspected by western countries of seeking nuclear weapons, a claim that it denies. South Africa developed a small nuclear arsenal in the 1980s but disassembled them in the early 1990s, making it the only country to have fully given up an independently developed nuclear weapons arsenal. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited stockpiles of nuclear arms following the break-up of the Soviet Union, but relinquished them to the Russian Federation. Countries with access to nuclear weapons through nuclear sharing agreements include: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. North Korea has claimed to have developed and tested nuclear devices; although outside sources have been unable to unequivocally support the state's claims, North Korea has officially been identified to have nuclear weapons.

[edit] Nuclear weapons tests

Image:Nuclear use locations world map1.png
Over 2,000 nuclear tests have been staged by the eight nuclear powers in over a dozen different sites around the world.
Main article: Nuclear testing

Nuclear testing is usually the way that a country has announced its nuclear capability in the past, with a few exceptions. Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union performed hundreds of test nuclear detonations. Concerns about environmental effects of nuclear fallout led to the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which prohibited everything but underground nuclear testing. In 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was created, banning all nuclear testing, but not all nuclear states have signed it.

Nuclear testing by country breaks down as follows:

Additionally, there may have been at least three alleged/disputed/unacknowledged nuclear explosions (see list of alleged nuclear tests). Of these, the only one taken seriously as a possible nuclear test is the Vela Incident, a possible detection of a nuclear explosion in the Indian Ocean in 1979 hypothesized to be a joint Israeli/South African test.

From the first nuclear test in 1945 until the latest tests by North Korea in 2006, there was never a period of more than 22 months with no nuclear testing. The period from June of 1998 to the 2006 North Korean nuclear test was by far the longest period since 1945 with no acknowledged nuclear tests.

[edit] National politics

Fear of WMD, or of threats diminished by the possession of WMD, has long been used to catalyse public support for various WMD policies. They include mobilization of pro- and anti-WMD campaigners alike, and generation of popular political support. The term WMD may be used as a powerful buzzword ([15]), or to generate a culture of fear ([16]). It is also used ambiguously, particularly by not distinguishing among the different types of WMD ([17]).

A television commercial, called Daisy, promoting Democrat Lyndon Johnson's 1964 presidential candidacy invoked the fear of a nuclear war and was an element in Johnson's subsequent election.

More recently, the threat of potential WMD in Iraq was used by George W. Bush to generate public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq ([18], [19], [20]). Broad reference to Iraqi WMD in general was seen as an element of Bush's arguments ([21]). The Iraq Survey Group found no WMD stockpiles or programs in Iraq. On June 21, 2006, United States Senator Rick Santorum claimed that "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons." According to the Washington Post, he was referring to 500 degraded shells "that had been buried near the Iranian border, and then long forgotten, by Iraqi troops during their eight-year war with Iran, which ended in 1988." That night, "intelligence officials reaffirmed that the shells were old and were not the suspected weapons of mass destruction sought in Iraq after the 2003 invasion." The shells had been uncovered and reported on in 2004.[22].

On August 9, 2005 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. The full text of the fatwa was released in an official statement at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. [23]

WMD fear also notably increases when potential for development is initiated by administrators that do not have intrinsic links to the Global economy. This global dislocation is a more rational approach to the definition of 'rogue' state.

[edit] Media coverage of WMD

In 2004 the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) released a report ([24]) by Prof. Susan Moeller examining the media’s coverage of WMD issues during three separate periods: India’s nuclear weapons tests in May 1998; the US announcement of evidence of a North Korean nuclear weapons program in October 2002; and revelations about Iran's nuclear program in May 2003. The CISSM report notes that poor coverage resulted less from political bias among the media than from tired journalistic conventions. The report’s major findings were that:

  1. Most media outlets represented WMD as a monolithic menace, failing to adequately distinguish between weapons programs and actual weapons or to address the real differences among chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons.
  2. Most journalists accepted the Bush administration’s formulation of the “War on Terror” as a campaign against WMD, in contrast to coverage during the Clinton era, when many journalists made careful distinctions between acts of terrorism and the acquisition and use of WMD.
  3. Many stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspective on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats, and policy options.
  4. Too few stories proffered alternative perspectives to official line, a problem exacerbated by the journalistic prioritizing of breaking-news stories and the “inverted pyramid” style of storytelling.

In a separate study published in 2005 ([25]), a group of researchers assessed the effects reports and retractions in the media had on people’s memory regarding the search for WMD in Iraq during the 2003 Iraq War. The study focused on populations in two coalition countries (Australia and USA) and one opposed to the war (Germany). Results showed that US citizens generally did not correct initial misconceptions regarding WMD, even following disconfirmation; Australian and German citizens were more responsive to retractions. Dependence on the initial source of information led to a substantial minority of Americans exhibiting false memory that WMD were indeed discovered, while they were not. This led to three conclusions:

  1. The repetition of tentative news stories, even if they are subsequently disconfirmed, can assist in the creation of false memories in a substantial proportion of people.
  2. Once information is published, its subsequent correction does not alter people's beliefs unless they are suspicious about the motives underlying the events the news stories are about.
  3. When people ignore corrections, they do so irrespective of how certain they are that the corrections occurred.

A poll conducted between June and September of 2003 asked people whether they thought WMD had been discovered in Iraq since the war ended. They were also asked which media sources they relied upon. Those who obtained their news primarily from Fox News were three times as likely to believe that evidence confirming WMD had been discovered in Iraq than those who relied on PBS and NPR for their news, and one third more likely than those who primarily watched CBS.

Media source Respondents believing evidence of WMD had been found in Iraq since the war ended
Fox 33%
CBS 23%
NBC 20%
CNN 20%
ABC 19%
Print media 17%

Based on a series of polls taken from June-September 2003. Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War, PIPA, October 2, 2003.

[edit] Public perceptions of WMD

Awareness and opinions of WMD have varied during the course of their history. Their threat is a source of unease, security and pride to different people. The anti-WMD movement is embodied most in nuclear disarmament, and led to the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

In 1998 University of New Mexico's Institute for Public Policy released their third report ([26]) on US perceptions - including the general public, politicians and scientists - of nuclear weapons since the break up of the Soviet Union. Risks of nuclear conflict (particularly with China), proliferation, and terrorism were seen as substantial. While maintenance of a nuclear US arsenal was considered above average in importance, there was widespread support for a reduction in the stockpile, and very little support for developing and testing new nuclear weapons.

Also in 1998, but after the UNM survey was conducted, nuclear weapons became an issue in India's election of March ([27]), in relation to political tensions with neighboring Pakistan. Prior to the election the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced it would “declare India a nuclear weapon state” after coming to power. BJP won the elections, and on May 14, three days after India tested nuclear weapons for the second time, a public opinion poll reported that a majority of Indians favored the country’s nuclear build-up.

On April 15, 2004, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) reported ([28]) that US citizens showed high levels of concern regarding WMD, and that preventing the spread of nuclear weapons should be a very important US foreign policy goal, accomplished through multilateral arms control rather than the use of military threats. A majority also believed the US should be more forthcoming with its biological research and its NPT commitment of nuclear arms reduction, and incorrectly thought the US was a party to various non-proliferation treaties.

A Russian opinion poll conducted on August 5, 2005 indicated half the population believes new nuclear powers (including DPRK) have the right to possess nuclear weapons [29]. 39% believes the Russian stockpile should be reduced, though not fully eliminated.

[edit] WMD in film, music and humor

Weapons of mass destruction and their related impacts have been a mainstay for popular culture since the beginning of the Cold War, as both political commentary and humorous outlet. Nuclear weapons have been a central theme of movies since The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951); two of the most famous are Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and Fail-Safe (1964). Biological weapons have also featured, as in Twelve Monkeys (1995). Several James Bond films involve a madman intending to use either nuclear or biological weapons against the world. The science fiction novel Dune dicusses atomic weapons, and Dune Messiah employs one called a Stone Burner. In the Star Wars universe, the Death Star is a moveable, multi-use WMD (meaning that it, unlike most WMD missiles, can be used thousands of times.) Weapons of Mass Destruction is also the title of an album released by the rapper Xzibit in 2000. In 2004, Faithless released the album No Roots, containing the single "Mass Destruction", whose lyrics describe negative traits such as 'fear', 'greed' and 'inaction' as 'weapons of mass destruction' ([30]). In the Babylon 5 Universe, WMD have been used a number of times, most directly by the Earth Alliance (Earth-Minbari War, Nuclear), the Army of Light (the Shadow War, Nuclear), the Centauri (Narn-Centauri War, Planetary Bombardment with asteroids and Mass Drivers), as well as on their own planet on the Isle of Selini to rid themselves of the Shadows (Nuclear), and the Drakh (Biological Warfare against Earth).

Xzibit recently called a car featured on "Pimp My Ride" a WMD.

During the 2003 Iraq War, a parody ([31]) based on Internet Explorer's "404 Not Found" message was created, poking fun at the state of international affairs, and for a time was the #1 hit for the Google search "weapons of mass destruction". Similarly, at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, February 24, 2004, George W. Bush joked about being unable to find WMD in Iraq, saying "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere", while showing images of himself looking around the White House for something ([32]; full transcript here).

The 2005 series of Doctor Who contained a double episode about an alien invasion in London, which was full of snide remarks about the rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war. In one scene, when discussing whether an attack on the aliens' space craft was warranted, politicians claimed it was necessary because the aliens had "massive weapons of destruction" which could be deployed "within forty-five seconds" — a stab esp. at Blair who had claimed that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes.

In 2005, the Paranoia RPG published a collection of new Straight-style missions under the title "WMD". Each mission revolved around a central plot device with the initials WMD. At least one of the missions involved an actual device that might have been a WMD; but, in general they simply focussed on situations rife with a sense of stress, uncertainty and fear.

Author Hugh Cook's 1992 fantasy novel The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster satirically mentioned that the avalanche, is a terrible weapon of mass destruction, outlawed by civilised countries in the conduct of war.

In the Nextwave comic book the Beyond Corporation© is testing out "Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction" within the US. The first such weapon is Fin Fang Foom. This is all documented in the Beyond Corporation©'s marketing plan.

In 2003 an easyjet advertising campaign attracted controversy with a billboard ad featuring a woman's breasts with the phrase "discover weapons of mass distraction".

In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XVII, aliens Kang and Kodos, spoofing the Iraq War, claim that they had to invade, as Earth was working on "Weapons of Mass Disintegration". In fact, a cut line "This isn't any different from what Iraq's going to be." proves this fact.

[edit] See also


[edit] References

<references />

[edit] Debate

Weapons of Mass Destruction was the 2001-2002 Debate Resolution (policy debate).

"Resolved: The United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction. (2001-2002)"

[edit] Definition and origin

[edit] International Law

[edit] Media

[edit] Public perceptions

[edit] External links

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Weapons of mass destruction

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