Defining Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


WMD are nuclear, chemical, and biological means for killing large numbers of people
Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons have all been used in war
United Nations and many countries call for bans against such weapons, even terming them genocidal

Possible WMD

Chemical and Biological Weapons vs.
Traditional and Nuclear Weapons
∑ Very sharp contrasts between chemical & biological weapons vs. traditional (conventional) weapons
o Traditional weapons typically have to be used in large quantities to kill lots of people, while chemical & biological weapons can require only a few weapons to kill large numbers of people
o Traditional weapons can be used almost anywhere, while most chemical & biological weapons require airborne dispersal that restricts their targeting and control
o Traditional weapons can be used in almost any weather conditions, while chemical & biological weapons are generally affected considerably by weather conditions
o Traditional weapons typically can be focused on enemy targets, while chemical & biological weapons can blur the distinction between the target and the attacker and can take as great a toll or even a greater one on the aggressor as they do on the “enemy”
o Traditional weapons are relatively expensive and complicated to produce, while chemical & biological weapons are typically much easier to produce & much less expensive to produce
∑ Nuclear weapons are like traditional weapons in four of the five areas
o Unlike traditional or conventional weapons, they do not have to be used in large quantities to kill large numbers of people
o Like other conventional weapons, they can be delivered almost anywhere, under almost all conditions, sometimes only against enemy targets, and are both expensive and technically difficult to produce
∑ Nuclear weapons are like chemical and biological weapons in that all three have high lethality but are difficult to store and to deliver
∑ Distinctiveness of nuclear weapons
o Nuclear weapons are difficult to manufacture or procure and are easy to detect if stockpiled or deployed, while chemical & biological weapons are much easier to make or buy and are much more difficult to detect when amassed and when dispersed
o Chemical weapons rely on toxic properties of chemical substances rather than explosive properties to produce physical or psychological effects and biological weapons rely on infectious agents such as bacteria, while nuclear weapons produce large explosions & hazardous radioactive byproducts

Nuclear Weapons
∑ Nuclear weapons are the most grave among weapons of mass destruction
o Atomic bombs were first used in World War II and were targeted against civilians, each killing 50,000 to 100,000
∑ 14 kiloton uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug 7, 1945
∑ 20 kiloton plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug 9, 1945
o The Soviet Union tested its first atomic or fission weapon in 1949; the United States tested first hydrogen or fusion bomb in 1952
∑ At height of Cold War, United States and Soviet Union each possessed about 10,000 strategic nuclear weapons with blast yields of 150 kilotons to over a megaton and many times more tactical nuclear weapons with blast yields of roughly 0.1 kiloton to 15 kilotons
o Both countries could deliver strategic nuclear weapons by aircraft, from land based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), & by submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), & many of their conventional forces deployed in Europe and elsewhere were “dual capable” (could fire conventional or nuclear shells)
o Throughout the Cold War, the United States retained an option of first use of tactical nuclear weapons in the face of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe
o This era, with the development of vast nuclear arsenals under the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), has also been termed as being based on a “balance of terror”
∑ By unleashing its strategic nuclear arsenal, in only a few hours, either nation could obliterate 100 to 200 cities and kill 50 to 100 million civilians
∑ Either side, even after being so devastated by other, could launch a second strike that would inflict equivalent destruction on nation that launched full-scale first strike
∑ Throughout the nuclear age, many ethicists and scientists and even some political and military officials have voiced grave concern over the prospects of the intentional or even accidental use of nuclear weapons
∑ End of Cold War may have ended “balance of terror,” but not the terror of nuclear weapons
o “Balance of terror” may have fostered nuclear self deterrence by United States & Soviet Union
o End of Cold War ended self deterrence; so, apart of risks posed by continuing nuclear proliferation, prospect especially of U.S. use of nuclear weapons could now be greater

Chemical Weapons
∑ Chemical weapons are composed of compounds that have been artificially constructed, as opposed to compounds that exist naturally
o In chemical facilities, disabling & deadly compounds (such mustard gas) are made for use almost exclusively against human beings
o Unlike nuclear weapons and many traditional or conventional weapons, chemical weapons destroy people rather than property
o Chemical weapons are heavily weather dependent; for example, rain can dilute them or wind can disperse them
o Since Vietnam War, definition of chemical weapons has included use of various herbicides for purposes of large-scale defoliation
∑ Know results of chemical weapons from their use
o In 1915 the British initiated the first “successful” allied use of gas
o Soon thereafter, pre-Soviet Russia, France, and the United States used gas
o In 1917 Germans were first to use mustard gas
o By 1918 the United States had produced 3,600 tons of gas projectiles
o In WW I, over 100,000 deaths and 1,300,000 casualties resulted from the use of chlorine gas and other chemical agents
o As a consequence, the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits poisonous gases and bacteriologicals, though its implications for biological weapons have been given little emphasis
o Despite Geneva Protocol, some countries still used chemical weapons, especially during 1920s and 1930s (Those charged with such use include Egypt against Yemen, Italy against Ethiopia, Japan against China, and the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia)
o Chemical weapons not used in WW II
o The rather limited post-war use of chemical weapons is also surprising
ß The United States did not ratify the Geneva Protocol until 1976
ß In 1987 the United States resumed making chemical weapons
o More recently, Iraq used poison gas against Kurds in 1988, while terrorists used nerve gas to attack the Japanese subway system in 1995
∑ So, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the prospects for slowing the drift back toward use of chemical weapons are not good

Biological Weapons
∑ Biological weapons are living microscopic organisms, largely uncontrolled once released
o They use infectious agents, such as bacteria or viruses, to inflict physical or psychological damage or death on their victims
o They are generated by microorganisms or plants or are animal in origination
o Like chemical weapons, they are heavily weather dependent; rain can likewise dilute them and wind can likewise disperse them
o A further problem with the use of bacteria, viruses, and toxins is that these poisons are usually unstable; so, their long-term storage often presents greater challenges than the storage of chemical weapons
o Like chemical weapons, they too destroy people rather than property
∑ Biological weapons much older than chemical ones
o Toxins were used as poisons on arrows by aboriginal South Americans and by other neolithic peoples
o In 6th cen. B.C.E. Assyrians poisoned wells with fungus disease and in 14th cen. C.E. Tatar army attacking a city catapulted plague-ridden corpses of own troops over city’s castle walls
o Some charge that in the 15th cen. C.E. English intentionally spread smallpox to reduce American Indian tribes hostile to British rule
∑ More recent biological weapons
o From 1973 to 1990 Soviet Union had extensive covert biological weapons program with two dozen research facilities, eight production facilities, & four testing facilities
o United Nations contends, though on a much smaller scale, Iraq had a biological weapons program for at least twenty years
o Mailing of anthrax to government & media offices after terrorist attacks of 9/11 led to renewed responses to the threats posed to civilians by biological weapons
∑ Types of biological weapons
o Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) received most attention
o Concerns are also growing that highly contagious and frequently lethal diseases could be released
o Among viral agents the possible reintroduction of small pox (Variola major) is currently receiving the most attention
ß Vaccination against small pox ended in 1981 when governments thought it had been eliminated
ß The mortality rate for unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to small pox is about 40%
o Some viral hemorrhagic fevers also have high mortality rates
o Included in this group are Ebola & yellow fever
o They can even be spread by aerosol
∑ So, at beginning of 21st cen., prospects for avoiding increased use of biological weapons even more bleak than efforts to restrain chemical weapons use

Prevention of the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction
∑ Various treaties and agreements exist that aim to prevent production, stocking piling, deployment, and use of WMD
∑ Government agencies can also set up procedures designed to thwart attacks which use WMD
o Office of Homeland Security, created after attacks of 9/11, is to protect Americans from terrorist attacks including ones using WMD
o Whether such efforts can be effective or will be merely quixotic remains to be seen
∑ A review of past efforts to prevent the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons shows how far we have actually come but also how very far we still have to go

Preventing Nuclear War
∑ Despite the Nonproliferation Treaty, more than a half dozen countries now possess nuclear weapons
o Include United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan
o South Africa had some nuclear weapons during the period of apartheid but dismantled them before Nelson Mandella became President
∑ Several more countries and terrorist groups have tried to develop or obtain nuclear weapons, including Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Al-Qaeda
∑ Some nuclear materials have been bought or stolen making possible at least radiological devices that could use conventional explosives to broadly disseminate radioactive contaminants
∑ So far, no further use of nuclear devices has occurred since the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan
∑ Partial Test Ban Treaty is one of the great success stories of citizen action in the twentieth century
o While Comprehensive Test Ban continues to elude global community, very high compliance with ban on above ground tests has protected human life and fragile ecosystems
o Efforts to reduce strategic arsenals near end of Cold War and since Russian Federation are basis for some reduction in worry over prospect of large-scale thermonuclear war
Preventing Chemical War
∑ The fact that chemical weapons were not used in WW II serves as illustration that humanity does not always rely on every more pernicious weapons
∑ While some use of chemical weapons has continued, other significant agreements have also been reached since the Geneva Protocol of 1925
o In 1990 United States & Soviet Union signed agreement to stop producing chemical weapons and reduce their stockpiles to 5,000 agent tons
o The Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by over 165 countries, went into effect in 1997
∑ Low cost and easy production of chemical weapons means while agreement among superpowers may be necessary, it will not be sufficient
∑ Unless militarily weak/economically impoverished states and subnational groups feel they have a voice in international decision making, the prospect for escalating use of chemical weapons will continue to haunt us

Preventing Biological War
∑ With respect to biological weapons, from the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic Church Councils have prohibited the use of poisons that indiscriminately kill noncombatants
o Nevertheless, agreements that constrain the production and use of biological weapons are less developed than ones pertaining to chemical weapons
o The most significant is the U.N. resolution entitled “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction” which, by 1997, had already been ratified by 142 countries
∑ Despite this and related treaties, events at beginning of 21st century portend that biological weapons may increasingly become the weapons of choice for the weak to use against the strong

Ethical Issues Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction
∑ All attempts to protect populations from existing WMD face formidable challenges
o Once delivered to their targets little can be done for the immediate victims
o Admittedly, some measures can be taken for populations significantly downwind from nuclear fallout or airborne chemical and biological agents
∑ The best prospect for protection involves the eradication of such weapons
o However, since human beings know how to produce these weapons, eliminating them does not prevent their reintroduction
o What Jonathan Schell noted about nuclear weapons is also true for chemical and biological weapons:  the materials needed for their production and delivery, as well as the knowledge of how to produce them, remain
∑ Philosophers have gone one step further in their assessments
o The obstacles are more than physical and epistemological; they are also moral
o Some of the most important work in preventing catastrophic use of WMD may not be what is being done by scientists and politicians but what can be done by moralists and ethicists
∑ Fundamentally, WMD are instruments of terror
o As moral philosophers have noted, both subnational groups and governments can resort to the use of weapons of terror
o Principles of just war forbid the intentional killing of noncombatants
o Especially since obliteration bombing in Europe and against Japan at close of WW II, cities & their civilian populations are targets
o So, one of the important ethical lessons about WMD is that they can be (and have been) used by individuals and by governments
ß In this regard, the difference is not so much one of kind as it is of degree
ß End is same in terrorist acts of individuals and governments; the goal is to cause fear among civilians by doing violence to them or threatening them with violence
∑ 20th cen. civilizations engaged in barbarism—in genocides, politicides, and ecocides that took the lives of well over 100 million people
o Beginning of 21st cen. may suggest it will be harbinger of more violence, terrorism, war
o With advent of nuclear weapons and other WMD, scepter of species self-destruction raised
∑ Given the range of linguistic use, the term “WMD” needs some special philosophical analysis
o When we refer to WMD, we are drawing on a condemnatory connotation
o Prospect for and reality of special pleading in using this term needs to be highlighted
ß For example, United States presented its use of nuclear weapons in WW II as means to end the war and save lives, yet United States condemns as WMD ones with far less destructive capability when possessed by “rogue” states or terrorist groups that are perceived as military threat
ß Perhaps, time has come to realize that most violence, terrorism, and war needs to be condemned, regardless of whether we term the instruments of violence, terrorism, and war as WMD
∑ If we are to avoid devastating wars, especially ones involving WMD, we must first change our attitudes toward one another, especially toward what we regard as alien cultures
o Various activities can promote the pursuit of the respect, cooperation, and understanding needed for positive peace and social justice
ß Open dialog, especially face-to-face dialog, is effective way of experiencing the other is not so alien or alienating
ß Beyond having political leaders of various nations meet, we need cultural and educational exchanges, as well as trade agreements among businesses and foreign travel by citizens
o Can come to regard diversity in expression of cultural and religious traditions and economic and political systems, along with diversity of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, as making up harmonies and melodies that together create the song of humanity
o Hope remains that we can avoid slaughter of millions or even billions of innocent lives through reckless reliance on WMD