Weapons of Mass Destruction
The specter of nuclear weapons and similar weapons of mass destruction (WMD) looms like a dark shadow for people around the world, even for those who have never even seen the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Stockpiles remain, while some countries are only beginning to build caches of their own. Even more concerning is that terrorist networks are known to be developing the capacity for building and using nuclear weapons. This paper will take an in-depth look at weapons of mass destruction in the twenty-first century. The reader will glean a better understanding of the types of such weaponry, as well as a stronger appreciation of the forces that push leaders to either dismantle or build their WMD arsenals.
Keywords Aum Shinrikyo; Dirty Bomb; Mutually Assured Destruction; Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); Radiological Dispersion Devices (RDD); Rogue Nation; Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
Tomiko Morimoto remembers the day as if it was yesterday. The sky was clear, and despite the fact that the familiar drone of an American B-29 bomber hummed from the sky, she had little fear. After all, Hiroshima had not yet been bombed during the war but countless reconnaissance airplanes had flown over her city. What happened next, however, forever scarred her. She saw a flash as bright as the sun followed by a loud explosion. "Everything started falling down," she recalls. "All the buildings started flying around all over the place." As she escaped the growing fire, she watched helplessly as her city burned. The next day, she and the other children were released from their exile to find their way home. She crossed a railroad bridge, and saw what was once a river had become "a sea of dead people." She lives now in a quiet town in upstate New York, grateful for her life but fearful of the fact that nuclear weapons still exist. "I'm always afraid as more countries have the atomic bomb. I fear the end of the world" (Phillips, 2005).
The horrific scenes of Hiroshima and later Nagasaki were indeed traumatic to those who viewed their images as well as those who witnessed them first-hand. Even those who had dropped the bomb had no idea of the devastation the atom bomb would cause when detonated over the enemy. Then again, the two bombs used in Japan during World War II were far less powerful than the ones that would be built after the war. The United States and its allies built up an enormous stockpile of these nuclear weapons (as well as the cutting-edge technologies used to deliver them), and their primary competitor in the Cold War, the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies, did the same.
In the post-World War II world, the term, "weapons of mass destruction" refers to a weapon capable of inflicting massive destruction to property and/or the human population. Long after the Cold War came to a close and after many of these arsenals were dismantled, the specter of nuclear weapons and similar weapons of mass destruction (WMD) looms for people around the world, even for those who have never seen the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Stockpiles remain, while some countries are only beginning to build caches of their own. Even more frightening is that terrorist networks are known to be developing the capacity for building and using nuclear weapons.
This paper will take an in-depth look at weapons of mass destruction in the twenty-first century. The reader will glean a better understanding of the types of such weaponry, as well as a stronger appreciation of the forces that push leaders to either dismantle or build their WMD arsenals.
In 1937, German bombers, at the behest of the Spanish government, laid siege to the ancient Basque city of Guernica, dropping thousands of pounds of explosives on the Spanish town, including thousands of two-pound incendiary projectiles. In their pursuit of crushing insurgents, the Germans literally razed the city in an attack that lasted for three hours. People attempting to escape were either gunned down at the city limits or pushed back into the city to be buried under fiery rubble. George Steer of the London Times commented on the devastation, coining a term that would become a household phrase for generations to come: "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?" (Macfarlane, 2005, p. 2).
Of course, Steer's use of the term was in reference to the devastation of Guernica. The Germans used conventional weapons of the era, such as grenades and artillery that were non-nuclear, non-biological, and non-chemical. The destruction was total, to be sure, but it was not of an unconventional nature. In the post-World War II world, however, "weapons of mass destruction" refers to a weapon that is capable of inflicting massive destruction to property and humans. Although Steer referred to conventional weaponry, the phrase has long since been equated with nuclear, chemical, or biological arms.
Interestingly, one of the manifestations of WMDs pre-dated the conventional weapons use at Guernica. Early in the First World War, the French fired tear gas canisters at their German enemies, and the Germans used similar tear gas weaponry in much larger quantities shortly thereafter. One year into the war, however, the Germans built upon their use of chemical weapons, launching chlorine gas attacks on the Western Front and either killing or severely wounding large numbers of Allied troops. The attacks were quickly condemned, but the British retaliated with their own chlorine weaponry. As the war escalated, so too did the use of chemical weapons. Chlorine was mixed with phosgene, and mustard gas soon followed. Had the war not come to an end when it did, historians believe, some 30-50 percent of all manufactured artillery shells would have contained poison gases (Duffy, 2007).
The Armistice of 1918 and the Geneva Conventions banned such weaponry. However, not all segments of humankind put their faith in such older treaties during the course of their own wars. In fact, they were used almost immediately in the Pacific War of the 1930s, when the Japanese are alleged to have used them on the Chinese. The United States had employed a policy of no-first-use for chemical weapons, threatening to use them only if they were used against US forces. However, a German bombing run on an American ship in Italy destroyed thousands of 100-pound mustard bombs.
During the Vietnam War, the United States used defoliants and riot-control chemical weapons, but it also ratified the Geneva Protocols pertaining to such weapons in 1975. The Protocols also gave the United States the right retaliate using such chemical WMDs if they were used against the United States.
In 1993, the United States signed the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention, agreeing to completely dismantle its chemical stockpiles (Federation of American Scientists, 2000). A great many other nations also ratified the treaty, but many others did not. In fact, the broad-scale ratification of international treaties designed to halt production and dismantle existing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons are in a way making the environment more complicated. Some believe that the many states that have not ratified the treaties may in fact be continuing their chemical and biological weaponry development programs.
Chemical and biological weapons remain some of the more elusive forms of WMDs, due in part to their constant evolution and to the technological limitations in tracking their production and transport. As so-called rogue nations (those that are perceived to have sponsored various forms of international terrorism or act outside of other international laws) become increasingly isolated, their propensity to provide such weaponry to non-state or extra-national armed groups or use them on an open battlefield becomes less of an option to them (Slesnick, 2007). Nevertheless, their continued presence among those who refuse to comply with international bans signifies that they remain a threat to global security.
When Robert Oppenheimer first saw the destructive power his atom bomb demonstrated at...
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