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:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf12.html
http://www.globalresearch.ca/revival-of-nuclear-arms-race-us-conduct-new-underground-nuclear-tests/5306645
http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/medaspec/Ch-2electrv699.pdf

22 comments:

  1. What was this smallpox out break your referring to and how does one in this day and age classify a WMD. Is it on a scale of what might kill thousands, millions or billions. Or is it just something that can wrought destruction and death with almost no effort.

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    1. @jeff_Hawn
      There are still vast chemical weapons stockpiles in North Korea and Syria. There is a fear currently that if the regime in Syria falls, that some of those weapons would find their way into the hands of terrorist groups. There are also many WMDs (chemical and nuclear material) unaccounted for from the former Soviet Union.

      Personally, I see any nuclear material, weaponized pathogen, or cluster munitions as weapons of mass destruction.

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    2. And I realize I forgot to include "any chemical designed to cause extreme pain or death" in my definition; chemical weapons are WMDs too!

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    3. My blog post deals with the definitions of weapons of mass destruction. It is generally understood that weapons of mass destruction are nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons, although anything else that could produce a similar level of damage would also be considered a WMD. These weapons could cause different amounts of damage, casualties and disruption (something I believe should also be considered in the definition), although they could all be catastrophic.

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    4. Jeff, to answer your question about the smallpox outbreak, here is the site I used. I think I mixed up the year though, my apologies: http://www.gaia-health.com/articles401/000419-smallpox-vaccine-outbreak.shtml

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  2. You say that chemical weapons have not been use outside of warfare, and I agree, but there is an aspect of their use that you leave out. Sometimes, chemical weapons are used just to weaken the other state. But other times, there is an aspect of genocide. In WWII the Germans used chemicals to kill scores of Jews and the Iraqis used chemical weapons in the Halabja massacre to kill many Kurdish people. More recently, there has been some concern that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could be used against the opposition to weaken their numbers and get them "out of the way." Have you run across any differences in the policies created to deal with chemical weapons when used for genocide? If no, do you think these instances should be handled differently?

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  3. Well, the point you bring up leads to a different course of actions, especially when genocide of a state's own people is brought into the matter. Use of chemical or biological weapons or experimentation on a group of people without their consent is considered a war crime. The only reference of policy I can really make in the area of chemical weapons relating to genocide would be the Geneva Conventions: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/geneva_conventions. There's also the Chemical Weapons Convention: http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/articles/ but that mostly deals with the definition of chemical weapons and the countries that have agreed not to use them. To answer your second question, I do think that they should the instances of genocide you're referring to should be treated as military crimes, even if not carried out by a state's military (for example, a terrorist organization).

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    1. You said, Ryan, that the use of chemical weapons as genocide should be classified as a war crime but that would only come in to play after they were employed. Is there a way for the international community to deter a regime like Syria's from using them in the first place? There seem to be few response plans worldwide for the use of unconventional WMDs, do you think that will change as it is becoming a more realistic threat?

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  4. On the scale of WMD's I was wondering does the measurement take into account potential after effects which are far worse than the strike itself.

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    1. Very interesting question. I think the answer to that question is a definite yes. Which is probably why nuclear proliferation gets a lot more international attention than chemical or biological weapon use. Because the after effects of nuclear weapon use not only implies immediate devastation to entire cities, but can span generations after the attack; the effects of the bomb/missile can be seen decades after it caused the initial damage. The mere thought of the consequences that nuclear weapon use carries, is enough to deter the potential user from resorting to use of such force.

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  5. There are certainly different types of WMDs. For instance as of now nuclear weapons are really the only WMDs that can guarantee mutually assured destruction, and that often carry the most weight in international poltics. While other forms of WMDs such a chemical and biological weapons can create massive amounts of death as well, do you think they should be placed in the same class of weaponry as nuclear bombs and missiles?

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    1. I can see why the three types of weapons are grouped together. They all certainly have the potential to cause mass destruction, or at least mass panic. However I do think that nuclear weapons are sort of in a league of their own. Here's a speech by astrophysicist Carl Sagan during the height of the Cold War, that I found to be quite insightful on the potential of nuclear war: http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/sagan-carl_nuclear-winter-1983.html
      This definitely illustrates the extreme destructiveness of nuclear weapons.

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  6. http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/17/16549397-us-asks-turkey-jordan-to-secure-chem-weapons-if-syria-crisis-worsens?lite


    According to this article, the Syrian Assad regime has supposedly used chemical weapons against its citizens and has the capabilities to do more. This, and the threat of more warfare waged against the Syrian people, has provoked the United States to reach out to Turkey, Jordan, and even Iraq for their preventative cooperation.

    On the stockpiles of chemicals, the article notes, "As a result, U.S. officials said they would likely seek to transport the chemicals out of Syria as quickly as possible once a new government can be formed, preferably under the supervision of the United Nations-affiliated Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with the new government’s formal approval."

    The Talmadge reading noted how the U.S. should use its relationships with other states to deter the action of terrorists (in this case, rogue governments) from using nuclear weapons (in this case chemical weapons.) Do you think that the U.S. should be the one leading the effort in Syria to contain the chemical weapons, seeing as the weapons are more of a local agent without the capability of inflicting harm to Americans? Syria has an estimated 350-400 metric ton stockpile of chemicals... is this a cause of concern for the international community on the basis of Responsibility to Protect?


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    1. In response to your second question, I feel that Syria's stockpile of hundreds of tons of chemicals with the potential to serve as WMD's is absolutely a cause for concern for the international community. In regards to your first question, however, I am not sure that the United States should be leading the chemical containing efforts in Syria. It seems to me that an international approach would be most effective, as opposed to action directed from a single state. I think that the point you mentioned from the Talmadge article is certainly very important but I'm not sure of it's relevance to this situation. In my opinion when Talmadge referred to the US using its state relationships as a means of deterrence, it was specific to the case of terrorist groups which, due to their lack of, "[fear] of earthly punishments," are particularly difficult to tackle. However, when it comes to punishing or threatening to punish state actors, different methods, often times more complicated than reinforcing positive relationships or mending those that are negative, must be employed.

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  7. To answer your first question, I think the article you provided the link for makes a good argument: the United States' action regarding the chemical weapons is a better alternative to actually putting U.S. troops on the ground. Covert action definitely sounds like a good option to me, especially if that action has the potential ability to save thousands of lives. As for your second question, I don't think the weapons are a concern for the international community due to the soft power that the United States and a lot of Syria's neighbors have. That being said, they do pose a danger to the immediate public of Syria and should be taken as a serious threat on the domestic front.

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  9. You bring up Global Zero, and I'm wondering what you think of this initiative. Do you find it realistic? Has is been at all effective so far?

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    1. I think it's a good initiative, and they are making good progress. As Chris said earlier in class today, they are on track with their goals. However, the individual member and nation states involved have a long way to go until nuclear weapons are severely reduced or eliminated. As you can imagine, multilateral talks/agreements such as this take a very long time to accomplish; also not all states are willing to participate, so in terms of being realistic- I don't think that all nuclear weapons will disappear any time soon.

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  10. I was at an event today where a State Department counter-terrorism official commented that a nuclear device would be the "least likely" weapon of mass destruction for terrorist organizations to use. Given the difficulties associated with producing a nuclear weapon, he believed that chemical and biological weapons were a more likely threat. He commented that terrorists have already deployed chemical and biological weapons. Could the WMD group possibly elaborate on the utility and practicality of non-nuclear WMD for terrorist organizations? Do you agree with the official, or are nuclear devices a greater threat?

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    1. I agree with the State Dept. official. Based on the Talmadge reading and largely because it has not happened, I don't think that nuclear terrorism is too much of a threat. Chemical and biological weapons are far more easier to make/obtain than nuclear weapons. While terrorists need not search too hard for the raw nuclear materials, it would be extremely difficult and impractical for them to make a bomb (without the help of nuclear physicists). If you really wanted to make a chemical weapon, it wouldn't be difficult to acquire all the materials necessary and find instructions. Biological weaponry is a bit more hard to come by, because you can't buy it at your local hardware store. Chemical and biological weapons in the hands of terrorist do pose a discomforting threat, however the goal of terrorists is usually to cause mass panic and confusion, rather than seeing how high the body count can get. Probably for fear of retaliation from whomever they attack. As a result, the weapons they do choose to employ, are generally less effective at doing much damage- such as anthrax. Another thing to keep in mind is that chemical and biological weapons don't penetrate/destroy buildings or other physical structures if they are used to target the general public, so mass casualties are unlikely to result from most attempts, such as dispersing gas into the air or poisoning a water supply. There are specific precautions against targeted attacks such as those listed above, so to conclude- the use of chemical and biological weapons by terrorists is a moderate threat to the U.S. public, but not something to be constantly worried about.

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  11. You distinguish dirty bomb from nuclear bomb or missile, but what exactly is a dirty bomb? Are they considered WMDs despite their less destructive power? Are there instances of states using or stockpiling dirty bombs for war, or are dirty bombs generally reserved for terrorist groups?

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    1. A dirty bomb is different from a nuclear bomb, it that it does not generate a nuclear explosion, but is a bomb loaded with radiological materials that disperse when the bomb is detonated causing the immediate area to be irradiated (the resulting radioactive contamination is what makes the bomb "dirty"). They really don't cause a whole lot of destruction, because they are made from conventional explosives, the only reason they are considered WMDs is due to the possibility of getting radiation poisoning. As far as use by state actors, the only instance that I can think of is the case of Iraq, which had dirty bombs but did not use them.

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