Farewell to WMD: The Language and Science of Mass Destruction

Christian Enemark

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    This article critically assesses the ongoing use of the term 'weapons of mass destruction' (WMD) in policy and academic discourse. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are commonly lumped together as WMD, but such conflation is misleading from a technological viewpoint and renders the term vulnerable to political manipulation. There are important scientific and strategic differences between weapon types, and glossing over these leads to confusion in accurately assessing and effectively addressing threats of mass destruction. WMD-based language obscures the paramount threat of nuclear weapons, exaggerates the destructive power of chemical weapons, and is unhelpful or counterproductive when used in the context of biological weapons. In the areas of deterrence, defence, and non-proliferation, WMD-based language can mischaracterize the challenges that are uniquely associated with each weapon type, and this potentially generates adverse security consequences flowing from the implementation of inadequate or misdirected countermeasures. The article concludes that it would be both desirable and feasible to abandon the term 'WMD'.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)382-400
    JournalContemporary Security Policy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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