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Farewell to WMD: the language and science of mass destruction

Farewell to WMD: the language and science of mass destruction
Farewell to WMD: the language and science of mass destruction
This article critically assesses the ongoing use of the term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) in policy and academic discourse. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are commonly lumped together as WMD, but such conflation is misleading from a technological viewpoint and renders the term vulnerable to political manipulation. There are important scientific and strategic differences between weapon types, and glossing over these leads to confusion in accurately assessing and effectively addressing threats of mass destruction. WMD-based language obscures the paramount threat of nuclear weapons, exaggerates the destructive power of chemical weapons, and is unhelpful or counterproductive when used in the context of biological weapons. In the areas of deterrence, defence, and non-proliferation, WMD-based language can mischaracterize the challenges that are uniquely associated with each weapon type, and this potentially generates adverse security consequences flowing from the implementation of inadequate or misdirected countermeasures. The article concludes that it would be both desirable and feasible to abandon the term ‘WMD’.
1352-3260
382-400
Enemark, Christian
004b6521-f1bb-426a-a37b-686c6a8061f6
Enemark, Christian
004b6521-f1bb-426a-a37b-686c6a8061f6

Enemark, Christian (2011) Farewell to WMD: the language and science of mass destruction. Contemporary Security Policy, 32 (2), 382-400. (doi:10.1080/13523260.2011.590362).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article critically assesses the ongoing use of the term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) in policy and academic discourse. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are commonly lumped together as WMD, but such conflation is misleading from a technological viewpoint and renders the term vulnerable to political manipulation. There are important scientific and strategic differences between weapon types, and glossing over these leads to confusion in accurately assessing and effectively addressing threats of mass destruction. WMD-based language obscures the paramount threat of nuclear weapons, exaggerates the destructive power of chemical weapons, and is unhelpful or counterproductive when used in the context of biological weapons. In the areas of deterrence, defence, and non-proliferation, WMD-based language can mischaracterize the challenges that are uniquely associated with each weapon type, and this potentially generates adverse security consequences flowing from the implementation of inadequate or misdirected countermeasures. The article concludes that it would be both desirable and feasible to abandon the term ‘WMD’.

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More information

e-pub ahead of print date: 26 August 2011
Organisations: Politics & International Relations

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 400209
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/400209
ISSN: 1352-3260
PURE UUID: 96ee3798-8efc-4a2b-918d-fb8ed0a4a5d1
ORCID for Christian Enemark: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-1833-0927

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 22 Sep 2016 13:15
Last modified: 08 Jan 2022 03:29

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