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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

ALEXANDR IOFFE

The concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction appeared during War World II after the use of atomic bombs. In the mass consciousness, weapons of mass destruction are usually associated first with atomic weapons, although the concept includes certain chemical and biological weapons.

The atomic bomb was used only twice in World War II, in bombarding the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) by the United States. The first bomb employed uranium-235 and produced an explosion equivalent in power to approximately 15 kilotons of TNT gunpowder. The second bomb employed plutonium and was equivalent in power to approximately 21 kilotons of TNT gunpowder.

On August 7, 1945 the General Staff of Japan received an alarming telegram from the Hiroshima region claiming that the city was completely destroyed by one bomb. Approximately 130 thousand people were killed because of the bombardments of both cities, and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were completely destroyed. The number of injured also numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and the consequences of burns and radiation were apparent in bombardment victims for many years, often including the next generation.

The process of radioactive isotope (uranium-235 or plutonium-239) fission is the basis of the action of atomic weapons. A mammoth amount of energy is generated in this process. The dissipation of energy in an atomic bomb explosion occurs in the following approximate ratio: bomb blast and wind50%; thermal rays35%; and (radioactive) radiation15%. These are the three main striking factors of an atomic explosion.

An even more powerful weapon, the hydrogen fusion bomb, was created several years after the A-bomb, and was created practically simultaneously in USA and in the former Soviet Union. The power of the H-bomb is hundreds of times higher than the power of an A-bomb. The process of hydrogen isotope fusion is the basis of the thermonuclear weapon action. The start of this reaction, however, must be initiated by a nuclear fission explosion.

On November 1, 1952, a 10.4 megaton thermonuclear explosion code-named MIKE, ushered in the thermonuclear age (it was an explosion of a special model of the device). The island of Elugelab in the Eniwetok Atoll in Pacific was completely vaporized.

The first H-bomb was exploded in the USSR in August, 1953, followed on March, 1, 1954, by the American explosion of a more powerful hydrogen bomb (approximately 15 megatons). The Soviets responded with the most powerful H-bomb explosion yet, in the Soviet Union on October 15, 1961, over the Novaya Zemlya (New Earth) island (in the Polar Ocean) at a height of 4000 meters (approximately. 13,000 feet) over the Earth. Its power was almost 50 megatons. A gigantic fireball was created by the explosion that reached to the height of about 67 km (41.5 miles), and its light was seen for a distance of more then 1000 km (621 miles). The explosion also resulted in a blast of wind that was felt for hundreds of kilometers.

The creation of the atomic bomb in the USA during World War II was an exceptional scientific phenomenon. The interval between the discovery of the physical fusion process that is the basis of the weapon action, and the moment of its first test (July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert) was only several years, and up to the end of this test, its creators were not absolutely sure that the test would be successful. The United States committed an enormous amount of scientific and monetary resources towards the creation of the atom bomb, and a new branch of industry was formed.

In 1949, the A-bomb was also created in the USSR. Later, a big concern among American intelligence authorities arose about atomic espionage, which helped the Russians to create the A-bomb during such a short period. Several people who passed to the Russians secrets about atomic elaboration were revealed and arrested, including Claus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Although some thought that espionage was the crucial factor in the Russian's success, the main secret was whether the nuclear chain reaction of the A-bomb could be successfully created and controlled. As soon as the bomb exploded over Japan, this secret became clear. Additionally, in 1945, a noted report by American physicist H. D. Smith entitled "Atomic Energy for Military Purposes" was openly published, in which the principles of the bomb's action, the methods of isotope separation, and even some of the characteristics of its construction were described in detail. The post-war Soviet Union of 1945 still contained highly qualified scientists, and the totalitarian regime dedicated all possible resources to the high-priority project of atomic bomb development. Thus, the arms race of the 1960s and 1970s has its beginnings as far back as the early postWorld War II era.

Many chemical weapons are also considered weapons of mass destruction. Various lethal poisons were known and successfully used in warfare as long ago as ancient times. The creation of such substances for weaponry is much easier and cheaper than, for example, separating uranium isotopes as is necessary for a nuclear weapon. Chlorine gas, for example, one of the simplest poison gases, can be created in small amounts in a simple laboratory. The problem of delivering poison gases to a battlefield is also much simpler than delivering an atomic weapon.

During World War I, the Germans were the first to use poison gases on the modern battlefield. The Germans bombarded their enemies with artillery shells armed with poison gas, or simply ejected gas from their containers. The names of some poison compounds are reminiscent of World War I; for instance, the poison gas yperite (mustard gas) has in its origin the name of the Belgian city Yper, where the gas was used the first time. In 1915, the Germans also conducted massive attacks using chlorine. As a result of one chlorine gas attack, five thousand persons were killed and about ten thousand were injured. The Germans ejected chlorine from 5730 balloons containing about 168 tons of chlorine within the 5 to 8 minute duration of the attack.

Officially, the use of chemical weapons is forbidden by the Hague Conventions concluded in 1899 and 1907, and these resolutions were further clarified and strengthened by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The first international disarmament treaty that banned the production and stockpiling of biological weapons, and provided for destruction of existing stores became open for signature in 1975. Almost 30 years later, the treaty is still the subject of regular debate and clarification and lacks wide spread ratification.

In the meantime, chemists of various governments have worked actively to create new chemical substances with various destructive factors. Additional chemical weapons have been derived from toxic industrial chemicals that were originally designated for useful purposes, such as pesticides. Chemical weapons can generally be divided among several groups, depending on their action on people, including vesicants, toxins, incapacitating agents, nerve agents, and irritants. The production of vesicants is not technologically complicated. The production of the nerve agents, however, requires significantly more sophisticated chemical processing. Some production processes require strict temperature control, and containment of the toxic substances and gases can pose problems. Depending on the immediacy of use, purity of the product can add a difficult dimension to production. In some cases, special equipment or handling is required to prevent corrosion of equipment and/or rapid deterioration of the product.

Chemical weapons were not used during World War II, although the main participants had large reserves of such weapons. Production of these weapons continued after World War II, and only recently the USA and Russia have stopped their production and agreed to begin to destroy existing stockpiles. Other nations and extremist groups have recently used chemical weapons. Iraq used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war (probably a somewhat over-fluorinated DC, methylphosphonic dichloride) during the 1980s. Iraq additionally used Sarin gas on its own Kurdish population, killing thousands of citizens in the town of Halabja in 1988. Sarin gas was also the weapon used in an attack on the subway in Tokyo in 1995 by the Japanese extremist religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, in which 17 persons were killed and hundreds were injured.

Biological weapons are also capable of mass human destruction. The basic action of a biological weapon involves the use of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins produced by some bacteria. Biological weapons contain particular dangers because they can provoke perilous diseases in people and animals over large geographic areas, as the effectiveness of the weapon multiplies with the spreading of communicable disease. The destructive period can be lengthy with the use of a biological weapon, and it can have latent (incubation) period of action.

What makes biological weapons so dangerous are that the cost to produce such weapons is nominal as compared to the cost to make nuclear weapons. This is why biological weapons are often considered as the terrorist or poor nation's weapon of mass destruction. Also, the production of biological weapons can be easily hidden, as there are no special factories or highly specialized equipment needed for their production. Biological weapons can be deployed silently, through crude crop dusters, the mail, or even bug bombs, therefore allowing for the initial escape of their deployers. Unlike their counterparts (chemical and nuclear weaponry), biological weaponry products are living organisms and do not break down overtime, but in-fact can multiply and increase in numbers.

There is a long list of BW agents that could potentially be used in a war or a terrorist attack. Among those mentioned have been anthrax, cryptococcosis, Yersina pestis (plague, the Black Death of the 14th Century), tularemia (rabbit fever), malaria, cholera, typhoid, smallpox, cobra venom, and others. Some authors have also speculated about the possible terrorist use of new, genetically engineered agents designed to defeat conventional methods of treatment, or to attack specific peoples.

The idea of using biological agents in war is not new. In the 6th century b.c., Solon of Athens used the purgative herb hellebore (skunk cabbage) to poison the water supply during the siege of Krissa. In 1346, plague broke out in the Tartar army during its siege of Kaffa (at present day Feodosiys in the Crimea), after attackers hurled the corpses of those who died over the city walls. The plague epidemic that followed forced the defenders to surrender, and some infected people who left Kaffa may have started the Black Death pandemic that later spread throughout Europe. In 1797, Napoleon attempted to infect the inhabitants of the besieged city of Mantua with swamp fever during his Italian campaign. An attempted biological attack was undertaken in 1915 by the German-American physician Dr. Anton Dilger (in Baltimore) who attempted to infect a reported 3000 head of horses, mules, and cattle destined for the Allied forces in Europe. Nowadays, the specter of annihilation by killer pathogens or toxins has, in some sense, replaced the Cold War nightmare of extermination by massive nuclear attack.

Since 1972, the use of biological weapons is prohibited by the international treaty, as reflected in its formal title, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction. As of 2003, the agreement had 144 nation-state signatories.

FURTHER READING:

BOOKS:

Cirincione, Joseph, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkuman, Jessica T. Mathews. Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002.

Hamzah, Khidr Ald Al-Abbis, and Jeff Stein. Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraq Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. New York: Scribner, 2002.

Harris, Robert, and Jeremy Paxman. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Random House, 2002.

Lavoy, Peter R., Scott D. Sagan, James J. Wirtz. Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (Sloan Technology Series). Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Roberts, Brad. Biological Weapons: Weapons of the Future? Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993.

Sagan, Scott D. and Kenneth N. Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed, Second Edition. W W Norton & Co., 2003.

Walmer, Max. An Illustrated Guide to Strategic Weapons. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1998.

PERIODICALS:

DaSilva, E., "Biological Warfare, Terrorism, and the Biological Toxin Weapons Convention." Electronic Journal of Biotechnology 3 (1999):117.

Dire, D.J., and T.W. McGovern. "CBRNEBiological Warfare Agents." Medicine Journal, 4 (2002):139.

Macintrye, A. G., C. G. W. Eitzen, Jr., and R. Gum, et al. "Weapons of Mass Destruction Events with Contaminated Casualties: Effective Planning for Health Care Facilities." Journal of the American Medical Association no. 283 (2000): 252253.

Munro, N.B., S.S. Talmage, G.D. Griffin, et al. "The Sources, Fate, and Toxicity of Chemical Warfare Agent Degradation Products." Environmental Health Perspectives no. 107 (1999): 933974.

Nakajima, T., S. Ohta, Y. Fukushima, et al. "Sequelae of Sarin Toxicity at One and Three Years after Exposure in Matsumoto, Japan." Journal of Epidemiology no. 9 (1999): 337343.

ELECTRONIC:

How Stuff Works. "How Biological and Chemical Warfare Works." 2002. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/Biochem-war.htm>(10 January 2003).

United States Department of State. "Parties and Signatories of the Biological Weapons Convention." December 11, 2002. <http://www.state.gov/t/ac/bw/fs/2002/8026.htm> (February 25, 2003).

SEE ALSO

Anthrax, Terrorist Use as a Biological Weapon
Anthrax Vaccine
Anthrax Weaponization
Arms Control, United States Bureau
Biological Warfare
Biological Warfare, Advanced diagnostics
Biological Weapons, Genetic Identification
Bioterrorism, Protective Measures
Chemical Warfare
Manhattan Project
North Korean Nuclear Weapons Programs
Nuclear Detection Devices
Russian Nuclear Materials, Security Issues
Tabun
USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Vozrozhdeniye Island, Soviet and Russian Biochemical Facility
World War I
World War II

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

DEFINITIONS AND HISTORIC USES OF THE TERM

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND WARFARE

WMD CONTROL

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been used throughout history. While there are definitional ambiguities, all conceptions of WMD imply societally unacceptable levels or forms of destruction. Despite international efforts to curb their spread, concerns over WMD use have increased since the 1990s.

DEFINITIONS AND HISTORIC USES OF THE TERM

The term weapons of mass destruction was first used in a London Times article (December 28, 1937) in reference to the German aerial bombardment of Guernica, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War (19361939): 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? (p. 9). While the Luftwaffe (the German air force) used only conventional weapons in the attack, subsequent definitions have emphasized weapons whose materials and effects violate a societal boundary of what is considered acceptable in wartime.

The United Nations Security Council Commission for Conventional Armaments (August 12, 1948) defined WMD as atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above. Since the Iraq War beginning in 2003, the United States has used the term to refer to chemical, biological, nuclear, and, increasingly, radiological (CBNR) weapons. This remains the most common use of the term, although sometimes it is defined more broadly to include any weapons, including conventional weapons, capable of inflicting mass casualties.

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND WARFARE

Chemical weapons include such agents as mustard, sarin, and VX nerve gases, as well as chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and carbon monoxide. Most chemical weapons are designed to attack the nervous system. They were first used in modern times during World War I (19141918) when the French used tear gas during the first month of the war, and during the Second Battle of Ypres (1915) when Germany used chlorine gas in its attack against French and Algerian troops. By the end of the war, more than one million casualties and ninety thousand deaths were attributed to chemical warfare use by all sides. During World War II (19391945) the Nazis used hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide in the extermination camps, killing millions. More recent chemical attacks include the U.S. use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (19571975); Iraqi president Saddam Husseins use both of sarin gas against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War (19801988) and of multiple chemical agents against the Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988, killing up to five thousand Kurds; and Aum Shinrikyos sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto (1994) and on the Tokyo subway (1995) in Japan.

Biological weapons are weapons of germ warfare; they include a large number of living agents such as anthrax, botulinum toxin, plague, ricin, smallpox, and typhus. A subclass of biological weapons that could be directed specifically at agriculture includes mad cow disease and swine fever. Although used throughout history, biological weapons have seen limited use in attacks in modern times due to difficulties in creating effective dispersal mechanisms. Exceptions include Japans use of biological agents during the Sino-Japanese War (19371945) and World War II, including a 1943 attack on Changde, China, that involved an attempt to spread bubonic plague. In 1984 members of the Rajneeshee cult infected a salad bar with salmonella in The Dalles, Oregon, sickening nine hundred, and anthrax was disseminated through the U.S. postal system in 2001, killing five.

Nuclear weapons produce their destructive effects through nuclear fission from chain reactions involving uranium or plutonium or from nuclear fusion (the so-called hydrogen bomb). Considered the most destructive of all WMD, nuclear weapons have been used on two occasions, both at the end of World War II. The bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, killed some 80,000 civilians immediately and another 60,000 from radiation by the end of the year. The attack on Nagasaki three days later ultimately killed 100,000.

Radiological weapons, unlike nuclear weapons, have no blast effect. They derive their destructive power from radiation alone and typically depend on an explosive device to disperse the radiation, although radioactive material could also be sprayed from crop duster planes. Radiological weapons have never been used, but Iraq is believed to have tested them in 1987 for possible use against Iran. The plan was abandoned after it was found that the radioactivity dissipated within a week of the weapons manufacture.

WMD CONTROL

Due largely to their ability to indiscriminately kill and inflict harm on civilian populations even when the intended target is military, WMD, unlike conventional weapons, have traditionally encountered societal opprobrium. This has led to a number of international agreements to limit their development and use.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1970) seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology beyond the states already known to possess them. A total of 187 parties have joined the treaty. At least nine countries are known or suspected to possess nuclear weapons as of 2006 (the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea). The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty seeks to deter development of nuclear weapons by banning all nuclear explosions. The treaty was opened for signature in 1996. As of 2006, the treaty had 176 members but would not come into force until all forty-four nations conducting nuclear research or possessing nuclear power reactors signed and ratified the treaty; eleven ratifications were still necessary in 2006.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol bans the use of biological weapons, and the 1975 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention bans their development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention except for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. The convention has been signed by 162 countries. The United States, Russia, North Korea, and Syria are known or believed to possess biological weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (1997) prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons and requires all signatories to destroy their chemical weapons and chemical-weapons production facilities. The convention was signed by 140 nations; some seventeen nations are known or believed to maintain chemical weapons stockpiles.

Despite efforts to curb WMD proliferation, real concerns remain. One major concern involves their acquisition by rogue states or terrorist organizations. As of 2006, North Koreas and Irans nuclear programs were deemed threatening, and the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda was believed to be seeking some level of WMD capability.

SEE ALSO Hussein, Saddam; Iraq-U.S. War; Terrorism; Terrorists; Weaponry, Nuclear

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. 1996. http://www.ctbto.org.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction. 1975. http://disarmament2.un.org/wmd/bwc/.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. 1997. http://disarmament.un.org/wmd/cwc/.

Macfarlane, Allison. 2005. All Weapons of Mass Destruction Are Not Equal. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for International Studies. http://web.mit.edu/cis/pdf/Audit_6_05_Macfarlane.pdf.

Times. 1937. Archbishops Appeal. December 28: 9.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. 1970. http://disarmament2.un.org/wmd/npt/.

United Nations Security Council Commission for Conventional Armaments. August 12, 1948.

Weapons of War: Poison Gas. 2002. FirstWorldWar.com. http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/gas.htm.

Donna J. Nincic

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Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act (1992)

Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act (1992)

David A. Koplow

With the Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act (P.L. 102-484, 106 Stat. 2569), Congress expressed its strong fear that, in a postCold War world, the greatest dangers to U.S. national security and global stability came from the threatened proliferation of advanced and extraordinarily lethal weapons. The act reflects the belief that American policy and funding ought to put a higher priority on efforts to impede those developments.

The act addresses several categories of modern armaments. The term "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) includes nuclear weapons first and foremost. But it also includes chemical and biological weapons (which might prove cheaper and more accessible for poor countries and terrorist groups). The act also highlights missile systems that could be used to deliver WMD or other arms with great speed and precision while evading many countries' defensive systems for detecting and intercepting aircraft. Together, these weapons of extraordinary lethality threaten to undermine peace and stability because they could give an aggressor country a substantial advantage in a surprise first strike. Such a strike could deliver a devastating blow to an unsuspecting target country, deciding the outcome of a war in the opening moments.

Through this law, Congress sought to take greater advantage of the "unique expertise" of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy in international nonproliferation activities, including "(A) to detect and monitor proliferation, (B) to respond to terrorism, theft, and accidents involving weapons of mass destruction, and (C) to assist with interdiction and destruction of weapons of mass destruction and related weapons material." Although the statute declares it to be "the sense of Congress" that U.S. policy ought to "seek to limit both the supply of and demand for" WMD, most of the statute's provisions are aimed at limiting a country's access to, rather than its demand for, such arms.

The law has two key aspects of operation. The first requires a wide-ranging report to Congress from the secretaries of defense and energy regarding U.S. nonproliferation policy and activities. Congress specified that the report should address topics such as how the two departments coordinate their intelligence, military capabilities, and emergency response capacities, and how this integration could be improved. The statute also sought additional information about existing and planned departmental capabilities "to (A) detect and monitor clandestine weapons of mass destruction programs, (B) respond to terrorism or accidents involving such weapons and to theft of related weapons materials, and (C) assist with interdiction and destruction of weapons of mass destruction and related weapons materials."

The other key aspect concerns increased funding for a variety of activities in the category of the "nonproliferation technology initiative." Congress here authorized additional support for research, testing, and procurement of systems to sense chemical and biological weapons, to accomplish seismic monitoring of nuclear explosions, and to detect concealed nuclear materials. It also permitted further assistance to international nonproliferation activities, such as providing international organizations with money, supplies, equipment, personnel, and training to support security, counterterrorism, and related efforts. One example of such activity authorized by the act is the assistance the Department of Defense gave to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) for its inspections in Iraq. The Defense Department provided U-2 surveillance flights and other intelligence and logistics support at a cost of $15 million per year. The U.S. support to UNSCOM was suspended after the December 15, 1998 UNSCOM pullout from Iraq.

See also: Arms Control and Disarmament Act and Amendments; Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Scope of destruction

Detection of chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction

Detection of biological weapons of mass destruction

Resources

The conception of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) appeared during War World II after the use of atomic bombs. In the mass consciousness, weapons of mass destruction are usually associated first with atomic weapons, although the concept includes certain chemical and biological weapons.

The atomic bomb was used only twice in World War II, in bombarding the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August, 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August, 9, 1945) by the United States. The first bomb employed uranium-235 and produced an explosion equivalent in power to approximately 15 kilotons of TNT gunpowder. The second bomb employed plutonium and was equivalent in power to approximately 21 kilotons of TNT gunpowder.

On August 7, 1945 the General Staff of Japan received an alarming telegram from the Hiroshima region claiming that the city was completely destroyed by one bomb. Approximately 130 thousand people were killed because of the bombardments of both cities, and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were completely destroyed. The number of injured also numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and the consequences of burns and radiation were apparent in bombardment victims for many years, often including the next generation.

The process of radioactive isotope (uranium-235 or plutonium-239) fission is the basis of the action of atomic weapons. A mammoth amount of energy is generated in this process. The dissipation of energy in an atomic bomb explosion occurs in the following approximate ratio: bomb blast and wind50%, thermal rays35%, and (radioactive) radiation15%; these are the three main striking factors of an atomic explosion.

An even more powerful weapon, the hydrogen fusion bomb, was created several years after the A-bomb, and was created practically simultaneously in United States and in the former Soviet Union. The power of the H-bomb is hundreds of times higher than the power of an A-bomb. The process of hydrogen isotope fusion is the basis of the thermonuclear weapon action. The start of this reaction, however, must be initiated by a nuclear fission explosion.

On November 1, 1952, a 10.4 megaton thermonuclear explosion code-named MIKE, ushered in the thermonuclear age (it was an explosion of a special model of the device). The island of Elugelab in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific, was completely vaporized.

The first H-bomb was exploded in the Soviet Union in August, 1953, followed on March, 1, 1954, by the American explosion of a more powerful hydrogen bomb (approximately 15 megaton). The Soviets responded with the most powerful H-bomb explosion yet, in the Soviet Union on October 15, 1961, over the Novaya Zemlya (New Earth) island (in the Polar Ocean) at a height of approximately 13,000 feet (4,000 m) over the Earth. Its power was almost 50 megatons. A gigantic fire ball was created by the explosion that reached to the height of about 41.5 miles (67 km), and its light was seen for a distance of more then 621 miles (1,000 km). The explosion also resulted in a blast of wind that was felt for hundreds of kilometers.

The creation of the atomic bomb in the United States during World War II was an exceptional scientific phenomenon. The interval between the discovery of the physical fusion process that is the basis of the weapon action, and the moment of its first test (July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert) was only several years, and up to the end of this test, its creators were not absolutely sure that the test would be successful. The United States committed an enormous amount of scientific and monetary resources towards the creation of the atom bomb, and practically, a new branch of industry was formed.

In 1949, the A-bomb was also created in the Soviet Union. Later, a big concern among American intelligence authorities arose about atomic espionage, which helped the Russians to create the A-bomb during such a short period. Several people who passed to the Russians secrets about atomic elaboration were revealed and arrested (for example, Claus Fuchs, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed). Although some considered that espionage was the crucial factor in the Russians success, the main secret was whether the nuclear chain reaction of the A-bomb could be successfully created and controlled. As soon as the bomb exploded over Japan, this secret became clear. Additionally, in 1945, a noted report by American physicist H. D. Smith entitled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes was openly published, in which the principles of the bombs action, the methods of isotope separation, and even some of the characteristics of its construction were described in detail. The post-war Soviet Union of 1945 still contained highly qualified scientists, and the totalitarian regime dedicated all possible resources to the high-priority project of atomic bomb development. Thus, the arms race of the 1960s and 1970s has its beginnings as far back as the early post World War II era.

Many chemical weapons are also considered weapons of mass destruction. Various lethal poisons were known and successfully used in warfare as long ago as ancient times. The creation of such substances for weaponry is much easier and cheaper than, for example, to separate uranium isotopes as is necessary for a nuclear weapon. Chlorine gas, for example, of the simplest poison gases, can be created in small amounts in a simple laboratory. The problem of delivering poison gases to a battlefield is also much more simple than delivering an atomic weapon.

During World War I, the Germans were the first to use poison gases on the modern battlefield. The Germans bombarded their enemies with artillery shells armed with poison gas, or simply ejected gas from their containers. The names of some poison compounds are reminiscent of World War I; for instance, the poison gas yperite (mustard gas) has in its origin the name of the Belgian city Yper, where the gas was used the first time. In 1915, the Germans also conducted massive attacks using chlorine. As a result of one chlorine gas attack, five thousand persons were killed and about ten thousand were injured. The Germans ejected chlorine from 5730 balloons containing about 168 tons of chlorine within the 5-8 minute duration of the attack.

Officially, the use of chemical weapons is forbidden by the Hague Conventions concluded in 1899 and 1907, and these resolutions were further clarified and strengthened by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The first international disarmament treaty that banned the production and stockpiling of biological weapons, and provided for destruction of existing stores became open for signature in 1975. Almost 30 years later, the treaty is still the subject of regular debate and clarification, and lacks wide-spread ratification.

In the meantime, chemists of various governments have worked actively to create new chemical substances with various destructive factors. Additional chemical weapons have been derived from toxic industrial chemicals that were originally designated for useful purposes, such as pesticides. Chemical weapons can generally be divided among several groups, depending on their action on people, including vesicants, toxins, incapacitating agents, nerve agents, and irritants. The production of vesicants is not technologically complicated. The production of the nerve agents, however, requires significantly more sophisticated chemical processing. Some production processes require strict temperature control, and containment of the toxic substances and gases can pose problems. Depending on the immediacy of use, purity of the product can add a difficult dimension to production. In some cases, special equipment or handling is required to prevent corrosion of equipment and/or rapid deterioration of the product.

Chemical weapons were not used during World War II, although the main participants had large reserves of such weapons. Production of these weapons continued after World War II, and only recently the United States and Russia have stopped their production, and agreed to begin to destroy existing stockpiles. Other nations and extremist groups have recently used chemical weapons. Iraq used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war (probably a somewhat over-fluorinated DC, methylphosphonic dichloride) during the 1980s. Iraq additionally used Sarin gas on its own Kurdish population, killing thousands of citizens in the town of Halabja in 1988. Sarin gas was also the weapon used in an attack on the subway in Tokyo in 1995 by the Japanese extremist religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, in which 17 persons were killed and hundreds were injured.

Biological weapons are also capable of mass human destruction. The basic action of a biological weapon involves the use of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins produced by some bacteria. Biological weapons contain particular dangers because they can provoke perilous diseases in people and animals over large geographic areas, as the effectiveness of the weapon multiplies with the spreading of communicable disease. The destructive period can be lengthy with the use of a biological weapon, and it can have latent a (incubation) period of action.

What makes biological weapons so dangerous is that the cost to produce such weapons is nominal as compared to the cost to make nuclear weapons. This is why biological weapons are often considered as the terrorist or poor nations weapon of mass destruction. Also, the production of biological weapons can be easily hidden, as there are no special factories or highly specialized equipment needed for their production. Biological weapons can be deployed silently, through crude crop dusters, the mail, or even through bug bombs, therefore allowing for the initial escape of their deployers. Unlike their counterparts (chemical and nuclear weaponry), biological weaponry products are living organisms and do not breakdown over time, but in fact, can multiply and increase in numbers.

There is a long list of BW agents that could potentially be used in a war or a terrorist attack. Among those mentioned have been anthrax, cryptococcosis, Yersina pestis (plague, which caused the Black Death of the fourteenth century), tularemia (rabbit fever), malaria, cholera, typhoid, smallpox, cobra venom, and others. Some authors have also speculated about the possible terrorist use of new, genetically-engineered agents designed to defeat conventional methods of treatment, or to attack specific peoples.

The idea of using biological agents in war is not new. In the sixth century BC, Solon of Athens used the purgative herb hellebore (skunk cabbage) to poison the water supply during the siege of Krissa. In 1346, plague broke out in the Tartar army during its siege of Kaffa (at present day Feodosiys in the Crimea), after attackers hurled the corpses of those who died over the city walls. The plague epidemic that followed forced the defenders to surrender, and some infected people who left Kaffa may have started the Black Death pandemic that later spread throughout Europe. In 1797, Napoleon attempted to infect the inhabitants of the besieged city of Mantua with swamp fever during his Italian campaign. An attempted biological attack was undertaken in 1915 by the German-American physician Dr. Anton Dilger (in Baltimore, Maryland) who attempted to infect a reported 3,000 head of horses, mules, and cattle destined for the Allied forces in Europe. Nowadays, the specter of annihilation by killer pathogens or toxins has, in some sense, replaced the Cold War nightmare of extermination by massive nuclear attack.

Since 1972, the use of biological weapons is prohibited by the international treaty, as reflected in its formal title, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction. As of 2003, the agreement had 144 nation-state signatories.

Scope of destruction

An atomic bomb exploded over a densely populated city could kill hundreds of thousands of people instantaneously and, as the lethal effects of radiation exposure take hold, cause many more deaths within days or weeks. Chemicals such as Ricin that disrupt nerve function are lethal upon exposure. Agents such as mustard gas can cause life-threatening burns. Chemical weapons can affect a wide geographical area because the chemicals are dispersed in the air.

Biological weapons take longer than nuclear and chemical weapons to cause damage. Because infections can subsequently spread through a population far from the site of contamination, and because the population may not be protected by vaccination or natural immunity to the microorganism responsible for the infection, the eventual death toll from an organized biological attack, however, could reach into the millions. Relevant modern day examples of biological weapons of mass destruction are anthrax (caused by Bacillus anthracis ), plague (caused by Yersinia pestis ), and smallpox (caused by the variola virus).

The damage from weapons that are less powerful or toxic can be minimized. For example, buildings can be fortified to withstand assaults from conventional explosives such as grenades. Thus, for such weapons, damage prevention can be the priority rather than detection. However, the damage from a weapon of mass destruction cannot be minimized once the weapon has been unleashed. Rather, the weapons need to be detected before they are used.

Detection of chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction

Imaging

Chemical and nuclear weapons are often delivered to their target in missiles. Sophisticated open-air launch facilities and large pieces of equipment are required for launch, and it is difficult to conceal such facilities from aerial surveillance. Planes, unmanned drones, and even satellites positioned over a region will all reveal the presence of a missile installation. Underground chemical storage facilities can also be revealed by the use of ground penetrating radar.

The materials that are commonly used in the construction of chemical and nuclear weapons can be detected. For example, an instrument called the Dual-Use Analyzer uses the phenomenon of eddy current. An electrical current is passed through a sample, and the conductivity of the metal produces a characteristic signal. If another metal is present, such as used in chemical and nuclear weapons, another signal is produced. The rogue signal can be compared to a databank of signals produced by metals that are typically used in weapons.

Light or radiation

The airborne release of chemical weapons can be detected using light. Specifically, the scattering or absorption of a directed beam of laser light, or the development of fluorescence when the aerosol cloud contacts laser or ultraviolet light, can detect a chemical cloud at a distance. This sort of detection is not specific. The identity of the compound in the aerosol cloud cannot be determined. But, detection can provide some time for preparations (i.e., evacuation, gathering in an air-tight facility). Specific detection methods, however, are possible. Chemical groups behave in distinctive ways when exposed to different kinds of light or radiation. The measurement of the chemical behavior is called spectroscopy. The machines that perform the analysis are called spectrometers.

In mass spectroscopy, the mass (or molecular weight) of proteins is determined. The molecular weight is an important means of identifying a protein. In turn, the identification of a protein can provide a clue as to what chemical agent is present. Raman spectroscopy relies on the change in the shape and frequency of the wave of light (i.e., the wavelength) as it passes through a sample to identify the chemical groups that cause the wavelength change. In neutron spectroscopy, neutrons interact with the chemical groups of the sample. The patterns of these interactions can be measured and used to identify chemical groups. Neutron spectroscopy is especially adept at detecting plutonium, and thus is useful in the detection of nuclear weapons. Finally, optical spectroscopy relies on the use of ultraviolet and infrared light. The absorption of the light energy by sample chemical groups, and the giving off of light of a different wavelength by the groups, is used to identify compounds, particularly compounds present in certain explosives.

A Geiger counter is a traditional portable radiation detection device. Here, a tube of gas becomes charged when neutrons pass through the tube. The charged particles are converted to an electrical signal that produces a read-out of the intensity of the radiation.

The U.S. Department of Energys Argonne National Laboratory has developed a portable device that can detect nuclear weapons. The heart of the device is a small wafer made of gallium arsenidea material that is similar to siliconthat is coated with boron or lithium. The coated wafer can detect neutrons that are given off by radioactive sources like plutonium239 and uranium233. Another portable sensor detects alloys like zirconium, which are typically used in nuclear weapons.

Sound

Sandi National Laboratories in Albuquerque New Mexico has developed a portable machine that can detect and identify 18 different chemicals in a vapor within a few minutes. This enables an on-the-spot detection of chemicals, which is applicable to the battlefield or to the detection of a planted chemical weapon. The compounds that can be detected can be present in chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons.

The basis of the detection is the acoustic wave sensor. A quartz surface can detect an electric signal and convert it to an acoustic signal. The acoustic signal then radiates over the quartz surface as a wave. As the wave moves, it encounters a film of material that has been coated onto the quartz. The chemical nature of the coatings determines what acoustic signal will register. The film slows down the speed of the acoustic wave, which can be used to identify the source of the wave.

The technique of acoustic resonance can reveal whether the interior of a missile is solid or whether it houses a liquid. The distinction is based on the resonance, or vibration, from inside a shell as the shell is vibrated by sound waves. Because different chemicals resonate at different frequencies of sound, the technique can even be used to determine the type of chemical housed in the shell.

Chemical reactions

Detection of chemical weapons can be accomplished by several methods. One means is by the use of detection paper. Dyes and pH indicator (an indicator of the concentration of hydrogen or hydronium ions in a solution) are incorporated into a cellulose paper. When a drop of liquid that contains a chemical warfare agent is spotted onto the paper, one of the indicators is dissolved (the particular indicator being dependent on the chemical agent present). The result is a color change. For example, mustard agent dissolves a red dye, and nerve agent dissolves a yellow dye. Other compounds like fat, oil, and fuel can also dissolve the dyes, which produces a false positive reaction. But, with careful use of the paper, the presence of chemical warfare agents can be detected.

Mustard gas can also be detected by sucking air through a tube containing an indicator compound. A reaction between the compounds produces a blue color when the tube is heated.

Detection of biological weapons of mass destruction

Spectroscopy

The identification of proteins by mass spectroscopy can be an efficient and rapid way to identify bacteria. An example is Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Mass Spectroscopy (MALDI-MS). MALDI-MS can separate and detect different proteins in less than one second. The pattern that is produced is analyzed and the areas of the pattern that are unique to bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis (the cause of anthrax) and Yersinia pestis (the cause of plague) are identified.

Genetic technologies

The genetic detection of biological agents has become exquisitely sensitive. Gene probe sensors can detect and identify bacteria based upon the presence of a stretch of genetic material that is unique to the microorganism. An example is the use of the gene probe technology of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR detects a pre-determined sequence of genetic material and then produces copies of the target region. Millions of copies can be produced within a hour, allowing the sequence to be detected and studied using other tests (i.e., gel electrophoresis).

When PCR was first introduced, the equipment required dedicated space in a lab. Now, however, the equipment has been miniaturized so that it can fit into a standard briefcase. For example, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has developed the Handheld Advanced Nucleic Acid Analyzer (HANAA). The HANAA is about the size of a brick. The genetic probes that are used are designed to detect specific microorganisms. The microbes of interest are Bacillus anthracis and Yersinia pestis.

In contrast to the handheld detector, which operates periodically and under human control, the Autonomous Pathogen Detection System (APDS) is designed to operate continuously and without operator assistance. A fan pulls in air, and any biological material is used for PCR analysis. The APDS, which is about the size of a mailbox, is positioned where round the clock monitoring is critical. The unit can be programmed to sound an alarm when a chemical unique to bacterial spores (including anthrax spores) is present. As well another reaction causes the development of fluorescence. The intensity of the fluorescence is related to the number of spores present.

Microorganisms can also be rapidly detected using antibodies that have been produced to certain components of the organisms. The binding of the antibody to the corresponding antigen can identify Bacillus anthracis in 15 minutes, for example. The same technology can be used with antibodies to other bacteria (e.g., Clostridium botulinum and viruses (e.g., smallpox), as well as to chemicals such as ricin.

Electrophoresis and chromatography

If a sample is suspected of containing a biological threat, the genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid; DNA) present in the sample solution can be extracted from the other materials and analyzed. The analysis involves cutting the DNA into a variety of pieces using enzymes that recognize specific sequences of nucleotides (the building blocks of the DNA). When the pieces of DNA are electrophoresed a series of bands results in the electrophoretic gel. The pattern of the bands is compared to patterns in a database. If an exact match is found, then the identity of the micro-organism is established.

The various types of chromatography all distinguish different chemical groups from one another by the varying behaviors of the groups in certain environments. For example, one chemical group may move more slowly through a certain liquid than another chemical group. Thus, the two groups can be separated from one another. Furthermore, the pattern of their movements provides a fingerprint to identify the chemical natures of the compounds.

Microorganisms can be detected by a technique called gas liquid chromatography. The method detects fatty acids, which are a portion of the lipid molecules that make up the membrane(s) that surround micro-organisms. This type of detection still requires a bulky machine and the use of specialized personnel. Nonetheless, if the need for detection is on the order of days rather than minutes, then fatty acid analysis is a useful and accurate technique.

Filters

Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that are floating in the air can be detected by sucking the air through a filter. The filter traps the microorganisms. The filter is then placed in contact with a food source that encourages the growth and division of the bacterial or fungal cells. Within about 24 to 48 hours the microorganisms have grown and reproduced enough to form a visible clump of cells called a colony. This technology is also portable.

See also Biological warfare; Decontamination methods; Nuclear weapons.

Resources

BOOKS

Cirincione, Joseph, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkuman, Jessica T. Mathews. Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002.

Harris, Robert, and Jeremy Paxman. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Random House, 2002.

Lavoy, Peter R., Scott D. Sagan, James J. Wirtz. Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Sagan, Scott D. and Kenneth N. Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed, Second Edition. W W Norton & Co., 2003.

PERIODICALS

Reeves, A. Tracing Biothreats with Molecular Signatures. Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Quarterly Fall 2002: 1517

OTHER

United States Department of State. Parties and Signatories of the Biological Weapons Convention <http://www.state.gov/t/ac/rls/fs/2003/26276.htm> (accessed October 19, 2006).

Alexandr Ioffe

Brian Hoyle

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are weapons capable of causing massive numbers of deaths, injuries, and/or destruction. They are usually classified into three categories: biological; chemical; and nuclear and/or radiological weapons. Biological weapons use bacteria and viruses—toxins found in nature—to kill or incapacitate people. Chemical weapons use manufactured chemicals, such as chlorine gas. The ultimate weapons of mass destruction are nuclear weapons, which release large amounts of energy by splitting the atoms of highly enriched uranium or plutonium in a process called fission, or reaction. The destruction brought about by even a crude nuclear weapon may be devastating due to the enormous amount of heat and pressure released. In addition, nuclear destruction is accompanied by a fallout of ionizing radiation, which damages human cells and can cause health problems long after the nuclear event.

Bioterrorism and chemical weapons

Biological and chemical weapons have existed for centuries. They were used by the warring nations in World War I (1914–18). Germany first experimented with chlorine gas to incapacitate enemy troops. Dispensed into the enemy trenches, it caused violent choking and coughing and was often fatal. When soldiers started wearing masks to protect themselves from the gas, Germany began to use mustard gas. The gas, usually shot onto a trench or battlefield in artillery shells, poisoned its victims slowly and painfully, blistering their skin, blinding them, causing vomiting, internal and external bleeding, and terrible coughing and choking.

The Geneva Protocol of 1925, an international agreement about the rules of war, banned biological warfare. Despite this ruling, during World War II (1939–45) Japanese forces used biological weapons against prisoners of war, infecting them with diseases such as cholera, plague, and anthrax.

In 1972, an international agreement banning chemical and biological warfare, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), was affirmed. By the end of 2000 it had been signed by 160 countries including the United States, Iraq, the Russian Federation, Libya, Iran, and North Korea. But the development of biological and chemical weapons was not halted. Between 1972 and 1992, the Soviet Union undertook significant biological weapons development despite its endorsement of the BWC. This program included research and development of biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, smallpox, and the Ebola virus. When Iraq was defeated by a U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, its leaders acknowledged Iraqi development of many disease-causing bacteria as biological weapons. In 1995 the United Nations (UN) ordered that Iraq's biological weapons facilities be destroyed. In the Iraq War , chlorine gas was used by the insurgents (rebels) against civilians and U.S. troops.

Nuclear and radiological weapons

On August 6, 1945, at the end of World War II, a U.S. bomber released an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing an estimated one hundred and thirty thousand people and destroying 81 percent of the city's buildings. Three days later, the United States leveled much of Nagasaki, Tokyo, with a second atomic bomb, killing at least sixty thousand. An additional one hundred and thirty thousand Japanese died within five years from radiation burns and other injuries inflicted during these attacks.

After World War II ended, the Cold War (1945–91) began. It was a period of noncombative conflict between the Communist East—mainly the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China—and the capitalist West—mainly the United States and Western Europe. The two “superpowers,” the Soviet Union and the United States, were pitted against one another, and each developed increasingly sophisticated atomic bombs. This led to the development of the hydrogen bomb in 1952, which is about one thousand times more powerful and destructive than the atomic bomb used in Nagasaki.

The threat of the nuclear bomb dominated the Cold War era, but no nation ever employed atomic or nuclear weapons in battle after the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. One reason the Cold War never became a “hot” shooting war between the main rivals was that both sides were painfully aware that a nuclear conflict could lead to their mutual destruction.

In the early 2000s, two decades after the end of the Cold War, eight nations are known to have nuclear weapons. Five are internationally recognized nuclear powers: the United States, Russia, England, France, and China. Three more have successfully conducted nuclear tests: India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel has nuclear weapons but has not officially declared them. Some nations are suspected of carrying on nuclear development secretly, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. Though there are concerns in the United States about hostile countries such as Iran and North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, most nations are governed by the same knowledge that persisted through the Cold War—that any attempt to launch a nuclear bomb at an enemy would result in nuclear retaliation and the inevitable destruction of one's own country.

Terrorists and weapons of mass destruction

In the early years of the twenty-first century, international law and peace-keeping agencies reported the presence of a new breed of terrorists who appeared to be more inclined than terrorists of the past to commit acts of extreme violence. Most twenty-first century terrorists are motivated by religious convictions or antigovernment beliefs. Weapons of mass destruction could be especially valuable to these terrorists, who seek to perform large-scale and indiscriminate killing for the sake of revenge, hatred, or to demonstrate their own political or religious convictions.

Toxic biological and chemical agents can be an attractive weapon for terrorists. In March 1995, members of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin, a nerve gas, in a Tokyo subway during rush hour, killing twelve people and injuring thousands. Since the Tokyo subway attack, incidents involving chemical and biological weapons have been on the rise.

On October 2, 2001, just weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a photo editor was diagnosed with a fatal case of inhalation anthrax that had been sent in a letter. He was the first known person in the United States to die from inhaled anthrax since 1976. Within days more individuals tested positive for exposure to anthrax and it became clear that letters containing anthrax had been mailed to a series of high-profile addresses. Soon, the U.S. postal service was paralyzed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found no direct link to organized terrorism. Most experts believe the anthrax attacks were the result of domestic terrorism , and possibly the work of a lone American.

Nuclear and radiological terrorist weapons

No known terrorist incidents have ever involved actual nuclear weapons. Security experts are constantly on the alert for nuclear or radiological weapons that may have fallen into the hands of terrorists.

Despite some common features, nuclear and radiological terrorism are distinct. Nuclear weapons require highly sophisticated development and difficult-to-obtain materials. Radiological weapons—devices that spread dangerous radioactive materials—may be a more likely route for terrorists. The best known example of a radiological weapon is the “dirty bomb,” in which radioactive waste is wrapped around a conventional explosive and detonated, spreading poison and contamination. Dirty bombs will instantly kill those in the immediate vicinity, but their primary impact would be in long-term health effects, such as cancer and other diseases, for all who come into contact with their fallout.

Suitcase bombs are far more sophisticated and powerful than dirty bombs. Made with plutonium or highly enriched uranium, they are true nuclear weapons. Weighing up to sixty pounds (thirty kilograms), these nuclear bombs can fit into a small suitcase or large backpack and possibly be smuggled through an airport or, more likely, inside cargo containers aboard a ship or plane. Suitcase bombs were made by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Some have gone missing and could be in the hands of terrorists.

Twenty-first-century WMD concerns

During the Afghanistan conflict , U.S.-led forces found al-Qaeda documents describing production of weapons of mass destruction. Evidence indicates that al-Qaeda had been trying to obtain enriched uranium since the early 1990s. Though al-Qaeda's efforts at establishing a WMD program were probably impeded by the invasion of their headquarters in Afghanistan, it is possible that other domestic and international terrorist groups may be developing weapons of mass destruction.

In March 2003, the United States led a coalition in a massive Iraq invasion , which the administration of President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) claimed had continued to develop weapons of mass destruction even after the United Nations had prohibited it from doing so. No weapons of mass destruction were found.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are weapons whose destructive power can result in the deaths of thousands of people with a single use. They include nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (NBCs). By their very nature, WMD are indiscriminate in their destructive effect, and their use violates two of the basic elements of the laws of war: discrimination (making a distinction between combatants and noncombatants), and proportionality (destructive power must be proportionate to legitimate military objectives and targets).

Because of these characteristics, a number of treaties have been established to control the production and use of WMD. The first such treaty was the Geneva Convention of 1925, which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in warfare. The Biological Warfare Convention (1975) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (1992) go beyond prohibiting the use of biological and chemical weapons and call for the complete elimination of all biological and chemical weapons stockpiles.

Although there are no formal treaties outlawing the use of nuclear weapons, there have been a number of treaties aimed at limiting the production and spread of nuclear weapons. The most important of these are the Nonproliferation Treaty, which prohibits the sharing of nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons technology by countries that have nuclear weapons with those that do not, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START) between the United States and the former Soviet Union, which eliminate some categories of nuclear weapons and reduce the numbers of others.

During the Cold War period (1946–1991), Americans lived with the prospect of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Most schoolchildren in the late 1950s and early 1960s participated in "duck and cover" drills that simulated what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Many American families built fallout shelters in their backyards and most American towns and cities had designated community fallout shelters. Films such as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Fail-Safe (1964) provided fictionalized accounts of nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union; other films, such as the television movie The Day After (1983), On the Beach (1957), and Testament (1983) depicted the after-effects of nuclear war.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, fears about a direct confrontation between the superpowers diminished. The primary concern over the use of WMD by a hostile country shifted to so-called rogue states—countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. The fear was that, should such countries develop WMD, they would not be constrained in their use by the threat of "mutually assured destruction." In addition, many U.S. policymakers feared that these rogue states would sell WMD or share WMD technology with terrorist groups.

Such concerns were not unfounded. Both Iran and Iraq used chemical weapons against each other's troops during their decade-long war in the 1980s, and the government of Iraq used chemical weapons against its own citizens to put down an insurgency by the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq. Not only had countries like Iraq and Iran shown a willingness to use WMD, but a chemical attack in a Tokyo subway station by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 demonstrated that terrorist groups could also acquire and use such weapons.

The September 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al-Qaida and the anthrax scare in the months that followed put these twin concerns at the top of the U.S. foreign and security policy agenda. This agenda followed a very simple argument. First, rogue states have or are seeking to possess WMD. Second, rogue states provide direct and indirect support to terrorist groups like al-Qaida. Third, rogue states with WMD are likely to provide them to groups like al-Qaida. Thus, in order to prevent groups like al-Qaida from acquiring WMD, the United States must go after those rogue states that support al-Qaida and similar groups. This argument was evident in President George Bush's 2002 State of the Union address, sometimes referred to as the "Axis of Evil" speech. It was this argument, in part, that was used to justify the U.S. decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003.

The implementation of this argument in Iraq appears to have been premature at best. After conquering Iraq, Americans discovered that Iraq had made no significant

CHEMICAL WARFARE

Chemical and biological agents have been in use by warring factions since marauding hordes in medieval Europe catapulted disease-ridden corpses into walled cities to drive out the inhabitants. However, methodical scientific development of chemical agents to use in battle was considered too brutal and uncivilized to be undertaken in modern times—until the excruciatingly slow pace, high casualty rate, and virtual stalemate of trench warfare in World War I. The French first fired tear-gas grenades (xylyl bromide) against the Germans in August 1914. The Germans, however, soon lead the world in developing and using chemical agents in warfare. After early experiments with non-lethal chemical irritants, including tear gas, the German army used chlorine gas in April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres. Within seconds of inhalation chlorine gas destroyed respiratory organs and caused death. Then came the use of phosgene gas, similarly lethal and accompanied by severe choking and coughing. Mustard gas, or Yperite, was first used against the Russians at Riga in September of 1917. Fired in artillery shells, it was almost odorless and its deadly effect might not be felt for several hours after exposure. A drawback was that the deadly effects of mustard gas remained in soil and plants, making it dangerous for the force using it to occupy ground ceded in battles where it had been used.

Other gases, including bromine, chloropicrin, and a type of gas derived from prussic acid, were all tried during World War I. Many nations, including the United States, tested poison gases and nerve agents on their own soldiers or on prisoners of war. These weapons had a declining rate of effectiveness, once the element of surprise had been lost and efforts were put into developing effective gas masks.

Many nations, including the United States, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, and Yugoslavia are known or believed to have stockpiles of chemical weapons or active development programs, focusing on far more deadly nerve gases. The United States condemned chemical and biological warfare but retained the right to retaliate in kind if attacked in this way, and was actively producing biological and chemical weapons through the 1980s. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) began negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1981. The United States and many other nations ratified the convention in 1997. No nation, however, has lost sight of the fact that in March 1995, a terrorist group release sarin, an organophosphate (OP) nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 11 people and injuring more than 5,500. In 2001, anthrax was sent through the United States mail, killing several. A number of nations have been accused of using chemical agents since the CWC accord.

In his final report to Congress on World War I, American General John J. Pershing said, "Whether or not gas will be employed in future wars is a matter of conjecture, but the effect is so deadly to the unprepared that we can never afford to neglect the question." Pershing was the last American field commander to confront chemical agents in battle. It cannot be said with any certainty that he will retain this distinction.

Marie Lazzari

[SOURCE: Russell, Edmund, et al, ed. War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.]

advances in the research, development, and production of WMD after 1998, the last year United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed to inspect Iraqi records and production facilities. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorists and rogue states using WMD against the United States has underscored the vulnerability of Americans to attacks against civilians that could produce massive casualties. Combating that threat through expanded government investigatory and police powers has led to debate over the balance between the needs of security and the desire to protect civil liberties.

bibliography

Butler, Richard. The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Growing Crisis of Global Security. New York: Public Affairs, 2000.

Freedman, Lawrence. The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, 2nd edition. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

Pollack, Kenneth M. The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. New York: Random House, 2002.

Internet Resource

"The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." White House. Available from <http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html>.

Steven Jones

See also:H-Bomb, Decision to Build; Human Rights; Just-War Debate.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Genocide and crimes against humanity are "weapons neutral." They can be effected with simple tools like guns and machetes, or with sophisticated ones like atomic bombs or asphyxiating gas. Thus, in addition to proving the use of such weapons, a prosecutor would need to show the necessary intent against a group in the case of genocide, or the knowledge that the use was part of an attack on a civilian population in the case of crimes against humanity. The efforts to make weapons of mass destruction unavailable for genocide, or any other purpose, will be explored here.

Early Usage of the Term

The term weapons of mass destruction was apparently coined by the London Times in 1937 to describe the bombing and destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by German planes assisting the rebels in the Spanish Civil War. As such, it referred to fairly conventional weaponry, used in massive amounts. It soon came to bear a more restrictive meaning, applying to certain unconventional weapons. Thus, the very first resolution adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly at its initial session in 1946 created an Atomic Energy Commission, whose major task was drawing up proposals "for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction." A parallel body, the Assembly's Commission on Conventional Armaments, in 1948 addressed the difference between conventional armaments and weapons of mass destruction. "Weapons of mass destruction," it suggested, "should be defined to include atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above." Physicist Albert Einstein and mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell had hydrogen bombs particularly in mind when they issued their so-called Pugwash Manifesto in 1955, calling on scientists to "assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction."

After the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., in September 2001, which some categorized as crimes against humanity, the term seemed again to acquire a broader connotation. Now it included the use of planes being deliberately crashed to wreak death and destruction, and suicide bombers attempting indiscriminate killing. In this respect, weapons of mass destruction came close to the concept of terrorist bombing, criminalized by treaty. The 1998 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings prohibited the use of explosives or other lethal devices in public places. "Explosive or other lethal device" was defined as an explosive or incendiary weapon or device that is designed, or has the capability, to cause death, serious bodily injury, or substantial material damage; or a weapon or device that is designed, or has the capability, to cause death, serious bodily injury, or substantial material damage through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic chemicals, biological agents or toxins or similar substances, or radiation or radioactive material. The definition, however, in its narrower meaning, referred solely to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the kind that Iraq's alleged possession of the United States used to justify its invasion of that country in 2003.

As in 1946, the General Assembly is still concerned with the general issue, and the problem may be proliferating. The Assembly's provisional agenda for its sixtieth session in 2005 includes an item on "the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons."

Banning Barbaric Weapons in the Law of Armed Conflict

Eliminating specific kinds of barbaric weapons (and certain other tactics of war) has a long history in codes of chivalry and customary international law. Efforts to proscribe weapons of mass destruction (especially through the negotiation of treaties) are thus part of a broader movement that has defined the objects to be banned in various general (and overlapping) categories. Multilateral treaty-making concerning barbaric weapons began with the Declaration of St. Petersburg in 1868 and has proceeded at two levels of abstract thought that might be described as principles and rules.

At the level of principle are propositions such as "means of injuring the enemy are not unlimited," or "it is forbidden to use weapons of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, or which fail to discriminate between soldiers and civilians." The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (hereafter referred to as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention) describes the use of such weapons as "repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Sometimes, these principles are promulgated as standards to govern broad categories. Other times, they lead to narrow agreement that a particular weapon is illegal, but a very similar practice is perhaps not. So it was that the Declaration of St. Petersburg avowed that the legitimate objective of war, to weaken military forces of the enemy, "would be exceeded by the employment of arms which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable." Notwithstanding this generality, the parties agreed specifically only to "renounce, in case of war among themselves, the employment by their military or naval troops of any projectile of a weight below 400 grams, which is either explosive or charged with fulminating or inflammable substances."

Parties attending the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899 agreed not to use expanding bullets or "projectiles, the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases." At the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 participants concurred that it was "especially forbidden . . . to employ poison or poisoned weapons." As "especially forbidden," in more general terms, was the employment of "arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering." These became the fundamental principles of the laws of armed conflict, or international humanitarian law.

Although the term weapons of mass destruction had not yet been coined, the first treaty that can be regarded, in retrospect, as addressing them is the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (otherwise known as the Geneva Protocol of 1925). The Protocol proclaims, "the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world." It then adds: "The High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this Declaration." Many member states ratifying the Protocol entered a reservation (or exception) that turned it into a promise not to be the first in a particular conflict use the prohibited weapons, but left retaliatory use open. Implicit was the assumption that it was legal to develop and possess such weapons, although illegal to use them in making the first strike (or at all). Thinking about development and possession leads a state inevitably to contemplating arms control or disarmament, rather than merely forbidding use.

Sophisticated weapons, such as nuclear bombs, require testing (or they did until the recent development of sophisticated computer models significantly obviated that need). Both the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, and the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons addressed, albeit weakly, the development and possession of nuclear weapons. The 1963 treaty still permitted underground tests, and the 1968 treaty acknowledged the nuclear status of the five countries that originally possessed the bomb, although this was subject to an as yet unrealized obligation to negotiate disarmament. Nuclear weapons were also addressed in numerous condemning resolutions adopted by the General Assembly that many diplomats and commentators believed represented international customary law in declaring their use illegal against people. A majority of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) took a different view, however, of the status of these resolutions in the 1996 Advisory Proceedings on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, saying nuclear weapons were not totally illegal in themselves; each case turned on proving the necessary breach of more general rules. In a 1963 resolution adopted unanimously by acclamation, the General Assembly solemnly called on states "to refrain from placing in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, installing such weapons on celestial bodies, or stationing such weapons in outer space in any other manner."

A more comprehensive assault on development and acquisition of certain weapons of mass destruction is the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. It bans a type or quantity of biological agents or toxins that is not justified for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes, and equipment or means of delivery designed to use them in armed conflict. Parties undertake to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes, not later than nine months after the treaty's entry into force, all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery in their possession or under their jurisdiction or control. The reference to prophylactic, protective, and other peaceful purposes has created an opportunity for some slippage, as the Convention does not provide for inspections or other means of enforcement. In the early 1990s, when Russia revealed the extent of cheating by the former Soviet Union and the international community became concerned about Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, negotiations began for a Protocol (or amendment) to the Convention that might provide for monitoring. These efforts collapsed early in the twenty-first century when the administration of President George W. Bush took a different approach to inspection regimes that could be potentially applied to the United States itself. Instead, the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, a policy statement issued by the U.S. government in December 2002, emphatically asserts a right to use overwhelming force, including nuclear weapons, and even preemptively, to counter threats of use of any kind of weapon of mass destruction against the United States or its allies.

Enforcement Mechanisms in Treaties Banning Weapons

The 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (often referred to as the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention) contains enforcement mechanisms that could potentially be highly intrusive. It established in the Hague an international organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whose functions include verification of compliance. The Convention's basic obligations are starkly comprehensive:

1. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances: (a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly chemical weapons to anyone; (b) To use chemical weapons; (c) To engage in military preparations to use chemical weapons; (d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention. 2. Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention. 3. Each State Party undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons it has abandoned on the territory of another State Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention. 4. Each State Party undertakes to destroy any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention. 5. Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.

Paragraph 5's prohibition of riot control agents in warfare settles an issue much disputed in earlier international practice. The Convention defines riot control agents as chemicals that "can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure." If riot control agents are banned specifically in war, however, by implication they may be legal in domestic law enforcement. At a review conference on the Convention in 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern about increasing interest among police, security, and armed forces in incapacitating chemical agents. The ICRC fears that the development of new incapacitants domestically could undermine both the Convention and its underlying humanitarian norms. If it is "legal" for a state to use a particular weapon against its own people in situations short of armed conflict, the inhibitions against using it in armed conflict lose some of their power.

A more general problem also exists. Chemicals, like guns and machetes, may have dual uses (good and bad), and some chemicals, benign in themselves, may be precursors to weapons of mass destruction. Thus, the 1993 Convention, like treaties dealing with nuclear and bacteriological weapons (and narcotic drugs, for that matter), must strike a complex balance between licit and illicit uses.

The Convention is enforced through self-reporting, by routine inspections, and in requests for clarification that parties may make to question other parties' compliance. Each party can also request an onsite "challenge inspection" of any facility maintained by another party "for the sole purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning possible noncompliance with the provisions of [the] Convention." OPCW has limited resources but infinite potential for strong enforcement and as a model to be applied to other weapons.

Developments

In spite of their clear illegality under the laws of armed conflict, the use of biological and chemical weapons is not among the war crimes within the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC), formed by the Rome Statute of 1998. Their use, along with that of nuclear weapons, was included in early drafts of this instrument. When it became apparent that states which were nuclear powers would not accept the reference to nuclear weapons, some developing countries insisted that less technologically sophisticated weapons of mass destruction should not be included either. Nonetheless, the absence of these weapons from the ICC's jurisdiction does not affect their illegality under general international law.

At a historic meeting at the level of heads of state and government on January 31, 1992, the Security Council asserted that the "proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security." When the Council reexamined the subject in late 2003, it was amid fears that nonstate actors as well as outlaw regimes were seeking to acquire, traffic in, or use weapons of mass destruction. As President Bush told the General Assembly in September 2003: "The deadly combination of outlaw regimes and terror networks and weapons of mass murder is a peril that cannot be ignored or wished away." He also noted the United States had worked with Russia and other former Soviet states to dismantle and destroy or secure weapons and dangerous materials left over from another era. (The nuclear weapons abandoned in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were of particular concern.) He added that eleven nations were cooperating in a "proliferation security initiative," aimed at interdicting lethal materials in transit.

A significant feature of this new landscape is the recognition of weapons of mass destruction not only as an arms control problem, but also as a matter of international criminal law that merits the same kind of legal analysis as efforts to address terror and narcotics. Accordingly, there have been proposals for the Security Council, as well as the General Assembly, to call on states to adopt and enforce laws that would prohibit the involvement of nonstate actors with such weapons or delivery systems for them.

SEE ALSO Gas; Iraq; Nuclear Weapons; War Crimes

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Deller, Nicole and John Burroughs (2003). "Arms Control Abandoned: The Case of Biological Weapons." World Policy Journal XX(2). Available from http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/articles/wpj03-2/deller.html.

"Etymologies & Word Origins: Letter W, Weapon of Mass Destruction." Available from http://www.wordorigins.org/wordow.htm.

Fidler, David P. (2003). "Weapons of Mass Destruction and International Law." American Society of International Law Insights. Available from http://www.asil.org/insights/insigh97.htm.

Goldblat, Jozef (2002). Arms Control: The New Guide to Negotiations and Agreements, 2nd edition. New York: Sage Publications.

Graham, Kennedy (2003). "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Restraining the Genie." New Zealand International Review xxviii(3):2.

Russell, Bertrand, and Albert Einstein (1955). "The Russell–Einstein [Pugwash] Manifesto." Available from http://www.pugwash.org/about/manifesto.htm.

Stanley Foundation (2003). "Global Disarmament Regimes: A Future or a Failure?" Available from http://reports.stanleyfoundation.org.

"Transcript of Address by President Bush to the United Nations General Assembly." The New York Times (September 24, 2003), Section A, page 12, column 1.

United Nations, Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch, Department for Disarmament Affairs, website. Available from http://disarmament.un.org:8080/wmd.

Yepes-Enriquez, Rodrigo, and Lisa Tabassi, eds. (2002). Treaty Enforcement and International Cooperation in Criminal Matters with Special Reference to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press.

Roger S. Clark

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

The phrase weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was first used in the London Times in 1937 to describe Germany's blanket-bombing—using conventional weapons—of the city of Guernica, Spain (Mallon 2003). During the Cold War, the Soviet Union adapted the phrase to describe, collectively, nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons (Norris and Fowler 1997). The U.S. Department of Defense defines WMDs as "weapons that are capable of a high order of destruction and/or being used in such a manner as to destroy large numbers of people," including high explosives, nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. WMDs, however, often refer primarily to nuclear weapons.


History

Historical accounts of WMDs include the use of toxic smoke during the Peloponnesian War and during the Sung Dynasty in China (Hersh 1968); the Tartars catapulted plague-infected corpses into walled cities. Use of a scorched earth policy (Langford 2004) was also a common battle tactic in which retreating armies would destroy crops, burn villages, and poison wells and water supplies.

Large-scale production and deployment of nonnuclear WMDs was not possible until the beginning of the twentieth century (Hersh 1968), at which time scientists developed a more comprehensive understanding of how various chemicals functioned and of the manufacturing technologies necessary to synthesize large quantities of toxins. Advances in science thus led to the proliferation and stockpiling of numerous chemical agents such as mustard gas, phosgene, and chlorine. Chemical-weapons use during World War I resulted in the death of at least 90,000 people with more than 1.3 million additional casualties (Hersh 1968). Germany was the first nation to use poison gas during the war, but Great Britain, France, and the United States also used chemical weapons.

During World War II Germany and Japan conducted numerous chemical and biological weapon experiments on civilian and prisoner populations, yet such weapons were not used during combat. The United States was the first nation to use nuclear weapons when it bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Many historians suggest that the incendiary bombing of Tokyo and Dresden by the United States during World War II, which killed thousands of civilians, also constituted use of WMDs. Use of chemical and biological weapons by several nations continued in the latter half of the twentieth century. One example is the defoliant Agent Orange that was used extensively by the United States in Vietnam to destroy vegetation. Iraq illegally used poison gas against the Iraqi Kurds killing tens of thousands of civilians. Although an exact accounting is impossible, the Federation of American Scientists indicates that dozens of nations possess, are developing, or are capable of developing WMDs.

The September 11, 2001, terror attacks that caused mass destruction and loss of life, however, were not perpetrated with NBC weapons, leading some experts to push for a more expansive definition of WMDs. Everett Langford describes WMDs as "those things which kill people in more horrible ways than bullets or trauma, or which cause effects other than simply damaging or destroying buildings and objects, with an element of fear or panic included" (Langford 2004, p. 1). Using this definition, WMDs would also include the airplanes used in the 2001 terror attacks; fungi used to destroy specific crops; defoliants; large scale incendiary devices; pathogens that kill agricultural animals; and other nonlethal agents. Sohail Hashmi and Steven Lee, however, argue that WMDs are different from conventional weapons because, "when used in war, [they are] inherently indiscriminate, meaning that their use ... would almost certainly result in the deaths of many civilians" (Hashmi and Lee 2004, p 10).


Ethics

For several reasons WMDs, especially NBC weapons, fall into different moral and ethical categories than conventional weapons. Over millennia, humans developed ethical guidelines and rules for just war. But Michael Walzer argues that nuclear weapons "are the first of mankind's technological innovations that are simply not encompassable within the familiar moral world" (Hashmi and Lee 2004, p 5).

Unlike more conventional arms, WMDs do not stay in the location in which they were deployed; detonation of NBC weapons invariably produce plumes of radiation and toxins that can travel hundreds of miles, well beyond the boundaries of the battlefield. The plume could kill innocent civilians within the country and in neighboring countries not involved in the conflict. Use of WMDs could also render large tracts of land uninhabitable, not only affecting the short term ability of a nation to feed itself after hostilities cease, but also that of future generations.

With conventional weapons, large numbers of people are needed to deploy enough bombs in order to cause widespread damage, so that there is at least some level of checks and balances in the decision process. WMDs, by contrast, may require just a handful of people whose actions can cause large-scale devastation, and thus WMDs are inherently less democratic than conventional weapons. The strongest ethical argument against using WMDs is quite simply that their use could destroy the world, killing billions of innocent people in mutually assured destruction (Hashmi and Lee 2004).

Politics

The world community made several attempts to control WMDs after World War I. The most important treaties are the Geneva Protocol (1925), which prohibits the use of both biological and poison gas methods in warfare; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968), which prohibits states from acquiring nuclear weapons if they had not already detonated a nuclear weapon by January 1, 1967; the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (1972), which prohibits the development, stockpiling, and acquisition of biological weapons; and the Chemical Weapons Convention (1993), which prohibits the use, development, and stockpiling of chemical weapons.

Proliferation of WMDs during the twentieth century was characterized by the activities of large nation-states that possessed the financial resources, infrastructure, and intellectual capital necessary to research, test, and produce such weapons. Rapid technological advances in biological and chemical science coupled with readily accessible how-to information via the Internet and the collapse of the Soviet Union have markedly increased the risk of proliferation of WMDs. Individuals and small groups now have the capability of producing WMDs such as ricin, anthrax, and radioactive dirty bombs, without state support.

Through even more rapid technological advances in the years to come, the world may see a future with even more dangerous WMDs capable of being produced and deployed by just a few talented individuals, using genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics (Joy 2000). Unlike the old WMDs of the twentieth century that required significant state support to produce, and thus could be controlled to some degree through international treaties, new WMDs pose entirely new problems of control, not to mention ethical and moral considerations that have yet to be fully addressed by the scientific community.

A first attempt in this direction is the "Statement on Scientific Publication and Security" produced by a group of scientific journal editors, scientists, and government officials at a National Academy of Science (NAS) meeting in January 2003. In the statement the authors acknowledge that some scientific information "presents enough risk of use by terrorists that it should not be published" (Journal Editors and Authors Group 2003, p. 1149). Rather than establishing strict guidelines for censorship, however, the authors leave such decisions up to the journal editors, who must weigh the possible security threats against the scientific merit and potential societal benefits of publishing the article. There are many more questions to ask, and actions to take, however, if society is to adequately address the threat of WMDs in the twenty-first century.


ELIZABETH C. MCNIE

SEE ALSO Atomic Bomb; Baruch Plan; Biological Weapons; Chemical Weapons; Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Just War; Military Ethics; Nuclear Ethics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hashmi, Sohail H., and Steven P. Lee, eds. (2004). Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. An excellent resource with views on the ethics of WMDs from numerous religious and other and perspectives.

Hersh, Seymour. (1968). Chemical and Biological Warfare: American's Hidden Arsenal. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Company.

Journal Editors and Authors Group. (2003). "Statement on Scientific Publication and Security." Science 299(5610): 1149.

Joy, Bill. (2000). "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us." Wired 8(4): 238–262. Also available from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html.

Langford, R. Everett. (2004). Introduction to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Radiological, Chemical and Biological. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. A thorough review of all technical, health-related and medical issues concerning WMDs in the early twenty-first century.

Norris, John, and Will Fowler. (1997). NBC: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare on the Modern Battlefield. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


INTERNET RESOURCES

Federation of American Scientists. "States Possessing, Pursuing or Capable of Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction." Available from www.fas.org/irp/threat/wmd_state.htm.

Mallon, Will. "WMD: Where Did the Phrase Come From?" History News Network. Available from http://hnn.us/articles/1522.html.

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