Weapons of Mass Confusion: Assessing the True Risks

author: Kosta Tsipis, The Hellenic Resources Institute
author: Philip Morrison
author: Owen Coté Jr., Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Steven E. Miller, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
published: May 7, 2012,   recorded: October 2003,   views: 2820

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Panelists gathered for this discussion agree that when setting weapons policy it is counterproductive to lump weapons together. The dangers from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons need to understood individually. Owen Cote says nuclear weapons, with their large-scale production process and instant lethal capacity, belong in one category, and biological and chemical weapons – easy to fabricate but difficult to manipulate – belong in another. Cote recommends securing Cold War nuclear stockpiles, and isn’t sanguine about “running down” biological or chemical agents. Jeanne Guillemin describes the historic taboo against the use of biological weapons. Although military strategists realized early on they could not “target clouds of microbes,” the Cold War enabled significant programs for agents like anthrax and tularemia. While there is a threat from such weapons, Guillemin believes their “fright value” is behind billions in homeland security programs that constitute “a tremendous distraction from more central issues.”

Steven Miller details a sea change in national policy under the Bush Administration, away from arms control and toward unilateral offense and defense, based on the argument that “we face a gaggle of rogue states and terrorists” who cannot be threatened in a retaliatory way. Miller says we’re already getting mixed results pursuing this policy – Saddam’s gone, but North Korea represents a dangerous situation. Philip Morrison calls for a return to deterrence.

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