What’s in a name? Deterrence and the stigmatisation of WMD

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Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are distinct methods of warfare. This distinction has led to the categorisation of these weapons under the term Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Whilst government decision makers and military experts, tend to refer to a range of terms, such as CBRN, NBC etc... to address the threat from these weapons, the term WMD is commonly referred to within the media and by the public. This term has significance and it is synonymous with the stigmatisation of these weapons. The process of stigmatisation has emerged progressively, through time, as a result of the strategic and normative quality of WMD. Even though each of these weapons differ greatly from the other, they are all perceived to cause long term, lasting destruction.

Fundamental to the origins and development of this stigmatising process has been the deterrent quality of each of these weapons to the other. At the core of deterrence is the perception of threat. The enemy is deterred from action due to an awareness that the consequences of such action outweigh any benefits. This chapter argues that the deterrent quality of each of these weapons to the other has played a key role in shaping the stigma. All three weapons can be used in differing contexts and by different actors. The development of nuclear weapons has deterred the use and development of chemical and biological weapons, and vice versa. Efforts to control nuclear weapons were shaped by progress towards the non- proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. In turn, the successful ratification of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (1975) reinforced later efforts to proscribe chemical and biological weapons. Condemnation of WMD has been predicated upon the image and association of these weapons with mass destruction and long -term harm. In particular, several themes can be identified as reinforcing the deterrent nature of each of these weapons. Firstly: 1) states have been deterred by the image of these weapons as causing mass destructive effects. 2) The indiscriminate nature of these weapons, both combatants and non- combatants are the targets of such an attack. 3) Finally, the prospect of the increasing development of the technological means of war, leading to the increasing destructiveness of war has magnified the fear of the potential effects of WMD. The labelling of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons under the term ‘WMD’ has created a focus for the dangers posed by all three.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeterrence
Subtitle of host publicationConcepts and Approaches for Current and Emerging Threats
EditorsAnastasia Filippidou
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-29367-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-29366-6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2019

Publication series

NameAdvanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications
ISSN (Print)1613-5113


  • Deterrence


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