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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Subtopics include:

1. Terrorism

2. Disarmament

3. Non-proliferation

4. Current Events (Iran, N. Korea, Syria, START)

Vocabulary list

Manhattan Project Cold War

Proliferation Arms race

First Strike Sanctions

Disarmament Nuclear Regulatory Commission

SDI: Strategic Defense Initiative Ballistic Missiles

SLBM: Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)

ICBM: Inter-continental Ballistic Missile SALT: Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty

CTBT: Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Non-proliferation Treaty

START: Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (1,2 & 3) ABM: Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty

Dirty Bomb IAEA

Current international issues/status
Countries that possess or want to possess WMDs

Acknowledged Nuclear Weapons Capability

*China *Pakistan

*France *Russia

*India *United Kingdom

*Iran *United States

*North Korea

Unacknowledged Nuclear Weapons Capability


Abandoned Nuclear Weapons Development

  • South Africa—Constructed but then voluntarily dismantled 6 uranium bombs.

  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine—When Soviet Union broke up, these former states possessed nuclear warheads that they have since given up.

Background information
Types of WMD’s---Nuclear

Nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction powered by atomic, rather than chemical, processes. Nuclear weapons produce large explosions and hazardous radioactive byproducts by means of either nuclear fission or nuclear fusion. Nuclear weapons can be delivered by artillery, plane, ship, or ballistic missile (ICBM); some can also fit inside a suitcase. Tactical nuclear weapons can have the explosive power of a fraction of a kiloton (one kiloton equals 1,000 tons of TNT), while strategic nuclear weapons can produce thousands of kilotons of explosive force. After World War II, the proliferation of nuclear weapons became an increasing cause of concern throughout the world. At the end of the 20th century the vast majority of such weapons were held by the United States and the USSR; smaller numbers were held by Great Britain, France, China, India, and Pakistan. Over a dozen other countries can, or soon could, make nuclear weapons. In addition to the danger of radioactive fallout, in the 1970s scientists began investigating the potential impact of nuclear war on the environment. The collective effects of the environmental damage that could result from a large number of nuclear explosions has been termed nuclear winter. Treaties have been signed limiting certain aspects of nuclear testing and development. Although the absolute numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles have declined since the end of the cold war, disarmament remains a distant goal.

Atomic bomb or A-bomb, weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of atomic energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy nuclei (see nuclear energy). The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex., laboratory and successfully tested on July 16, 1945. This was the culmination of a large U.S. army program that was part of the Manhattan Project, led by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. It began in 1940, two years after the German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman discovered nuclear fission. On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima with an estimated equivalent explosive force of 12,500 tons of TNT, followed three days later by a second, more powerful, bomb on Nagasaki. Both bombs caused widespread death, injury, and destruction, and there is still considerable debate about the need to have used them.

Atomic bombs were subsequently developed by the USSR (1949; now Russia), Great Britain (1952), France (1960), and China (1964). A number of other nations, particularly India, Pakistan, and Israel, are believed to have atomic bombs or the capability to produce them readily. The three smaller Soviet successor states that inherited nuclear arsenals (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus) relinquished all nuclear warheads, which have been removed to Russia.

Hydrogen bomb or H-bomb, weapon deriving a large portion of its energy from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen isotopes. In an atomic bomb, uranium or plutonium is split into lighter elements that together weigh less than the original atoms, the remainder of the mass appearing as energy. Unlike this fission bomb, the hydrogen bomb functions by the fusion, or joining together, of lighter elements into heavier elements. The end product again weighs less than its components, the difference once more appearing as energy. Because extremely high temperatures are required in order to initiate fusion reactions, the hydrogen bomb is also known as a thermonuclear bomb.

The first thermonuclear bomb was exploded in 1952 at Enewetak by the United States, the second in 1953 by Russia (then the USSR). Great Britain, France, and China have also exploded thermonuclear bombs, and these five nations comprise the so-called nuclear club—nations that have the capability to produce nuclear weapons and admit to maintaining an inventory of them. The three smaller Soviet successor states that inherited nuclear arsenals (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus) relinquished all nuclear warheads, which have been removed to Russia. Several other nations either have tested thermonuclear devices or claim to have the capability to produce them, but officially state that they do not maintain a stockpile of such weapons; among these are India, Israel, and Pakistan. South Africa's apartheid regime built six nuclear bombs but dismantled them later.

Like other types of nuclear explosion, the explosion of a hydrogen bomb creates an extremely hot zone near its center. In this zone, because of the high temperature, nearly all of the matter present is vaporized to form a gas at extremely high pressure. A sudden overpressure, i.e., a pressure far in excess of atmospheric pressure, propagates away from the center of the explosion as a shock wave, decreasing in strength as it travels. It is this wave, containing most of the energy released that is responsible for the major part of the destructive mechanical effects of a nuclear explosion. The details of shock wave propagation and its effects vary depending on whether the burst is in the air, underwater, or underground.

Types of WMD’s---biological

Biological warfare, employment in war of microorganisms to injure or destroy people, animals, or crops; also called germ or bacteriological warfare. Limited attempts have been made in the past to spread disease among the enemy; e.g., military leaders in the French and Indian Wars tried to spread smallpox among the Native Americans. Biological warfare has scarcely been used in modern times and was prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Convention. However, many nations in the 20th century have conducted research to develop suitable military microorganisms, including strains of smallpox, anthrax, plague, and some non-lethal agents. Such microorganisms can be delivered by animals (especially rodents or insects) or by aerosol packages, built into artillery shells or the warheads of ground-to-ground or air-to-ground missiles and released into the atmosphere to infect by inhalation.
In 1972 the United States and the Soviet Union adopted an agreement, endorsed by the UN General Assembly and now ratified by more than 140 nations, to destroy existing stockpiles of biological weapons and refrain from developing or stockpiling new biological weapons. The treaty does allow research for defensive purposes, such as to develop antidotes to biological weapons. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, it was disclosed that the Soviets had secretly increased research and production of a wide variety of deadly biological agents. Although Russian president Boris Yeltsin publicly ordered (1992) the abandonment of germ warfare, some expressed suspicion about the continued production of biological weapons in post–cold war Russia.
With the rise of extremist groups and the disintegration of the established international political order in the late 20th century, biological weapons again began to be perceived as a serious threat. In the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf War, five hidden germ-warfare laboratories and stockpiles of anthrax, botulism, and gas gangrene bacteria were discovered in Iraq. In addition to Iraq and Russia, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Israel, China, and other nations are suspected of various violations of the 1972 agreement.
In 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, anthrax was sent through the mail in bio-terrorist attacks against several locations in the United States. There was, however, no clear connection between the two terror attacks. In an attempt to develop a warning system for a bio-terror attack, the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality monitoring system was adapted (2003) to permit detection of an outdoor release of smallpox and other pathogens. Such a system, however, would not have detected the narrowly focused indoor anthrax attacks of 2001.


What is it? Bacteria with spore-forming rods; likes to live in the soil

How it works: Humans become infected by coming into contact with spores, either by touch or inhalation. The spore then produces a toxin that can be fatal. The incubation period for inhalation anthrax is 1-6 days.

Lethal amount: One billionth of a gram (the size of a speck of dust)

How long can it survive? Tends to degrade rapidly in sunlight; if kept in the right environmental conditions, anthrax can survive for years.

Symptoms: Flu-like symptoms, high fever, fatigue and cough. Shock and death can occur within 24-36 hours of the onset of severe symptoms.

Treatment: Antibiotics, including penicillin

Prevention: Vaccine


What is it? Bacterium that develops only in the absence of oxygen.

How it works: By inhalation. Botulinum neurotoxins generally kill by the relatively slow onset (hours to days) of respiratory failure. The individual may not show signs of disease for 24-72 hours. The toxin blocks biochemical action in the nerves that activate the muscles necessary for respiration, causing suffocation.

Lethal amount: One billionth of a gram

How long can it survive? Relatively short life after it's released

Symptoms: Dizziness, dry throat, blurred vision.

Treatment: Anti-toxins can be injected soon after exposure to a lethal dose of toxin

Prevention: Gas mask, protective clothing
Types of WMD’s---chemical
Chemical warfare, employment in war of incendiaries, poison gases, and other chemical substances. Ancient armies attacking or defending fortified cities threw burning oil and fireballs. A primitive type of flamethrower was employed as early as the 5th century B.C.; modern types are still in use. In the Middle Ages, before the introduction of gunpowder, a flammable composition known as Greek fire was used. Smoke from burning straw or other material was employed in early times, but its effectiveness is uncertain.
Poison gas was first used during World War I, when the Germans released (April, 1915) chlorine gas against the Allies. The Germans also introduced mustard gas later in the war. Afterward, the major powers continued to stockpile gases for possible future use and several actually used it: the British in Afghanistan, the French and Spanish in Africa, and the Japanese in China. Lethal gases were not employed in combat during World War II, but the Germans did use gases for mass murder during the Holocaust. The Germans also invented and stockpiled the first nerve gas. It is odorless and colorless and attacks the body muscles, including the involuntary muscles. It is the most lethal and insidious weapon of chemical warfare. Besides lethal gases, which attack the skin, blood, nervous, or respiratory system and require hospitalization of the victim, there are also non-lethal incapacitating agents, which, like tear gas, cause temporary physical disability. Such agents have often been employed in riot control, espionage, and warfare. Various forms of herbicides and defoliants are also used to destroy crops or vegetation, as Agent Orange was used by the United States during the Vietnam War.
The potential effectiveness of chemical warfare is increasing with improved methods of dissemination, such as artillery shells, grenades, missiles, and aircraft and submarine spray guns. Some protection against chemical weapons is possible using suits, sealed vehicles, and shelters. Such countermeasures usually protect against nuclear fallout and biological warfare as well. Lethal chemical weapons are held by many nations and they continue to be used. Iraq, for example, used mustard gas during its war with Iran and also against Kurdish rebels. The danger of the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is growing despite arms control because they are relatively easy to manufacture and deploy.
Efforts to control chemical and biological weapons began in the late 19th century. The Geneva Protocol of 1925, which went into force in 1928, condemned the use of chemical weapons but did not ban the development and stockpiling of chemical weapons. The United States did not ratify the protocol until 1974. In 1990, with the end of the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to cut their arsenals by 80% in an effort to create a climate of change that would discourage smaller nations from stockpiling and using such lethal weapons. In 1993 a international treaty banning the production, stockpiling (both by 2007), and use of chemical weapons and calling for the establishment of an independent organization to verify compliance was adopted. The agreement, which became effective in 1997, has been signed and ratified by 160 nations. The treaty is enforced by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is based in The Hague. The alleged Iraqi retention, after the Persian Gulf War cease-fire, of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction was the main pretext for the 2003 U.S.-British invasion of Iraq.


What is it? VX, considered one of the most lethal chemical weapons, is a colorless and odorless liquid that turns into a gas on contact with oxygen.

How it works: VX is primarily toxic through the skin, but can also prove fatal when inhaled. VX is fast-moving, virtually undetectable, and can spread through air as well as water. In its liquid state it is roughly the same density as water. It blocks the transmission of impulses along the central nervous system, causing convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Lethal amount: 10 mg (just a drop)

Symptoms: Increased salivation, coughing, runny nose, headache and nausea.

Prevention: Gas mask, protective clothing


What is it? Mustard gas is in its pure state a colorless, odorless liquid, but when mixed with other chemicals, it looks brown and has a garlic-like smell.

How it works: Inhaling the vapors causes painful, long-lasting blisters all over the body.

Symptoms: Itchy skin, watery eyes and burning sensation in lungs. The long-term effects on an individual may include chronic lung impairment, chest pain and cancer of the mouth, throat, respiratory tract, and skin. It has been linked to causing leukemia and birth defects.

Prevention: Gas mask


What is it? Sarin is a highly toxic gas, which attacks the central nervous system.

How it works: It is chiefly absorbed through the respiratory tract; can be absorbed through the skin at higher environmental temperatures. Depending upon concentration of Sarin, toxicity can occur within minutes.

Lethal amount: 100 milligrams

Symptoms: In low levels, it causes severe headaches, increased salivation and constrict air passages to the lungs. In higher doses, it causes coughing, increased perspiration, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and breathing difficulties. Death can follow due to suffocation.

Types of WMD’s---radiological (dirty bombs)
Radiation weapon or radiological weapon, a bomb or warhead that uses conventional chemical explosives to disperse radioactive material, sometimes called a “dirty bomb.” Designed to produce radiation sickness in a military force or a civilian population instead of destroy a target, radiation weapons typically consist of a highly radioactive material encased in lead and surrounded by a high explosive. During the 1980s, Iraq developed and tested a radiation weapon that was intended to produce health effects that would be difficult to explain, but decided to abandoned the project because a radiation level low enough to escape detection was also insufficient to cause significant medical problems in the weeks following an attack.
History of problem-WMD’s

The first atomic bombs were used in the context of the Allies' World War II policy of strategic bombing. Early in the Cold War, U.S. policy was for massive retaliation with Strategic Air Command bombers in the event of war with the USSR. In 1949, after the Soviets exploded their first atomic device, the United States elaborated other policies, but these did not affect the ever-increasing numbers, types, and explosive force of nuclear arsenals throughout the world.

During the Cold War, the nuclear strategies of the United States and the USSR ranged from straightforward deterrence to the threat of massive retaliation during the early 1950s, to limited forward deployment in the late 1950s, to various forms of flexible response in the 1960s. These have included the options of aiming nuclear weapons at other nuclear weapons and aiming them at enemy cities. Behind all of these approaches is the idea that any nuclear war would involve mutual assured destruction (MAD) for the principals, and possibly for the world as well. As a result, the United States developed a weapons arsenal large enough to ensure that enough weapons would survive an enemy first strike to retaliate effectively.

The Cold War spawned a subculture of nuclear strategists who moved among jobs in academia, at think tanks, and in government departments. Some theorized on how to use nuclear weapons politically and militarily. They proposed various strategies for winning a nuclear war, including first, managing escalation so that the weaker nation withdraws before a full exchange occurs; second, staging a massive first strike that preempts an effective response; third, launching a surgical first strike that destroys enemy leadership; and fourth, a technological breakthrough that makes effective strategic defense possible.

Other strategists concluded that nuclear weapons were so unlike conventional weapons that they changed war fundamentally. Defense proposals, such as the civil defense complexes and antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses of the 1950s and 60s (and the later Strategic Defense Initiative), were seen as destabilizing because they included the concept of acceptable losses in a nuclear conflict. At various times the United States and the USSR pursued arms control proposals designed to improve the stability of the balance of power and to prevent nuclear proliferation. Opponents of nuclear war have popularized the theory that it could trigger a climatic disaster; pacifists consider nuclear weapons the ultimate argument against war. Some analysts point to the way that nuclear policy has served the interests of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.”

The end of the Cold War eliminated the fear of a U.S.-USSR confrontation, but both the United States and Russia retain substantial forces. The danger now comes primarily from smaller, less stable nations in more volatile areas of the world that may develop or obtain nuclear weapons capabilities. During the Persian Gulf War, the United States and its allies were concerned about how close Iraq was to developing an operational nuclear weapon. The threat of nuclear war has profoundly shaped human language and culture in the late 20th century.



International terrorism has been a constant reminder of the evils of which man is capable. From the days when terrorism included only airplane hijackings and hostage taking, the spread of new weapons technologies, along with the disintegration of the world’s balance of power following the cold war has led to a new kind of terrorism. Deadly and widespread, terrorists now have the capability to inflict devastating amounts of harm to innocent civilians. Now even the term, “Airplane Hijacking” has a new meaning with even greater implications. Many in the world are concerned that WMD’s could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The topic of terrorism is extremely expansive and encompasses several issues. The debate on a specific definition is one of the foremost points of concern and contention for the United Nations. The discussion of a definition has followed the perimeters of what is the difference between a “terrorist” and a “freedom fighter.” This aspect of the topic is infused into the debate about which countries sponsor terrorism actions. In turn the eastern world accuses the west as being imperialist- and often point to the Balkans, Israel and Northern Ireland as evidence of western terrorism. This aspect of the topic is extremely contentious and it may not be wise to let your committee get bogged down in this debate.

This issue has also been addressed in past United Nations conferences the need to develop security and reactionary responses to terrorism. In recent months we have seen many proposals and this part of the topic will probably continue to be a focus of debate. Obviously one of the most recent ideas proposed in combating terrorism is military action but certainly this is one of the most difficult aspects to form a consensus on. Key in this topic is also encouraging cooperation and governmental support of the United Nations. Early detection is also often addressed and can be a challenge to find substantive solutions. The United Nations had also supported the monitoring of terrorist activities and especially individuals. Airport security often comes up regarding terrorism and especially now. As one, can obviously see, the problem is multi-faceted and deserves a clear comprehensive response.

Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism entered into force on April 10, 2002, thirty days after the 22nd ratification was deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. As a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the international campaign against terrorism that ensued, there has been a surge in the number of countries ratifying the convention, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1999. As of March 2004, 132 countries have signed the convention and 112 have completed the ratification, acceptance, approval or accession process and become states parties. Of these 112 states parties, 108 ratified the convention after September 11, 2001. The United States ratified the convention on June 25, 2002, when President Bush signed it into law.

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism requires each state party to criminalize the funding of terrorist activities under its domestic law and to identify, detect, and seize or freeze funds used or allocated for terrorist purposes. States parties are also required to prosecute or extradite individuals suspected of unlawful and willful involvement, direct or indirect, in the financing of terrorism and to cooperate with other states parties in the investigation and/or prosecution of such suspects. In addition, states parties must ensure that their domestic laws require financial institutions to implement measures that identify, impede, and prevent the flow of terrorist funds.

In assuring international peace and security, the UN has created a program of work calling upon all Member States to become party to the twelve international conventions and protocols that discuss combating international terrorism. In the absence of an international convention suppressing terrorism, the regional blocs from around the world including but not limited to; the European Union, the Organization of American States, the African Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have developed regional conventions suppressing terrorism. These regional conventions “may not be the best solution to the suppression of terrorism, however, they are worthwhile as a deterrent and an exhibition of states’ desire to cooperate against the problems created by terrorism.” The United Nations has a limited but promising record in dealing with the problem of international terrorism. Its capacities in these areas should be enhanced. Terrorism is not just a military problem: it will require a wide range of policy responses in order to limit the financing of terrorism and the harboring of terrorism, among other things.

Disarmament and Non-proliferation

The atomic bombs dropped (1945) on Japan by the United States in World War II demonstrated the overwhelming destructive potential of nuclear weapons and the threat to humanity posed by the possibility of nuclear war and led to calls for controls on or elimination of such weapons.

Public Pressure
Some of the scientists who helped make the bomb started the Union of Concerned Scientists, and since then many public groups have formed to campaign for disarmament, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the United Kingdom, SANE and the Nuclear Freeze in the United States, and the worldwide Physicians for Social Responsibility. In addition, many local antiwar, ecological, and women's groups have focused on nuclear issues. Disarmament advocates have used political campaigns, mass rallies, blockades of facilities where weapons are manufactured or stored, and even attacks on nuclear weapons themselves, called “ploughshare actions.” Disarmament groups have long opposed nuclear testing, beginning with the protests leading up to the Moscow Agreement of 1963, a partial test ban. More recently, the international ecological group Greenpeace has tried to disrupt French nuclear testing in the Pacific, and there have been coordinated protest campaigns against testing in Kazakhstan and in Nevada.


A guided missile is a self-propelled, unmanned space or air vehicle carrying an explosive warhead. Its path can be adjusted during flight, either by automatic self-contained controls or remote human control. Guided missiles are powered either by rocket engines or by jet propulsion. The American, R. H. Goddard, did important early work on rocket, but guided missiles were first developed in their military form by the Germans in World War II. They have become the key strategic weapon of modern warfare and a crucial, and much used, tactical weapon. Guided missiles are of various types and ranges; long-range missiles generally have nuclear warheads, while short-range missiles usually have high-explosive warheads. Aerodynamic missiles are of four types. Surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles supplement antiaircraft guns and are often guided by self-contained controls that detect and target the missile toward heat or electronic sources. Air-to-surface missiles, launched by aircraft against ground positions, are often radio-controlled. Surface-to-surface missiles (including ship and submarine launched versions) include many different types. All long-range missiles are ballistic; the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) can reach targets up to 1,500 nautical miles away, while the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has a range of many thousands of miles. The first operational U.S. ICBM, the Atlas D, was controlled by radio, but since then inertial guidance, which uses internal gyroscopes to calculate and correct direction has been used. The key U.S. offensive ballistic missiles are the Minutemen ICBMs, which are launched from silos, and the submarine-launched Tridents, which replaced the earlier Polaris and Poseidon. All currently deployed ballistic missiles can be equipped with Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), which permit one booster to carry several warheads, each guided to a separate target. The Soviet Union completed the first operative ICBMs in 1958, and the United States, reacting to a supposed “missile gap,” gained overwhelming missile superiority by 1962, which in terms of accuracy and payload it never relinquished. Offensive and defensive ballistic missiles have been regulated by a number of arms control agreements between the United States and the former USSR.

Cruise missiles are low-flying, continuously powered offensive missiles designed to evade defense systems. The cruise missile did not realize its potential until the 1970s, when the United States sought to develop a relatively inexpensive method for delivering weapons over long distances with pinpoint accuracy. The missile, which flies at altitudes of about 50 ft (15 m), has a range of up to 2,000 mi (3,200 km). It uses internally stored computerized maps of its route to follow the contour of the terrain and can deliver conventional or nuclear weapons. In its various modifications, it can be launched from aircraft, ships, or ground installations against land or naval targets.

International treaties/agreements

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