• Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are treated as distinct from ‘conventional’ weapons, and their stockpiling and use are particularly controversial.
• WMDs are divided into four general types: radiological, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
• For a well-equipped modern military, the battlefield utility of radiological and current biological weapons (BWs) is modest. Nonetheless, terrorists might find such weapons useful in inciting fear and causing economic and other damage.
• There is an existing norm, accepted by the great majority of states, against the stockpiling and use of chemical and biological weapons (CBWs). However, this norm could break down in the future.
Introduction: defining weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)
While most of the chapters in this book focus chiefly on how warfare is conducted, and only address weapons within that context, any discussion of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs) must have a somewhat different focus. This is because these weapons have been placed in a special category, marking the weapons themselves as being extraordinary and making their use uniquely controversial. Indeed, the term conventional weapons, which generally is applied to virtually all non-weapons of mass destruction, is telling, as it implies that such weapons are ‘normal’ and thus usable, unlike their WMDs counterparts. This focus on the weapon itself is unusual, and is in substantial contrast to the attitude towards most conventional weapons, which generally are treated more like various tools in a tool chest, some of which are appropriate for particular jobs but not for others, but all of which are ethically acceptable in a general sense, even if many of them ethically cannot be used in every situation.
Any reasonable recounting of the overall WMDs ‘story’, therefore, must address why these weapons have not been used in various situations where they would have promised military advantage. This is critical because, in general, one should expect that a weapon which is likely to yield military advantage will be used in warfare, and that its use will not be limited or prohibited by international agreement. Indeed, the very notion of prohibition seems slightly bizarre in regard to most conventional weapons.