Sunday, January 27, 2013

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.
http://www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/37375.htm  - This is about the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is a State Department report. It is very useful for learning about non-proliferation.
http://www.ndu.edu/press/lib/pdf/CSWMD-OccasionalPapers/CSWMD_OccationalPaper-8.pdf
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.
http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/
http://www.opcw.org/about-chemical-weapons/what-is-a-chemical-weapon/ - this was really helpful for defining chemical weapons. 
http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/9184.pdf - 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. 

17 comments:

  1. Are Fuel-Air bombs defined as WMD under the UN criteria of WMD's?

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    1. By the UN committee's definition, probably. Under the phrase, "any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb", one could argue that since the largest Fuel-Air Bombs have a higher TNT-equivalence than the smallest atomic bombs, then yes.

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  2. You said, "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."

    I'm confused as to how you're defining intensity and escalation. If these weapons are checking warfare and discouraging action (for fear of detonation or retaliation by the enemy), will it really escalate and intensify the conflict? In the Cold War, the threat of nuclear warfare deterred any fighting directly between the US and the USSR. The intensity of diplomatic uneasiness may increase, but will there be an escalation? Do you mean intensity and escalation of distrust? Or of actual war?

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    1. I meant that it increases the intensity of the diplomatic situation as the stakes are so high. Although WMD's can provide a check on force being used in a given situation, they can also mean that if force is used, it quickly escalates to the use of WMD's. Sorry, rereading that section from the blog post now, it is obvious that what I wrote was not clear in that regard. I hope this has been able to clarify what I meant.

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    2. Yes, thank you for your clarification.

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  3. On the subject of providing a check against potential force. Do you think its possible for a WMD to be used as a plausibly deniable strike against ones foes. Obviously a Nuke going off in downtown Beijing is hard to plausibly deny. However you mentioned in your presentation Agroterriosm and the problem that Bioterror can appear naturally occurring.Suppose then some state through a sponsored terror network or its own agents introduces a two pronged offensive against a enemy state one in the form of a modified flu which is 35% fatal and the other a modified strain of a blight against the target nations main crop staple. Now obviously bio terror's main goal is body counts but what if the goal isn't body count what if its panic. Nothing causes panic and social collapse like a plague. Hospitals overloaded, people afraid to go to work, or out on the street, law enforcement and soldiers deserting in mass. At the same time a collapse of food production, shortages, rationing, rioting general unrest. Using this strategy can one Hypothetically cripple an enemy nation without firing a shot?

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    1. I think that there are two main objectives of any terrorism. The first is obviously the body count, but I think the second is to create fear among the population. Biological terrorism would easily create fear and no one would be safe, regardless of where they lived. Once it was started, it would be very difficult to contain and stop both the disease (or blight in the case of agroterrorism), and the panic from spreading. I think that countries have a level of preparedness for the use of nuclear and chemical weapons against their populations, that they just don't have when it comes to biological weapons. This leaves populations very vulnerable. The other thing with biological weapons is that it may not necessarily look like terrorism - it may look completely natural. I think that it is completely possible that a nation could be crippled by a biological attack as you described, because nations simply do not have the infrastructure to cope and the ensuing panic would create mayhem.

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  4. Agents Orange and Agent Blue are considered to be Chemical weapons, but in essence they basically herbicides. How can "weapons" like these be considered weapons. Some may argue that the side effects are just unfortunate, but not the nature of its intended use. In addition, what does this mean for the future of chemical weapons development, when states claim that they are just making "vaccines" or have another mildly valid excuse?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. The ability to destroy crops (agent blue) and the evident long term effects of chemical exposure (agent orange) would cause chemical weapons to be considered WMDs if you include "mass disruption" in the definition. I would also think that a chemical weapon would be easier to trace to the source than, say, the spread of disease (biological weapon).

      Can you cite an example of states using the vaccine excuse? I'm curious as to where that came from.

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    3. I think with chemicals such as these it depends how they are used. If they are being used against populations such as in Vietnam then they are definitely able to be classified as a chemical weapon. In these cases they are being used purely to do harm to people and the environment that they live in. In response to your question about vaccines, I think there is a very fine line and it is difficult to ascertain whether they will be used for legitimate scientific purposes or for use as a weapon.

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  5. My question is regarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I know you talk about the NPT in your discussion but I just wanted to ask why exactly India, Pakistan and North Korea are not a part of it? Was this because of the lack of commitment to non-proliferation by the countries or because of some inherent flaws within the structure of the treaty itself?

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    1. It was my understanding that India and Pakistan both did not sign because the other didn't sign. That region is extremely problematic and is always precarious. This is another example of a region where Mutually Assured Destruction is working. to a certain extent. North Korea is North Korea and they want everyone to know that they have nuclear weapons and could possibly use them if they have to.

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  6. You touched upon the United States proliferation and stockpile of nuclear weapons, but didn't really discuss their use of biological weapons or chemical weapons, or rather the ban on both. While nuclear weapons are so much more destructive, why do you think the United States drew the line on the lesser of the two weapons of mass destruction and not nuclear weapons? Why ban chemical weapons and biological weapons at all?

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    1. Nuclear weapons seem to be more likely to be used in a defensive capacity, at least, that is the way it appears to most people. Also, with a nuclear weapon, all other weapons become somewhat obsolete.

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  7. Something I found interesting in the film today was a comment that was made about a nuclear weapon essentially placing North Korea in 'the game'. It was suggested that by having a nuclear weapon a state has reached a pinnacle level of defense, and will essentially be able to avoid the influences of surrounding states. So my question that I would like to pose is how do you think the world will react to the most recent events occurring within North Korea, and how can proliferation actually be a goal when there is a belief of superiority and security with ownership of a WMD?

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    1. Non-proliferation and the absence of nuclear weapons is a lovely idea, but with rogue states such as North Korea having access to nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that other countries such as the United States will ever give theirs up. North Korea is unstable and their actions tend to make the rest of the world nervous. WMD's seem to allow countries to be taken more seriously due to the danger they represent, meaning other countries are more likely to leave them alone to avoid angering them. This definitely seems to be what is happening with North Korea.

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