Tuesday, April 22, 2008

WMD aren't what they used to be...

An 18-year-old accused of planning to bomb his high school in South Carolina will be charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction... (see link below). In 2006 this blogger bemoaned the promiscuous use of the term WMD (see reprint below), the unfortunate trend continues...

Prosecutor says S.C. student to face WMD charge

OPED 43 WMD - reprint from 05/11/06

Ahh, the good old days when one could know what "weapons of mass destruction" really were... Post WWII the term WMD started off as nuclear weapons, but was then extended to include chemical, biological, and then radiological weapons. However, in the U.S. over the past decade the legal list of what constitutes "WMD" has been greatly expanded. US Code Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 113B Section 2332a spells out the penalties for anyone who uses, or threatens, attempts, or conspires to use, a weapon of mass destruction. It goes on to define "WMD":

"The term “weapon of mass destruction” means
  • (A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
  • (B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
  • (C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
  • (D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life."
Section 921 lists firearms, destructive devices (further defined as any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas— (i) bomb, (ii) grenade, (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces, (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce, (v) mine, or (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses), shotguns, rifles, antique firearms, handguns, semiautomatic assault weapons, etc.

Under 2332a's more expansive definition prosecutors have brought charges, and secured convictions, for the use of "WMD" in multiple cases, including offenses involving truck bombs, pipe bombs, shoe bombs, cactus needles coated with botulin toxin, etc., etc. More recently, this was one count against Zacarias Moussaoui in his conviction and sentencing...

Once, nuclear weapons were in a class by themselves and their use was virtually unthinkable. Now, and going forward, there is a real danger that they could become just another tool in the available arsenal of weapons. First, by conflating nuclear weapons with explosives over a quarter ounce in "WMD", you dilute "top of mind" awareness re WMD. This is further weakened as politicians play fast and loose with the term "WMD." And for some inexplicable reason there are many in the administration that seem hell-bent on pushing the possible use of nuclear weapons as the answer to what to do about caves or fortified bunkers... (think RNEP). The very first time a nuclear weapon is used against a natural formation or man-made bunkers it will sound the death knell for non-proliferation efforts worldwide!

What we should be doing is maintaining nuclear weapons apart and in a special place, both in language and in metaphor; avoiding things like the RNEP that will transform the use of nuclear weapons from quasi-unthinkable to just a "bigger bomb" that everyone needs; and continuing the drawdown of existing stockpiles. The U.S. should also encourage Britain and France to decommission their nukes... why exactly do these two countries need to maintain their nuclear forces?? Truth be told, the only rational reason that Britain & France maintain nuclear weapons is for reasons of national prestige, exactly why some of the non-nuclear countries desire "WMD". Worldwide efforts to ensure non-proliferation would receive a boost, as would the NPT After all, this was an implicit part of the "quid pro quo" entered into by the nuclear "haves" and "have-nots" (Article VI) in 1968.

1 comment:

  1. Cool. Apparently I can now brag that I've manufactured a WMD— since a spud gun, crazy as it is, seems to clearly fit that language so long as its used as a weapon. (Though— I'm not quite clear on the statutory definition of a weapon)