The US Legal Code (50 US Code § 2302) defines weapons of mass destruction as “any weapon or device that is intended, or has the capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release, dissemination, or impact of—(A) toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors; (B) a disease organism; or (C) radiation or radioactivity.”
For most people, exposure to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) comes through pop culture, through vehicles like the song “Chemical Warfare” by the thrash metal band Slayer, the nuclear Armageddon scenario of the Terminator movies, or the Umbrella Corporation’s bio-engineered zombies in the Resident Evil franchise. There is something about WMD that speaks to the apocalyptic imagination that provides constant fodder for the entertainment industry. WMD have even become a vehicle for satire, as the critically acclaimed Stanley Kubric film Dr Strangelove and the less high-brow movie Team America illustrate.
This popular culture meme draws its power from the real-life terror from events like the mustard gas attacks on the Western front during World War I, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and Washington anthrax attacks of 2002.
So what are weapons of mass destruction? What are the physical, political, economic and psychological impacts of their use? What is their purpose and strategic rationale? How have they been deployed in the past? And how is their use governed in international law?
I addressed these questions in a guest lecture for the first year undergraduate subject States, Security and International Relations (POL1SNS) at La Trobe University on Monday 29th April, 2013.
Special thanks to States, Security and International Relations coordinator Dr Jonathan Symons for the invitation to present this lecture, and to the POL1SNS student cohort for their warm reception.
International conventions governing the use of WMD: