Weapons of Mass Destruction

Topics: Nuclear weapon, Biological warfare, World War II Pages: 5 (1645 words) Published: May 5, 2013
Prepared by Laura Reed, Security Studies Program, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA The dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction have come to occupy center stage in international politics. The term “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) is used to characterize a variety of weapons that share two key features: their potential for large-scale destruction and the indiscriminate nature of their effects, notably against civilians. There are three major types of WMD: nuclear weapons, chemical warfare agents, and biological warfare agents. In addition, some analysts include radiological materials as well as missile technology and delivery systems such as aircraft and ballistic missiles. 
While the mass killing of human beings is not a new feature of warfare, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose an unprecedented constellation of challenges to peace and security. Over the past century, various states have built and stockpiled lethal arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the materials to produce them. While states have officially committed to eliminating all stockpiles of chemical weapons and offensive biological weapons and to strive for the elimination of nuclear weapons, nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons - Britain, China, France, India, Israel (assumed), North Korea (claimed), Pakistan, Russia, and the United States – and several states are believed to possess chemical and/or biological warfare agents. In addition to the dangers posed by existing stockpiles of WMD, significant problems arise from the spread (or “proliferation”) of WMD and related technologies to additional countries, nongovernmental actors, and non-state terrorist networks through clandestine programs and black-market sales of weapons and related technologies. Fears of the terrorist use of WMD increased in the United States and around the world following the terrorist use of the biological warfare agent anthrax in the U.S. mail in 2001 and evidence seized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan that Al Qaeda was actively seeking nuclear materials.  The use of WMD by terrorists is generally viewed by security officials as a “worst case” scenario and thus attracts paramount concern. As former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry warned at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, “I have never been more fearful of a nuclear detonation than now.… There is a greater than 50 percent probability of a nuclear strike on U.S. targets within a decade.” Linton Brooks, a top ranking security official in the Bush administration, recently reported to Congress in March 2005 that: “The convergence of heightened terrorist activities and the associated revelations regarding the ease of moving materials, technology and information across borders has made the potential of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) the most serious threat facing the Nation. Preventing WMD from falling into the hands of terrorists is the top national security priority of this Administration.” Despite the inevitable uncertainty surrounding any effort to assess the myriad threats associated with WMD, experts are unanimous in their conviction that we face grave risks that are likely to increase as time goes on, barring fundamental changes in current policies at the local, national and international level. Yet beyond this broad consensus, a wide gulf remains between critics and supporters of current U.S. government policies concerning the U.S. nuclear stockpiles and strategies for WMD non-proliferation. One such critic, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, stated in May 2005 that, ''If I were to characterize US and NATO nuclear policies in one sentence, I would say they are immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, very, very dangerous in terms of the risk of inadvertent or accidental launch and destructive of the nonproliferation regime that has served us so well." In contrast, senior Bush administration...
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