WMD

Facts

Americans once braced for nuclear war by hiding under desks, but even that thin sense of security doesn't get you far in today's world, where enemies transcend traditional boundaries and technology opens borders to a degree not even imaginable in the science fiction novels of the previous generation. (Scared yet?) Below is a brief outline of how much scary stuff is out there, how it would get delivered, and the treaties and organizations that aim to keep WMD in check.

Who's got WMD

Countries with WMD capability (with an X)

Country

Nuclear

Chemical*

Biological

Albania

-

X (declared)

-

China

X

X

X

Egypt

-

X

X

France

X

-

-

India

X

X (declared)

-

Iran

X (suspected development)

X

X

Israel

X

X

X

Libya

-

X (declared)

-

North Korea

X

X

X

Pakistan

X

-

-

Russia

X

X (declared)

X

South Korea

-

X (declared)

-

Syria

X

X

UK

X

-

-

US

X

X (declared)

-

*Countries with declared chemical programs have agreed to dismantle those programs. Source: Carnegie

Where all the nukes are

Country

Number

Deployment

Range

China

400

Mainland, aircraft, submarine

Up to 8,000 miles

France

350

Mainland, aircraft, submarine

Up to 4,000 miles

India

250-400

Mainland, aircraft

Currently up to 1,000 miles (developing range of 3,500 miles)

Iran

0

Mainland

Currently up to 350 miles (developing range of 1,250 miles)

Israel

100-200

Mainland, aircraft

Currently up to 950 miles (developing range of 1,550 miles)

North Korea

1-18?

Mainland

Currently up to 800 miles (developing range of 3,000 miles)

Pakistan

30-50

Mainland

Currently up to 60 miles (developing range of 1,550 miles)

Russia

8,600

Mainland, aircraft, submarine, ship-based

Up to 7,000 miles

United Kingdom

200

Submarine

Up to 4,500 miles

United States

10,650

Mainland, aircraft, submarine, ship-based

Up to 8,000 miles

Source: NTI - NRDC

Countries that could make a bomb if they really wanted to

Including the countries listed above, 36 countries worldwide operate nuclear power plants. According to the director of the IAEA, each of those countries has the material or means to develop nuclear weapons if they chose to break the Non-Proliferation Treaty (CBS). Click here for a complete list - IAEA

Delivery Methods

Nuclear Weapons – Six countries have the means to deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft, five countries have nuclear capable submarines and three have nuclear capable missiles that can reach global targets.

  • “Dirty Bombs” are explosive devices mixed with radioactive material, that can contaminate an area of a square mile or greater, depending on the size and location of explosion.

  • Short, intermediate and intercontinental missiles – 24 countries possess short and intermediate range missiles capable of reaching targets across Europe, Africa and Asia and are also capable of carrying chemical and biological warheads.

  • “Suitcase nukes” are nuclear devices that the Soviet Union is believed to have developed during the Cold War that can literally fit inside a suitcase and could cause upwards to 100,000 deaths if detonated in a densely populated urban area. Despite Russian denial of such weapons, some analysts argue that anywhere from 12-100 of these weapons may exist.

Chemical Weapons - There are six categories of chemical weapons ranging from non-lethal tear gas used on rioting crowds to nerve gas that can kill in seconds. The other categories include blood, blister and pulmonary agents that have the potential to kill or debilitate an individual.

  • Aerosol delivery – The most effective means of delivering a chemical weapon would be in a tightly confined and poorly ventilated area or else the material would easily disperse and cause minimal to no damage.

Biological Weapons - Biological weapons, otherwise known as germ warfare, use bacteria or viruses to kill or incapacitate an enemy. One of the most common is anthrax, though obtaining and delivering an effective dose is difficult. Other forms include cholera, Ebola, smallpox and yellow fever. (Fun historical note: if you're a Monty Python fan, you'll know that biological weapons have been around for a while. During sieges in the Middle Ages, armies were known to catapult dead diseased bodies over city walls to infect their enemies within. PBS

  • Aerosol delivery – Like chemical weapons, biological weapons are most effectively delivered in a tightly confined and poorly ventilated area. Because biological weapons are “alive”, the trick to spreading them is to make sure they don't die or go permanently dormant before they hit their target. This is not easy.

  • Infected Passenger – A more effective way to spread disease is to do it the old fashioned way – from person to person. Terrorists could infect an individual with a biological agent such as smallpox before boarding a flight; after infecting others on the plane it could spread quickly on the ground.

International Treaties and Organizations

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – Created in 1957, the IAEA monitors the use of nuclear energy (including weapons programs and disarmament) and releases reports on their findings. The agency has 138 member states, but lacks enforcement capabilities for members and non-members. For example, North Korea withdrew in 1994 and Iran has refused the IAEA full access to their nuclear sites.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – Created in 1968, and since joined by 189 countries, the NPT works toward non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Under the treaty, only the US, UK France, Russia and China are entitled to have nuclear weapons but cannot transfer that technology to any other country. There is no enforcement power under the treaty, so, for example, nothing prevented North Korea from withdrawing in 2003. See FAS and CEIP for more info. Also see Carnegie for more on other nuclear weapons treaties.

Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – Created in 1993, and since joined by 170 countries, the CWC prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. By 2005, 12,000 of the 71,000 tons of declared agents have been destroyed, 25% of the declared weapons have been dismantled and 51 of the 64 declared production facilities have been dismantled or converted to commercial use. Despite the success, the CWC has no enforcement capabilities over undeclared programs of which some analysts claim could easily equal the declared programs.

Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – Created in 1972, and since joined by 169 member states, the BWC prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons (oddly, unlike the CWC there is no provision in the treaty that bans the use of such weapons, but fortunately the member states acknowledge the inherent prohibition). Just like the other treaties, the BWC has no enforcement powers, and though all member states that had developed biological weapons programs cancelled and began to dismantle their programs, some issues involving medical research have recently come up (for example – in order to develop vaccines and prevention in the event of an attack, the biological components must be used).

Prevention

Relax . . . we know you're weighing the option of spending the rest of your life in a fallout shelter right now, but the future isn't that grim. In the first place, both chemical and biological weapons are very difficult to deliver effectively. In fact, as an instrument of terror, chemical weapons have only been used successfully once - in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in which some 6,000 individuals were exposed resulting in just a dozen deaths. Similarly, biological agents have only been used twice in the US, once in 1984 when food was poisoned with salmonella resulting in some 900 sicknesses but no deaths and the infamous anthrax attacks following 9/11 that killed only five (compared to the 5,000 that die every year from non-terrorist food poisoning). NIH

While some detection and preventative steps have been taken to detect hazardous or nuclear materials such as sensors in Boston and Washington subways and mobile radiological detectors, some security analysts still worry that many risks have not properly been assessed. For example, all fifty states have increased first response capabilities in the event an attack does occur, but little to no progress has been made regarding the protection of facilities that house or produce such hazardous materials. Continue reading about prevention here (HOTLINK) on our Homeland Security special report page.

Where the facts are from:

Also see a thorough report on the state of proliferation and terrorism from Congressional Quarterly.

Facts pulled together by Steven Cytryn. Summer 2005.

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This is a great breakdown

This is a great breakdown of WMD's amongst modern countries. It is an interesting point that Iran apparently has been getting nuclear material from Russia. Iran used to have a heavy water production facility which was used to create fissible material as well. It will be interesting to see how the world will react if Iran is able to produce a nuclear weapon in the next 5 years...I hope the U.S. doesn't attack them as this would destabalize the region even further.

 

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Frank

frankb344 | March 27, 2009 - 6:56pm