War has been a driving factor in human existence since the dawn of time, it has always been with us. War has influenced science as well, it has forced the development of weapons, from the first bone clubs which let man rise to the top of the food chain, to the complex and highly destructive weapons of today. This century has seen the most development in the technology of warfare since the combination of sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter resulted in gunpowder. For the first time in history weapons of mass destruction have been developed and used in a limited fashion. Limited only due to the initial crudeness of the weapon and lack of effective delivery systems. This is now changing, as more and more nations develop them, it is now only a matter of time before they are used in a total warfare situation. Weapons of mass destruction have three categories; the oldest being biological weapons; followed by chemical weapons, which were first used in the beginning of the century; and the newest being nuclear weapons. More and more of the worlds nations have either already developed or are capable of developing weapons of mass destruction, and with the fall of the Soviet Union the threat of theft of these weapons has increased exponentially. One factor that has always hampered the use of weapons of mass destruction is the lack of availability of effective delivery systems for them, in recent years such systems have dramatically improved in range, accuracy, and efficiency. The future will not be limited to the current weapons of mass destruction, as more are added the threat of their widespread use increases as well.
Weapons of mass destruction are generally known to be any weapon who’s destructive capabilities are far greater than conventional explosives or firearms. Since their power is vastly superior than conventional weapons, and their method of achieving their power often different than conventional weapons, the manner in which they are delivered to the target area must also be different than conventional weapons. The first recorded use a chemical weapon in a war was in 600 BC. When Solon, the legislator of the Athenians, contaminated the River Pleisthenes with hellebores (skunk cabbage) to give the defenders of Kirrha violent diarrhea leading to their defeat (Nicholas). Chemical weapon use peaked during the first World War, when mustard gas was a devastatingly effective battlefield weapon being thrown into a targeted area with artillery shells and grenades. This method of delivery however is quite problematic, for it to work, the offensive force must be in relatively close quarters to the enemy. This can lead to a counterattack or preemptive strike, and then factors such as the weather must be taken into consideration when using many chemical weapons, if it is a rainy or foggy day, the chemical agent will not spread effectively, and if the winds change, its possible that the attack could backfire on the assaulting force. The first recorded uses of biological weapons were during the medieval times, when cadavers were catapulted over castle and fortress walls, or placed in streams that supplied the victims population. Disease would soon spread unchecked amongst the targeted population (Nicholas). Again, the method of delivery was inefficient, because of problems such as; the assaulting force infecting itself with disease, and again the proximity to the enemy. Today, biological weapons are transported in canisters that hold the virii and germs, rather than in corpses, and the capabilities of current biological weapons are incredible, from the amount of time it takes to spread, to the length of time it takes for the disease to run its course and complete the task it was designed to. Chemical and biological weapons have not been used in any major conflict since the first World War. One reason for this is the horrifying brutality and efficiency of such weapons, another reason, is the lack of satisfactory delivery system. This began to change during the second World War, when the German military were effectively using V1 and V2 missiles to carry conventional explosives, during World War II further steps were taken with the V3, a missile that was in the early stages of development at the end of the war, if allowed to of been completed, it would of been the first true intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The Soviet Union was able to take this step, when it created the R-7 rocket(FIG 1, Appendix C), the first missile to enter space, and also the first missile with enough range to attack North America from the former Soviet Union. The R-7 rocket was primarily designed to carry nuclear weapons, but later itself, and those missiles that came after it were also capable of carrying biological or chemical weapons. With the advent of advanced missile and rocket technologies a relatively cheap, effective, and now today, highly accurate delivery system for chemical and biological weapons is available to any nation or group with enough funding to purchase or build such a missile.
Similar problems at one point hampered the effective use of nuclear weapons. At the dawn of the nuclear age, the only means of delivering any type of nuclear weapon was by bomber. This method of delivery also had its problems, bomber aircraft are generally large vehicles, and before the advent of stealth technology, were easily detected, and so they were easy targets for opposing air defense systems. Also, as the strength of nuclear weapons grew, the ability of the bombing aircraft to escape the blast was greatly diminished. As missile technology was developed and applied to nuclear weapons, overall effectiveness of the weapon was increased. Also, by placing the nuclear weapons on missiles, the human factor in the weapons delivery was slightly diminished. A problem that has always accompanied nuclear weapons has been the human factor, whether or not the pilot or bombardier were actually willing to detonate a nuclear weapon with full knowledge of the weapons devastating effects. In a nuclear conflict, targets are broadly divided into two categories: counterforce and countervalue. Counterforce targets are the weapons of the opponent, while countervalue targets are objects that are socially and strategically important to the opponent; for example, its cities, industrial plants, and population(Cold War). Before advanced missile technology it was impossible to launch an assault solely on counterforce targets, which meant that a nuclear exchange would mean irreparable damage to the societies of the included parties. This added to the horrifying effect of nuclear weapons, and drove the powers to develop larger and more powerful weapons that had destructive capabilities in the tens of megatons(Cold War). However, with the missile technology of today, a single one megaton weapon can be guided within millimeters of its target, making an attack solely on an opponent’s counterforce targets possible, thereby limiting civilian casualties on both sides; on the victims side by the fact that civilians are less of a target, and in the attacking country because it has destroyed much of its opponents ability to strike back. It is with this missile technology that comes the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction, whether they be nuclear, chemical or biological. These relatively cheap delivery systems allow opposing forces to launch attacks from any location on the planet, and be hidden, or a safe distance away from the repercussions of their actions. It is weapon delivery systems such as these that make it easier for countries to destroy each other, with the push of a button, an armada of missiles can be launched to attack any targets quickly, and so this technology brings the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction by any force in the world, whether it be a developing nation, or a member of the G-8.
As the standard of living increases all over the world, so do the technological abilities of individual countries. When one thinks about weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons are usually the first ones thought about. It is true that they deliver the most physical damage when compared to chemical and biological weapons, and they have received more public attention than other weapons of mass destruction. However, since of the three main types of weapons of mass destruction, a nuclear weapon is the most difficult to construct. The simplest weapon of mass destruction to create is a chemical weapon. These can easily be created in small batches for use by terrorist organizations, or other nations, as demonstrated by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult’s use of sarin nerve gas on the Japanese subway system(Exploration). If a mere cult can create and effectively use chemical weapons, imagine what the possibilities are if more countries, or groups decide to follow this path.
Biological weapons are also relativity easy to create. A very basic biological weapon would only need be comprised of any easily commutable virus or bacterium to be cultured and released upon the target population. This would however be a very crude weapon, and not very effective if used on a massive scale (for example, in an attack against a well developed country). Most advanced biological weapons are variants, or mutations of other diseases. For example, many biological weapons are based on anthrax. This is due to the diseases natural potency, and ease of transmission (it can either be absorbed through the skin, or inhaled). The ease at which biological weapons can be created can be illustrated by the fact that most modern well furnished hospitals are equipped with all the required elements; the technology to contain and culture the organism, and easy access to any organisms that the patients may have contracted(FAQ). Biological weapons have never been used successfully in a large scale modern war, but their effectiveness can be shown by the effects of the explosion of a suspected biological weapons plant in the city of Sverdlovsk (in the former USSR) where thousands of people were killed in 1979 by an anthrax epidemic(Nicholas). The ease at which biological weapons can be created, coupled with their extreme effectiveness gives a near guarantee that they will be used in a large scale conflict where the results will be catastrophic. According to studies, if biological weapons were used against the Untied States of America, there would only be enough medical supplies (namely penicillin) to treat just under one third of its population.
Nuclear weapons, although more complex and costly than the aforementioned weapons, they are considered to be the most frightening weapon of mass destruction, because of their immediate and thorough physical destruction. Nuclear weapons are considered to be the pinnacle of destructive force, and many countries would like to join the “nuclear club”(FIG 2, Appendix C). Possessing nuclear armament is the only effective method of defense against them, fear of a MAD war (Mutually Assured Destruction) keeps countries at bay. More countries wish to develop nuclear weapons, usually to use as a deterrent against nuclear force being used against them. Unfortunately, as more and more countries develop these weapons, the greater the risk of their use. Fortunately the capability of a country to develop these weapons can be observed to a degree. This is due to the required elements to create a nuclear weapon, primarily fuel. It requires a nuclear reactor to create weapons grade plutonium. Two countries that recently made headlines for creating nuclear arsenals are the rival countries of Pakistan and India. To ensure that these weapons are not used, more countries must follow the lead of South Africa (FIG 2, Appendix C) and relinquish their arsenals, and sign nuclear free, and non-proliferation treaties.
The cold war was a time of massive weapons stockpiling, and preparing for a conflict of unimaginable force, in essence, Armageddon. Both super powers began extensive development of all forms of weapons of mass destruction. Both sides enmassed incredible amounts of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons(FIG 3, Appendix C); despite bans against chemical and biological weapons. Unfortunately, the breakup of the former Soviet Union caused there to be several gaps in the security of their stockpile of weapons. Fortunately, all former Soviet states, apart from Russia have relinquished their arsenals. However, Russia no longer has the funds available to put the weapons under proper lock and key, and the cost of dismantling Russia’s chemical weapons alone would be over ten billion dollars (US)(CNN Post Script). The country does not have the ability to properly protect these weapons from theft, and does not have the funding to destroy them. It is only a matter of time before a glitch in the system occurs, and some weapons disappear, only to be found at the time of use. In Russia, there have been over 11 attempted thefts of uranium and 900 attempts at illegal entry at nuclear facilities(CNN Post Script). Also, an ex-member of Borris Yeltsins administration, Alexei Yablokov was quoted saying “the (Russian) military might simply have no record of some of the portable nuclear bombs”. This total lack of knowledge of the weapons would make it impossible to make sure that they were accounted for and secured. Until all Russian weapons of mass destruction are catalogued and properly protected, the threat of a terrorist group, or hostile country acquiring these weapons remains high.
The development of new forms of weapons of mass destruction is an ongoing task, and not always intentional. Where the nuclear bomb was created first for the purpose of destruction, other technologies are being researched for civil means, that may later have militaristic value, turning scientists that are trying to better humanity into creators of weapons more powerful than anything else ever seen. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb once said “I am not an evil man, but I have done evil things” in reference to creating the nuclear bomb. Will other future scientists feel the same way? Unfortunately, the answer is inevitably yes. No matter what the intentions of the research, if there is the potential for a new weapon, it will be exploited. There are currently two new forms of weapons of mass destruction on the drawing board. One seems as if it is out of science fiction, namely the “Star Trek” series of shows and movies. This being an antimatter weapon. Antimatter has successfully been created in particle accelerators, where the particle of antimatter is then collided with “normal” matter. The results of this collision are that the particles annihilate each other. In this processes, and incredible amount of energy is released. If and when sufficient amounts of antimatter can be created to comprise a bomb, or warhead, it would be as exponentially more powerful to nuclear weapons as nuclear weapons were to conventional explosives(FIG 4, Appendix C). Another weapon of mass destruction would be a kinetic kill weapon. Such a weapon would work by accelerating any material that could withstand the intense heat created by fast travel through the atmosphere to incredible speeds, then making it impact the target. The theory behind this form of weapon is the same as when the planet is struck by another object (meteorite or comet). The sheer speed of the matter is what gives it its destructive capabilities. One type of kinetic kill weapon being designed is a mass driver. Such weapons, if launched from an acceptable altitude could have the same explosive effects of a nuclear weapon, but without the side effects, such as radioactive fallout, or an electromagnetic pulse. Both of these forms of weapons would increase the overall threat of use of weapons of mass destruction, and two forms of weapons would be particularly powerful, and so must be strictly controlled to ensure overall global safety.
It is clear that weapons of mass destruction are a major threat to all that live. As the methods of delivery increase in numbers and in effenciency, so does the threat of use of these weapons. The same is true with the sheer number of weapons, the more weapons that are in existence, the greater chance that one or more will be used in a global conflict. As well, to ensure that these weapons do not fall into the hands that would use them recklessly, the entire stock pile of the former USSR must be placed under heavy guard, and or destroyed. As these advances occur, the threat of use of a weapon of mass destruction increases exponentially. To safeguard humanity, this trend must be stopped.
Appendix A – Technical Terms and General Information
All BOLDED terms defined here
Within the body of the essay, the term “target population” is often used when describing a weapon of mass destructions target. This is so, due to the fact that weapons of mass destruction cannot be totally limited. No matter where they are targeted, their destructive capabilities are so great that there will be significant civilian losses.
MAD – The term for a Mutually Assured Destruction. This term was placed where two rival countries had the capability to completely destroy each other. The basis of MAD is on retaliation from a nuclear strike, resulting in the destruction of both countries.
Antimatter – Antimatter is a form of matter in which each of the particles that compose ordinary matter: the proton, neutron, and electron is replaced by its corresponding antiparticle, that is, the antiproton, antineutron, and positron, respectively. Antiparticles have the same mass and spin as their respective particles, but they have opposite values of such electromagnetic properties as charge and magnetic moment.
Mass Driver – A device also know as a rail gun. Using a series of super electromagnets, a piece of metal is accelerated to incredible speeds.
Electromagnetic Pulse – Otherwise known as an EMP. An EMP is a pulse of magnetic energy that is released as a side effect of a nuclear detonation. It will destroy the circuitry of any electronic device that is turned on when the pulse hits.
Appendix B – Historical Data
All essay terms in ITALICS appear here
V1 – The V1 rocket, or vengeance weapon was the first guided missile. It was developed by the Germans and used extensively during the second World War. It had a range of approximately 150 miles. Thousands of these missiles were launched against Britain from occupied France.
V2 – The V2 was another more advanced form of guided missile. When compared to the V1, the V2 had much better range (almost 300 miles) and was more accurate. Even more fascinating about it was the fact that it traveled faster than any other aircraft in the war. While V1s could be intercepted by fighters, there was nothing fast enough to catch the V2, it moved so fast that it often got to its target zone undetected.
V3 – The first attempt at a true ICBM, the V3 was a missile that was under development at the end of the war. It was to be the weapon that the German military could use to strike back at Canada and the United States.
R-7 rocket – The R7 was the first true ICBM. It was created in the Soviet Union with the help of ex-German scientists. This was the first missile to be able to reach the United States from Europe. It was also the launch vehicle for the early Russian space program, where it launched the first satellite, dog, and human into space.