Weapon of mass destruction  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is a weapon that can kill large numbers of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures (e.g. buildings), natural structures (e.g. mountains), or the biosphere in general. The scope and application of the term has evolved and been disputed, often signifying more politically than technically. Coined in reference to aerial bombing with chemical explosives, it has come to distinguish large-scale weaponry of other technologies, such as chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear. This differentiates the term from more technnical ones such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons (CRBN).

Evolution of its use

During the Cold War, the term "weapons of mass destruction" was primarily a reference to nuclear weapons. At the time, in the West the euphemism "strategic weapons" was used to refer to the American nuclear arsenal. However, there is no precise definition of the "strategic" category, neither considering range nor yield of the nuclear weapon.

Subsequent to Operation Opera, the destruction of a pre-operational nuclear reactor inside Iraq by the Israeli Air Force in 1981, the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, countered criticism by saying that "on no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel." This policy of pre-emptive action against real or perceived weapons of mass destruction became known as the Begin Doctrine.

The term "weapons of mass destruction" continued to see periodic use, usually in the context of nuclear arms control; Ronald Reagan used it during the 1986 Reykjavík Summit, when referring to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, used the term in a 1989 speech to the United Nations, primarily in reference to chemical arms.

The end of the Cold War reduced U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent, causing it to shift its focus to disarmament. With the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs became a particular concern of the first Bush Administration. Following the war, Bill Clinton and other western politicians and media continued to use the term, usually in reference to ongoing attempts to dismantle Iraq's weapons programs.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks and the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, an increased fear of nonconventional weapons and asymmetric warfare took hold in many countries. The fear reached a crescendo with the 2002 Iraq disarmament crisis and the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that became the primary justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq; however, American forces found none in Iraq. They found old stockpiles of chemical munitions including sarin and mustard agents, but all were considered to be unusable because of corrosion or degradation. Iraq, however, declared a chemical weapons stockpile in 2009 which U.N. personnel had secured after the 1991 Gulf War. The stockpile contained mainly chemical precursors, but some munitions remained usable.

Because of its prolific use and (worldwide) public profile during this period, the American Dialect Society voted "weapons of mass destruction" (and its abbreviation, "WMD") the word of the year in 2002, and in 2003 Lake Superior State University added WMD to its list of terms banished for "Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness" (and "as a card that trumps all forms of aggression").

In its criminal complaint against the main suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing of 15 April 2013, the FBI refers to a pressure-cooker improvised bomb as a "weapon of mass destruction."




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Weapon of mass destruction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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