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The Politics of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. The Creation of a Threat. I. Defining the Phrase. What is the best way to define “Weapons of Mass Destruction?”. A. Origins of the Phrase. Origin unknown: Possibly used as early as 1937 Increased use in 1990s. Substitute for Soviet threat?

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The Politics of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”

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i defining the phrase
I. Defining the Phrase
  • What is the best way to define “Weapons of Mass Destruction?”
a origins of the phrase
A. Origins of the Phrase
  • Origin unknown: Possibly used as early as 1937
  • Increased use in 1990s. Substitute for Soviet threat?
  • Two connotations:
    • Deadliness: These weapons can cause “mass” destruction
    • Concentration: A little WMD goes a long way

Which weapons qualify?

b recent media reports unclear
B. Recent Media Reports: Unclear
  • “Weapon of Mass Destruction” – Washington Post headline about the AK-47, Nov 26 2006
c us law over inclusive
C. US Law: Over-Inclusive

1. Definition:

  • (A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
  • (B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
  • (C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
  • (D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life
section 921 says
Section 921 says…
  • The term “destructive device” means—
  • (A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
    • (i) bomb,
    • (ii) grenade,
    • (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
    • (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
    • (v) mine, or
    • (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
  • (B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun) which will expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter…
2 recent convictions 2008
2. Recent Convictions (2008)
  • Hewitt said between March 1 and May 4, Carlock, Sanders and Robinson built and tested several pipe bombs and then placed two at the FedEx distribution center ... One exploded at about 2 a.m. and broke the glass on the front door and set off the alarm, according to authorities. A second, unexploded bomb, which authorities believe was intended to hurt the first responders, was also found in the parking lot and detonated by bomb technicians. Both explosives were filled with nails.
2 recent convictions 200820
2. Recent Convictions (2008)
  • A 24-year-old convert to Islam has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for plotting to set off hand grenades in a crowded shopping mall during the Christmas season. He had offered to trade stereo speakers for some grenades.
2 recent convictions 200821
2. Recent Convictions (2008)
  • The teenager accused of planning to bomb his high school told investigators he had placed several pipe bombs around his family's home, but authorities have found no explosives, a prosecutor said Wednesday. Ryan Schallenberger may have just been bragging, state prosecutor Jay Hodge said. A search that included the use of a bomb-sniffing dog found nothing Saturday, when the boy was arrested after his parents discovered he had ordered ammonium nitrate on eBay.
3 why such a broad definition and why apply it to smaller attacks
3. Why such a broad definition – and why apply it to smaller attacks?
  • Previous penalties = max 10 years for attempt to injure, max 20 years for attempt to kill
  • WMD offenses = max life sentences
4 why not just increase penalties for all terrorism not just wmd use to life
4. Why not just increase penalties for all terrorism (not just WMD use) to life?
  • Prosecutors like the discretion (judges sentence within guidelines determined by offense)
5 conclusion legal definition of wmd is political not technical
5. Conclusion: Legal definition of WMD is political, not technical
  • Compare
    • Media (inconsistent, anything “big” looks like WMD)
    • Law (very broad definition to maximize prosecutorial discretion)
  • Is there a more logical approach?
c the logic of weapons of mass destruction
C. The Logic of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”
  • Characteristics
    • Potential to cause mass casualties
    • Distinct from “conventional” weapons
    • Violate international norms
  • Logic: Definition primarily revolves around social perception of weapons rather than weapon characteristics
  • Evidence: What counts as “WMD terrorism?”
examples of wmd terrorism
Examples of “WMD Terrorism”
  • 1984: Rajneeshee cult attacks in The Dalles, Oregon with Typhoid (no deaths) and Salmonella (750 poisoned, no deaths)
  • 1994: Aum Shinrikyo Attacks Matsumoto neighborhood with Sarin nerve gas, kills 7
  • 1995: Aum Shinrikyo attacks Tokyo subway with Sarin nerve gas, kills 12
  • 2001: Anthrax-laced letters kill five in USA
  • 2007: Three chlorine-laced bombs kill 11 in Iraq
not wmd terrorism
NOT “WMD Terrorism”
  • 1824: Suspected Albanians or Wahabbis detonate armory in Egypt; perhaps 4000 killed
  • 1978: Extremists suspected of arson of theater in Iran that kills 477
  • 2001: Al-Qaeda crashes four airliners into buildings, killing about 3000
  • 2004: Russians storm terrorist-held school in Beslan, leading to 366 deaths
d applying a social norms definition wmd wmd
D. Applying a “Social Norms” Definition: “WMD” ≠ WMD
  • Nuclear weapons – Uniquely horrifying (see many specific nuke-only agreements, fear of radiation)
  • Biological weapons – Potentially deadly and inherently indiscriminate. Again, triggers international horror
  • Chemical weapons – Little worse than conventional weapons (if at all) but images and casualties create horror (even Hitler refuses to use gas in war after being gassed himself)
  • Not “WMD” – Conventional (Cluster Bombs, MOAB, Fuel-Air Explosives, AK-47) or Unconventional but not horrific (E-Bomb)
  • Tough cases: Borderline chemical weapons (White Phosphorous, Napalm), Radiological weapons (“Dirty Bombs,” Depleted Uranium)
e terminology30
E. Terminology

CBW (Chemical and Biological Warfare)

e terminology33
E. Terminology

CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear)

ii the international politics of wmd
II. The International Politics of WMD
  • Benefits of WMD Programs – and associated problems
    • Deterrence – Prevent attacks by rational opponents by making costs of attack exceed benefits
      • Problem: Countries don’t like being deterred (China vs. Taiwan, US vs. Iran). May encourage preventive war.
      • Problem: Mutual deterrence strategies increase costs of war if opponent becomes irrational and attacks anyway.
2 warfighting winning battles and forcing surrender
2. Warfighting: Winning Battles and Forcing Surrender
  • Problem: Best weapons for deterrence may not be best for battles.
  • Problem: Best strategies for warfighting may prevent war termination, increasing costs of war.
3 bargaining trade wmd programs for concessions
3. Bargaining: Trade WMD programs for concessions
  • Problem: Reputation concerns mean negotiations are never strictly bilateral. Concessions encourage others to develop WMD.
  • Problem: Trust increases negotiation success – but WMD programs undermine trust.
4 status international recognition and prestige i e the p5 and nuclear weapons
4. Status: International recognition and prestige (i.e. the P5 and nuclear weapons)
  • Problem: The P5 were the P5 before nuclearization. Effect mistaken for cause?
  • Problem: International efforts to curb WMD are designed to stigmatize new proliferation.
b costs of wmd programs
B. Costs of WMD Programs
  • Resources / Opportunity Costs – The money, talent, leadership effort, and other resources put into WMD might be better spent on development (Guns vs. Butter theories) or conventional arms.
2 hostility and arms races
2. Hostility and Arms Races
  • WMD proliferation can provoke counter-proliferation. Nuclear weapons example:
    • US develops in fear of pre-emption by Germany – Uses them to threaten USSR
    • USSR develops in fear of attack by US – Uses them to threaten China
    • China develops in fear of attack by US (and later USSR) – Becomes threat to India
    • India develops in fear of China – Becomes threat to Pakistan
    • Pakistan develops in fear of India
3 opprobrium and sanctions
3. Opprobrium and Sanctions
  • Many agreements and laws call for types of sanctions against those that try to acquire WMD.
  • Even absent sanctions, states face criticism for WMD programs. (Remember, part of the REAL meaning of WMD is the stigma attached to the weapons).
c when will benefits outweigh costs
C. When will benefits outweigh costs?

When states are HIGHLY concerned with:

  • Being attacked
  • Losing the resulting war
  • Having no allies or influence to save them

And states are NOT worried about

  • The opportunity costs (wealthy OR insulated from public welfare concerns)
  • Arms races (rivals already have WMD or are unable to acquire them)
  • Opprobrium (state is already friendless or under sanctions)

Which states meet these criteria today?

iii problems of wmd
III. Problems of WMD
  • Which weapons are considered WMD (already answered!) and how are their effects similar to – or different from – those of conventional weapons?
    • Chemical weapons – are they worse than high explosives?
    • Biological weapons – can they accomplish missions which conventional weapons cannot?
    • Nuclear weapons – are they just “bigger bombs” – or something qualitatively different?
B. In what ways – and why -- do international laws and international institutions treat WMD differently from other weapons?
  • What international laws govern WMD?
  • What are the loopholes in these laws?
  • How did these laws come about?
  • How is the nonproliferation system maintained?
C. How does the possession of WMD by nations or their adversaries affect the decisions that those nations make?
  • What doctrines govern the use of WMD?
  • What determines which doctrines a state will adopt?
  • Do states with WMD behave differently?
  • Are states with WMD treated differently?
d when and under what circumstances are wmd likely to be used and what are the likely consequences
D. When and under what circumstances are WMD likely to be used, and what are the likely consequences?
  • Are some states more likely than others to use WMD?
  • What is the likelihood of accidental or unauthorized use?
  • What are the effects of WMD on the battlefield, political negotiation, and civilians?
  • How do wars fought with WMD end?