Name and shame: unravelling the stigmatization of weapons of mass destruction

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    Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is internationally recognized to categorize nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Despite their joint categorization, each weapon is distinct from the other and use and possession are treated differently. Previous studies have focused on technological aspects of these weapons, failing to examine and explain the distinct nature and underlying significance of this term. Adopting a constructivist approach, and utilizing sociological research, this work addresses this gap by restoring the underlying strategic and ethical significance of the concept of WMD. The article stresses stigmatization of WMD by the international community. The evolving condemnation of chemical and biological weapons forged the stigma and led to the condemnation of nuclear weapons. WMD have been framed as a threat to humanity due to their ability to create widespread, long-term, irreversible destruction. WMD have also been associated with elevated status and power. These two aspects cannot be separated from each other. The article shows that the actors involved in stigmatization have varied. Initially, the stigma emerged top-down, via government officials. In time, grass roots movements and the general public have also condemned these weapons. Secondly, stigmatizing was driven by perceptions of social, economic, and political power, which elevated the status of these weapons. Stigmatization then developed as a reaction to the threatened possession and use of WMD by antagonistic actors. The ethical and political processes cannot be distinguished from each other; each has formed to frame the image of the long-term danger of WMD. Understanding this process of stigmatization is of particular importance at a time in which the threat from these weapons has increased. This work therefore provides greater insight and understanding into ways to address this challenging subject.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)104-122
    Number of pages19
    JournalContemporary Security Policy
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2015


    • Security
    • nuclear
    • chemical
    • biological
    • WMD
    • stigmatization


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