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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.

The types of weapons traditionally considered to be in this class are referred to as NBC weapons:

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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

Weapons of mass destruction are used to justify the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against "rogue states".

New technological threats

New technologies such as genetics, proteomics, molecular engineering, artificial intelligence and robotics led to new concerns. Robotics and (limited) artificial intelligence have been used in war, in particular by the United States. Proteomics and genetics have both been used in research into new chemical and biological weapons - again, the US has led the way here, researching "crowd control" chemical weapons that are permitted under the relevant treaties, and also pursuing "defensive" research into biological weapons. Molecular engineering has yet to be used in warfare, but has yet to be used in anything besides research into molecular engineering.

Supported by these concerns, some claim "NBC" weapons should now include genetic, proteomic, robotic and AI threats as well.

For example, one concern met with each of the "NBC" types is that the different treaties applicable had legal loopholes, due to confusion about the line between chemical and biological weapons (e.g. prions which are not organisms but simple single-molecule proteins, and could thereby be considered either chemical or biological), and the spread of "dual use" technology through commercial channels that could easily be put to military use.

Another concern was that most "NBC" treaties predated the ability to DNA-sequence and genetically modify biological entities (to be, make or carry poisonous substances, virus or prion), e.g. altering the well-understood e. coli bacterium to generate prions).[1] (http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/biowarfare.cfm)

Impact of new technologies of mass destruction

Some of these technologies could have impacts far beyond a single generation of the human species in one place on Earth, and so are generally considered to be wholly inappropriate for conflict between nation-states. The only use of such weapons seems to be threatening human extinction (as North Korea began to do starting early in 2003) or mutual assured destruction of an opponent who attacks first - perhaps including other populations innocent in the conflict.

Miniaturization, mastery of genomes and proteomes, and adaptive software, all seem to have the potential to be combined to create pseudo-life-forms that may compete successfully with natural life. Indeed, some scientists in the artificial life field believe it is desirable to do so. The dangers of these technologies in combination, and of loss of human control over biological or robotic runaways, is a major reason that the United Nations seek to control their spread, especially to non-state actors[?] such as terrorist groups, that typically have no population to defend, and so can be quite reckless, and are not concerned with the threat of retaliation against a nation.

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:

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