Monday, January 28, 2013

                Though Weapons of Mass Destruction (hereafter referred to as “WMD”) possess an immense destructive capability, it is important to understand their limitations, means of employment, and the theory behind their existence in order to understand how they can be controlled. Though a number of countries may possess WMDs, not all countries that possess WMDs have symmetric capabilities, in terms of both raw destructive power and the ability to employ that power. The classic triad of “nuclear, biological, and chemical” weapons must be deployed, and respectively countered, in much different ways.
                The general attitude surrounding WMD ownership by states is that WMDs provide a level of deterrence. Their sheer destructive power creates a situation in which other states may give pause before attempting aggression, as the damage and losses they will take will simply not be worth as any potential gains. However, the unilateral possession of WMDs creates a situation in which one actor may potentially inflict devastating damage upon its neighbors with impunity; thus neighboring or potentially hostile states end up developing their own WMD programs to provide parity. This creates a situation known as “Mutually Assured Destruction”, a standoff in which either party is totally incapable of acting against the either since both are equally vulnerable. The Publication “GETTING MAD: NUCLEAR MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION, ITS ORIGINS AND PRACTICE” by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute notes that MAD seems to straddle a line between policy and theoretical conundrum; a state with WMDs must accept its vulnerability in order to enjoy the benefits of WMD deterrence as it reaches an equilibrium of power. (  Refusing to accept such vulnerabilities tends to create an arms race that can involve a huge and significant investment in resources even by the accounts of proponents of winning an “arms race”. ( The greatest problem is that WMDs cannot be actively used like other military assets without significant risk; for example, a state can use warships to provide a show of force or conduct anti-piracy operates, whereas it would be impractical for a state to use chemical agents to kill off pirates. In addition, there is no real means of “defending” oneself from WMDs, as former Admiral Stansfield Turner points out, since even a 1% failure rate of a “defensive system” results in a totally unacceptable level of loss and destruction. (
                This has led some, such as neorealist scholar Kenneth Waltz, to propose that WMDs such as nuclear weapons are, despite their destructive power, ultimately good for the world and should proliferate since their presence deters interstate aggression and creates a balance of power. ( However, there is an increasing sentiment towards counter-proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs, with even fairly hawkish former policy makers such as Henry Kissinger and William J. Perry regarding MAD as antiquated. ( The rise of non-state actors such as terrorist groups has, in the view of these policy makers, disrupted any sort of balance MAD provided as such groups do not feel the same vulnerability that state actors do and are more inclined to use such weapons. In addition, it has been considered problematic that the countries most inclined to develop weapons of mass destruction are in unstable regions of the world and may not be run by totally stable regimes. ( Since such regimes may lack the technical means to strike through conventional means, the use of unconventional means such as terrorist groups and intermediaries may be their only means of providing parity against potentially hostile states.
                The employment of WMDs requires both a weapon as well as a means of deployment. Weapons also have different destructive properties, and have differing levels of technical feasibility for both state and non-state actors. Nuclear weapons come in two varieties, fission and fusion bombs. Fission bombs use masses of fissile material (enriched uranium or plutonium) to cause critical reactions that result in the destruction of a small portion of the mass of the material, unleashing large amounts of energy. Fusion bombs, also known as hydrogen bombs, rely on the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium to produce large volumes of energy. The fusion process unleashes substantially more energy, but requires a large amount of energy to initiate the reaction; so a fission bomb is used at the core of the weapon to initiate the explosion. ( Though nuclear weapons have an immense amount of destructive capacity, they are difficult to manufacture and deliver. Acquisition of fissile material is difficult due to its rarity in the natural world, and must be refined (in the case of uranium) or manufactured (in the case of plutonium) on industrial levels to acquire in a level substantial enough to build a bomb. (; In addition to a complex acquisition process for fissile material, the weapons in question often require a high degree of precision to work properly. ( Thus the ability to produce a nuclear weapon from scratch is essentially out of the reach of a non-state actor; though the acquisition of nuclear weapons through other means remains a distinct possibility.
                Chemical weapons can vary immensely in form, and range from nerve agents to blister agents to choking agents ( All three target different components of the human body, and have varying degrees of potential lethality. Unlike nuclear weapons, which unleash immediate and indiscriminate destructive power, chemical weapons vaporize and enter the human body through skin pores, eyes, or expiration; doing little to no damage to structures and objects. What makes chemical weapons unique is their potential lethality mixed with their relative ease of production. Though many of the more advanced nerve agents are complex to manufacture and are limited largely to state actors, simple agents can be easily procured and produced by terrorists. (; Chemical weapons have often been considered the most feasible means of terrorists using a WMD, and were used in several high profile attacks by a Japanese cult in the 1990s. ( Chemical weapons also bear a storied history of use during warfare, and remain a major component of the arsenals of many states which do not have the means or desire to acquire nuclear weapons. (
                Biological weapons remain a potent element of the WMD triad, and unlike chemical or nuclear weapons, a biological weapon attack can theoretically spread beyond its initial point of release to inflict casualties over a much wider geographical area. ( Using pathogens and microorganisms, a state or non-state actor can infect the population with an affliction, which may in theory spread over time causing additional casualties and panic as an epidemic spreads.  However, biological weapons require incubation and production, and distribution of biological agent requires proper weather conditions and a means of release (usually an aerosol spray) if it is to inflict mass casualties; the technical requirements of biological weapons limit their practical effectiveness as a mass casualty weapon without proper expertise. ( Still, by most estimates, most states do not have adequate response capability to a massive biological attack; simulations almost always confirm that if an attack were to be successfully conducted by any actor, state or non-state, the results would be catastrophic. (
                The most important determinate of the threat that WMDs pose are delivery vehicles. Threats can be assessed based on the technical capabilities of states as related to their delivery capacities. State actors have traditionally mounted WMDs on ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, or in artillery shells. Ballistic missiles are rockets that travel at high trajectories at high speeds; ballistic missiles are classified as either theatre ballistic missiles, which are defined as possessing a range less than 3,500 kilometers (with different sub-classifications determining the exact range limitations) or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can in theory strike anywhere on the globe due to their extensive range. (; Larger intercontinental ballistic missiles can also be equipped with Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles, which increase the number of warheads that can be carried at one time. Cruise missiles are miniaturized aircraft that fly at constant altitudes at relatively low speed, usually carrying some form of warhead.  ( Air dropped weapons and artillery fired weapons are very similar to their more conventional cousins, except that the payload is usually much more destructive. The various mechanisms of delivery are important in that not all countries have similar capabilities. Many countries that may possess WMDs do not possess long range missiles or aircraft; and so any use of a WMD on their part would be limited to neighboring states. ( Even then, the payload size of some smaller missiles and aircraft may be limited, further decreasing the capability afforded by a delivery vehicle. Due to this, most states in possession of WMDs do not possess the means to strike beyond their specific region and may possess only limited numbers of delivery vehicles, and thus cannot fully exercise deterrence on all possible threats.
                The emergence of non-state actors as possible users of WMDs has forced a reexamination of how WMD employment might occur. Though using a WMD in an unconventional manner is less practical than using a missile or aircraft, it is far from unfeasible and may be harder to stop once in motion. Simple means, such as driving a truck with a warhead onboard or aerosolized a microorganism can all be used to deliver mass destruction. Thus, many states are opting for a strategy of interdiction and partnership building to prevent materials used in WMD production from falling into the hands of non-state actors. ( The US in particular has led counter proliferation efforts, in the hopes that overall reductions of WMDs will contribute to a reduced possibility of non-state actors even acquiring WMDs, let alone using them.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Scope and Scale of WMDs

Because the definition for weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, is so broad, the scope of the problem of these weapons is similarly one that involves many security risks, preventative measures, and multilateral agreements. While the degree of damage, that nuclear bombs and missiles are capable of doing is clearly evidenced by their use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is some uncertainty as to how much devastation chemical and biological weapons can cause. However the amount of devastation and lasting effects of the damage caused by the use of a nuclear weapon is much more detrimental than the use of a chemical or biological weapon. Also, when talking about the extent of damage caused by weapons of mass destruction, it is important to distinguish a dirty bomb from a nuclear bomb or missile; the latter being about a thousand times more deadly.
Since their development during WWII, atomic weapons have been a controversial and risky topic. Yet the fear of one state developing them (Nazi Germany) led another (the United States) to began developing them as a counter measure. Over the course of the second half of the 20th century nations all over the nation had been developing and stockpiling nuclear weapons. During the Cold War the prospect of nuclear war was a considerable threat; the point when the threat of nuclear attack was at its highest was during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the U.S.S.R. threatened the U.S. will a nuclear strike. Fortunately, with the end of the Cold War, the risk of nuclear war between two of the world’s super powers has significantly decreased.  Now, and even during the Cold War, there have been initiatives to curtail the spread of nuclear arms; one such example of a multilateral treaty is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In a post-Cold War era, there have been several non-governmental initiatives to promote nuclear disarmament throughout the world. A notable global initiative is Global Zero run by former queen of Jordan, Queen Noor. The most recent case of a potential nuclear strike was when Israel declared that it would attack Iran due to the ongoing threats the latter was making and the hypothesis of Iran's nuclear capability.
            Transitioning to the other forms of WMDs- chemical and biological weapons, they have not been used on a large scale by governments or non-governmental groups outside of warfare. Chemical weaponry can range from anything from mustard gas to phosphorous bombs. Biological weaponry are most commonly viruses that are released into the public via air or water supply. One instance of the use of a biological agent being used as a weapon was in 2011 when an outbreak of smallpox occurred in the U.S.
For more information on WMDs and their uses and classifications here are some links used in the research:

Question One - WMD's

Have you adequately defined Weapons of Mass Destruction?
How have different actors defined weapons of mass destruction?
The term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is reasonably easy to define at a basic level. Most people have a vague idea of what is meant by weapons of mass destruction. However, a specific, clear definition is harder to come by, and different groups have varying ideas of what weapons are encompassed by the term. The meaning has often changed over time, as technology has improved, meaning that what we now consider basic weapons are capable of what was previously considered ‘mass destruction’. Improvements in technology have also created new, highly destructive types of weapons such as biological and radiological weapons, further altering our understanding of the term ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
‘Weapons of mass destruction’ has slightly different meanings depending on what group is defining it. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ was originally a Soviet military term that encompassed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. It has since evolved to include other weapons as well, but it still means slightly different things to different groups and organizations. This is exemplified by the writings of one academic quoted in a State Department paper,
 “The phrase “weapons of mass destruction,” for example, is an amorphous one, changing meaning according to the whims of the speaker. Raising the specter of WMD is more a way by which politicians assign blame or take a stand on seemingly objective moral standards than a way by which they assess a particular weapons system.”
Similarly, the British Government holds the view that,
“There is a considerable and long-standing academic debate about the proper interpretation of the phrase “weapons of mass destruction.” We have some sympathy with the view that, whatever its origin, the phrase and its accompanying abbreviation is now used so variously as to confuse rather than enlighten readers.”
Is there a consensus definition we can use?
The current, most frequently used definitions cover nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as anything else that is capable of causing mass casualties. Although some researchers have identified over 50 different definitions of WMD’s, many describe weapons of mass destruction as some combination of nuclear weapons, radiological weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons and high explosives. Many of these definitions also specify that the weapons must be capable of causing mass destruction, mass casualties or mass disruption. The definition that is used most often was created by a United Nations Committee in 1948. This definition is as follows;
“[WMD are] . . . atomic explosive weapons, radio active 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” (United Nations Committee, 1948).
This definition is used by many authorities as the standard definition. This is a very broad definition of WMD’s, as it includes nuclear, biological, radiological and chemical weapons. All of these are very dangerous and could be used in different ways depending on the group. WMD’s can provide a check on traditional warfare, as it ups the stakes, increasing the intensity and likelihood of escalation. This can be seen throughout history with the success of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) during the Cold War.
Nuclear weapons are what people tend to think of when they hear about WMD’s. This comes from the end of World War 2 and the threat of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, the only two times they have ever been used. Nuclear weapons are capable of destroying entire cities and killing hundreds of thousands or millions of people instantly, and many more from the long term effects. Approximately 2000 nuclear tests have been conducted to date, and 22000 nuclear warheads exist today. Many of these exist at the hands of states. The states that hold nuclear weapons are the United States, Russia, France, United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. India, Pakistan and North Korea are not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel is also widely believed to have nuclear weapons, but refuses to confirm or deny.  
Biological weapons are defined on the United Nations website as “complex systems that disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants.” They could be applied to infect livestock and agriculture to cause food shortages, to create environmental calamities or economic loss, for political assassinations, to introduce widespread illness amongst the population as well as for traditional military operations.
The consensus definition for chemical weapons comes from the Chemical Weapons Convention, in which the term ‘chemical weapon’ is applied to “any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action.” This includes products that are used in the production or delivery of the chemicals themselves.
Radiological weapons, also known as a radiological dispersion device, are weapons that are designed with the intent to kill or cause disruption. Radiological weapons are similar to nuclear weapons although they have less power. One type of radiological weapon is a dirty weapon, which uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material. Instructions for dirty bombs are available on the internet and it is possible that a terrorist organization could make one as the components are easier to come by than for a traditional nuclear bomb. Salted bombs are another type of radiological weapon, designed to provide more of nuclear fallout than a traditional nuclear bomb.
The generally accepted definition of high explosives is ‘a chemical explosive that is rapid and destructive used in shells or bombs.’ They are explosives that detonate at supersonic speed. As well as being used for military purposes, they are used in the mining and demolition industries. The fact that they are used for other purposes raises fears that they could be easily acquired by terrorists.
The international communities understanding of weapons of mass destruction has changed over time, as more and more deadly weapons are developed. For example, in the past, high explosives were considered weapons of mass destruction, although now, under some definitions it would be possible for even an automatic machine gun to be counted as a weapon of mass destruction, as it can cause mass casualties (obviously, depending on your definition of ‘mass casualties’). This is due to the advances in technology that have made weapons more deadly. The United Nations definition guards against the evolution of weapons technology as it takes into account any weapon that may be developed in the
How does this relate to the notion of security and threat discussed in class?
It is comforting that although there are many specific definitions provided by different groups, almost all of these definitions have many of the same components. This suggests that many groups have a similar idea of what constitutes a weapon of mass destruction, and, at least on this respect, a similar idea of what the threat is. This means that organizations and states have a shared understanding of the problem and are able to work together to provide a sense of security.
What does this definition include and what does it leave out?
The United Nations definition is very broad and includes almost all of the criteria that other definitions have encompassed. It specifically encompasses nuclear (atomic), biological, radiological and chemical weapons. There is also a blanket statement to provide for any future developments, as long as they have comparable effects. The definition excludes high explosives and does not include conventional weapons. It also explicitly defines the amount of damage that must be caused in order for something to be considered a weapon of mass destruction (the same as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Links to other information
Here are some resources that help to define the issue from various perspectives. They also contain some interesting information about the history of weapons of mass destruction, WMD policy and other facts about weapons of mass destruction.  - This is about the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is a State Department report. It is very useful for learning about non-proliferation.
I found all of the following UN resources really useful for learning about the standard international definitions of WMD's, and showing an international perspectives. - this was really helpful for defining chemical weapons. - this is a Congressional Report about the threat of weapons of mass destruction which I found really interesting for examining the WMD problem from the United States perspective.