If the goal is really to curtail weapons of mass destruction

by Andy Oram

War suddenly seems very close, closer that it has seemed for
years. All over the Internet, as in the mainstream media,
people find themselves compelled to speak about the upcoming
war and all its ramifications, regardless of their stations
in life or their formal qualifications.

It's not an issue anyone can simply ignore in pursuing
day-to-day work, and I find I cannot ignore it here, even
though this space is supposed to be devoted to technology.
Anyway, the issue is technology. The question on
the table concerns the most important technology ever
invented: weapons of mass destruction. How are thoughtful
people to prevent their development and use?

The barrage of daily news is so blinding that we must step
far, far back in order to get a clear perspective. We can
at least take a look at the most
familiar and public part of the history of WMD: the history of nuclear weapons,
which uncannily resembles the old Tom Lehrer song "Who's
Next?" For a long time the world was used to five nuclear
countries; then it was revealed that Israel had been quietly
building up a huge arsenal, after which Pakistan and India
tested bombs, and now there are grave worries concerning
Iraq and North Korea. South Africa dismantled its nuclear

The historical perspective is valuable because it shows that
a focus on Iraq, or even George W. Bush's favorite "axis of
evil" states, oversimplifies and trivializes the problem.
Nuclear proliferation (a decade after many of us thought the
danger was winding down) has become a worldwide crisis.
Chemical and biological weapons have followed similar
trajectories, though with more perturbations.

In the grand scheme of things, taking out Iraq rates a very
low priority--hardly worth even considering. And this would
be true even if the task were relatively cost-free.

Even if we weren't looking at thousands of combat deaths, at
potentially millions of civilians killed through destruction
of social infrastructure, at the risk of increasing
terrorism and cutting down the few possibilities for civil
discussion, at the hundreds of billions of dollars
intervention could cost and the effects on the world economy
for years to come, or at the deleterious psychological
impact of formalizing and perpetuating a U.S. policy of
pre-emptive, unilateral aggression.

So what can be done realistically and reasonably to counter
the spread of WMD?

Some prophylactic measures are straightforward and

  • Build a political environment opposed to the technologies
    themselves, through support for nonproliferation treaties
    and increased measures to break down radioactive materials.

  • Try to rein in the dissemination of mechanisms for
    delivering WMD, to reduce the devastation that would be
    caused by a successful attack.

  • Speed up efforts to fortify vulnerable targets and conduits,
    such as ports.

But clearly those are small and perhaps even cosmetic
remedies. We've got to rethink the whole way we're
approaching this problem.

We have to halt weapons programs. Of course, it's hard to
draw a line between peaceful research and weapons research
(innocent medical work on genes in smallpox, for instance,
has turned up insights that may be useful to people who want
more virulent weapons) but we have to recognize that our
research is ultimately developing weapons for our enemies.

Efforts at nonproliferation are never perfect. And so the
doctrine that we must be able to strike targets anywhere, at
any time of our choosing, with ever more sophisticated
weapons, is not only chauvinist and arrogant but

Indeed, not a single weapon in the hands of disenfranchised
groups has originated with such groups--the technologies
were always created first by dominant nations.

And we must go further. We cannot reason with those who are
willing to bring down civilization, but we can isolate them.
We have to bring poor nations into the prosperity sphere
(such as it is).

France and Germany have lived through a couple hundred years
of conflict and still often mistrust each other, but they
work together because their peoples and leaders feel they
are benefiting from a shared economic system. This system
lacks a robust basis, however: it involves only a handful of
countries in Europe and North America, and perpetuates
itself by widening the gap between these First World nations
and most of the rest of the globe.

And even the shared understanding among rich capitalist
nations is fraying. If we do not solve the resource problems
of our world, we could eventually find ourselves in a
permanent global war along the lines of George Orwell's

Of course, a vision of global cooperation is hard to imagine
coming to reality. But in some initiatives of recent
years--the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the willingness
of major nations to finally face the problem of AIDS, the
beginnings of discussion between the World Trade
Organization and its critics--we see that we are not yet
beset by total paralysis of the intellect or the will.

Furthermore, despite the Bush Administration's deliberate
sowing of panic, we have a little time. Although there is
evidence that terrorists have access to some radioactive
materials and germs, they are apparently not prepared to
deploy them on a wide scale; the materials and accompanying
delivery mechanisms are still crude.

Unfortunately, when it comes to WMD and terrorism, the
tendency at high levels is still a stampede to the
fortress. There is a tremendous vacuum of leadership--not
just in the U.S., but in other countries and the U.N.

I have to scoff when I hear people seek some correlation
between Bush and the idea of leadership. Just as I scoff
when I hear U.S. military spokespeople lay out their
strategy for war (drop a lot of bombs fast and hope for
surrender) and their predictions of the outcome (a golden
age of liberty, moderation, and prosperity throughout the
Arab world).

And this is why I address the WMD issue. None of the various
other justifications for war possess enough coherence even
to argue against.

Many months ago I first saw reports of a training camp with
ties to Al Qaeda located in Iraq. But this base of the Ansar
al Islam group never made it to the front pages, and did not
offer a forceful impact even when Colin Powell referred to
it in his recent U.N. presentation. The reason is that it is
located in one of the Kurdish areas of Iraq outside of
Hussein's control. Were Bush to follow his anti-terrorism
policy consistently, he would combine forces with Hussein to
defeat Hussein's enemies.

But as big as the question of war in Iraq now looms--too big
for jests--we have to take a view that is even bigger, and
show ourselves to be bigger. We have to accept WMD as a
global problem and as a symptom of the sickness of the
modern nation-state. We must at least begin to think this
way, if we are ever to hope of finding a solution.

So what can be done realistically and reasonably to counter the spread of WMD?


2003-02-10 08:28:12
So if we don't make the biggest bomb...
...what do we do when someone else makes it instead?

There are, for lack of a better term, jerks out there who only want more power. The current administration uses Sadam Hussein and bin Laden as examples/stereotypes just to put a face on it, but the truth is that there are plenty of them, and through history always have been.

Each of them are trying to duplicate our current WMD models. At a certain point, they'll get it. OR they may be working on the one that'll be bigger/worse than ours. What then?

The trouble is that between the east and west, WMDs were deterents -- they made the cold war cold by creating a no-win situation. Nobody would use them.

However, these jerks out there, whether hiding like bin Laden or posturing like Iraq, WILL USE THEM if they get them. In the case of chemical, they already have, on multiple occasions.

North Korea has renounced the non-proliferation treaty for one reason and one reason only : they ALREADY HAVE a buyer, whose probably already paid for them to complete the development (the money had to come from somewhere -- N.Korea's been broke for decades).

If someone's willing to pay for and subsidize research into duplicating our big bombs, don't you think they'll be just as willing to subsidize making bombs bigger than ours when we stop making them? What do you do then?

We're not dealing with rational, reasonable, lets all be nice to each other people when it comes to that mindset. We are dealing with potential mass-murderers who WILL use what they get. And no amount of "lets not build bigger guns" is going to stop them from making their own. They want to kill, and they will find a way, whether by duplicating us or not.

I'm not saying our current action towards Iraq is totally justified (it isn't by the evidence presented, but the administration can't reveal more evidence without revealing the sources, and that can put people at risk), but thinking that if we stop making bigger bombs, there won't be bigger bombs to be made is absolutely foolhardy.

2003-02-10 19:19:57
So long, mom; I'm off to drop the bomb
Andy, most of the world (including the US) feels the way you do.

But it doesn't matter.

Remember what the war against Iraq is really about: Vengeance. It's a family thing. Bush is determined to get Saddam because Saddam once tried to get his daddy.

Who knows how many lives, on both sides, will be lost because George W. Bush believes that, as the king annointed by the packed Supreme Court, he can take American lives and money and use them to fight his own vendettas.

--Brett Glass

2003-02-10 23:42:15
Education, freedom of information

The leaders of totalitarian states can grab and control power over their impoveished societies, because their people do not have access to different sources of information. The people of Iraq cannot compare what their leaders are telling them against what the world is saying.

The only way to stop proliferation of WMD is to stop proliferation of populist ideas and totalitarian systems, which can only be done through education (educated people are less likely to listen to populists), student exchange (making friends with your peers abroad is the best way to learn that we're not that different), travel without going through the visa hell (encourages people to explore other countries, to see their beauty and their problems, which makes people less likely to belive propaganda), helping the democratic opposition (send them books, computers, printers, photocopiers, small portable print presses, etc., send them subscriptions to magazines that simply show they way people live in other countries, you wouldn't believe how that can help).

I'm not sure we have time for that in case of Iraq or North Korea, but there are plenty of places around the world suffering from the lack of freedom of information and totalitarian rule.

2003-02-11 09:22:08
Bush's WMD proliferation strategy
The fastest way for a superpower to increase the proliferation of WMD is pick a country or two and call them evil.

Q: What's the difference between calling a nation evil and declaring war on it?
A: Time.

I'm honestly not surprised they're arming themselves. That's what the word "defense" would mean here, too, if our military was used in defending our nation rather than offensively promoting our economic interests as it's been doing since WWII.

If you're going to talk about WMD and an axis of evil, you have to include the most important player. There is a place where all WMD were originally invented, tested, stockpiled, and shared: the United States military industrial complex. They are the beneficiaries for almost half our massive federal budget ever year. They know for a fact that places like Iraq and Korea have weapons of all sorts... because they have the receipts. And they are destined to find even uglier weapons, agents, synthetic drugs, and methods of coercion.

Having just read the gospel books of the bible, I recommend George, his father, and all their friends read Matthew 7:2. These guys make a lot of hay about how Christian they are (and more often about how un-Christian everybody they don't like is), but if they *ever* read these books, they clearly were not paying attention.

2003-02-11 11:27:35
WMD proliferation
It will be impossible to halt WMD proliferation unless there is regime change in Iraq. After 12 years, it should be plain to see that Hussein's regime has no intention to hand over his remaining WMD to the UN, even though he is required to do so by the Gulf War ceasefire agreement, as well as by countless UN resolutions.

Continuing with the status quo (UN inspections; ineffective because Hussein is not cooperating) will only drag out the brutal UN sanctions and only slow, not prevent, Hussein's build-up of WMD. And the message sent to North Korea, Iran, and others will be clear; if you build WMD, the UN will raise a fuss but will not stop you.

Gulf War II will be horrible, but not as horrible as a future world where WMD proliferation escalates unchecked.

2003-02-11 13:24:07
we agree on two things
Gulf War II will be horrible, but not as horrible as a future world where WMD proliferation escalates unchecked.

The bad news: WMD proliferation will increase in direct proportion to the amount of hostility exercised by the most powerful in the world. We're quite possibly on a collision course, and I actually have little faith that mankind will ever back out of its warring ways. Between Planet of the Apes and what I've been reading, it's all been predicted. If we control anything, it may only be the question of when.

If we set a better example, and lay our WMD down first... but perhaps it's too late for that. I definitely wouldn't predict disarmament under the current administration (seealso: budget). Not only is peace not given a chance, neither is diplomacy. Republicans are thinking strategically these days, what with last election's candidates coached to stick to "the War" that is now being delivered as promised. This is an older agenda than Bush II or Iraq. This is the consequence of using the rest of the world as your active weapons testing grounds.

This blog must be William Grosso's nightmare. Perhaps O'Reilly's, too. I'm not sure they agree to be Hyde Park, but I'll be looking for the wiretaps.

2003-02-11 17:43:11
Comment about Israel
It should be noted that while it's publically known that Israel has the bomb, Israel has never publically said so.
2003-05-02 18:23:07
Weapons of Mass Destruction
We HAVE to keep WMD out of the hands of all fanatical groups. If we do not and they ever have access to them they will use them as soon as they can.

J.S.P. Paducah, Ky.