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Weapons of mass destruction

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are weapons designed to kill large numbers of people, usually civilians but also potentially military personnel. They are generally considered to be of limited military usefulness because their destructiveness is likely to trigger an extreme response. They are also known as weapons of indiscriminate destruction, weapons of mass disruption and weapons of catastrophic effect.

Though the phrase was coined in 1937 to describe aerial bombardment, the types of weapons today considered to be in this class are often referred to as NBC weapons or ABC weapons:

Table of contents
1 Semantic Disputes
2 Responses to WMD
3 Countries that may possess WMD
4 External links

Semantic Disputes

The phrase weapons of mass destruction is the source of various semantic disputes. The phrase originated in 1937 to describe the use of strategic bombers by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. During the Cold War, WMD exclusively meant nuclear weapons. Indeed, modern nuclear weapons are vastly more destructive than either biological or chemical weapons. Chemical weapons expert Gert Harigel believes that, as a result, only nuclear weapons should be called weapons of mass destruction.

The modern use of WMD to refer to NBC weapons was coined by UN Resolution 687. This resolution refers to the "threat that all weapons of mass destruction pose to peace and security", and mentions in particular nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and the three relevant treaties:

United States law defines WMD as "to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people" using chemicals, a disease organism, radiation or radioactivity. However, the FBI also considers conventional weapons (ie, bombs) to become WMD: "A weapon crosses the WMD threshold when the consequences of its release overwhelm local responders".

In fact, so called "weapons of mass destruction" account for a small proportion of overall deaths due to weapons in general. Colombia's Vice President Gustavo Bell Lemus told the UN that deaths from bullet-firing weapons "dwarf that of all other weapons systems - and in most years greatly exceed the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki".

Responses to WMD

As mentioned above, Weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, are rarely used because their use is essentially an "invitaton" for a WMD retaliation, which in turn could escalate into a war so destructive it could easily destroy huge segments of the world's population.

During the Cold War, this understanding became known as mutally assured destruction and was the largely the reason war never broke out between the WMD-armed United States and Soviet Union.

Generally, it can be said that WMD's are not very popular with much of the world. Their destructiveness is a source of unease for many, and there are always fears that they could be used by a crazy or unstable leader. There are strong movements to prevent further proliferation of WMDs, as well as to eliminate nations' current WMD hoards.

Weapons of mass destruction are used to justify the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes against "rogue states" thought to be in danger of possessing or developing them.

Countries that may possess WMD

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), over 30 countries are "possessing, pursuing or capable of acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, and missile delivery systems as of 2000". In alphabetical order, they are:

External links