Now that Bernie has started to go after Biden’s deplorable record regarding aggressive regime change in the Middle East, I think it is time to mount my trusty hobby horse and ride into battle once more on the much misunderstood subject of weapons of mass destruction..
For the first ten thousand years or so of organized slaughter, there was a slow, steady escalation of the effectiveness of weaponry, with each offensive advance being met sooner or later by a successful defense. The sword brought forth the shield, the walled castle elicited the trebuchet, the bomber was met with ack ack. All of this changed dramatically on August 6, 1945, when the United States destroyed Hiroshima with a single 20 kiloton atomic bomb. Atomic bombs, or nuclear weapons, as they soon came to be called, completely changed the character of warfare. Despite the Rand Corporation-sponsored fantasies of Herman Kahn and others, it was obvious that a nation could not survive an attack of nuclear weapons. The only thing a nation could do was to attempt to persuade a nuclear armed opponent not to use them by the threat of retaliation in kind. Thus was born deterrence.
In 1945, only one nation possessed nuclear weapons. Seventy-five years later, The United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korean have nuclear arsenals of some size or other, and thanks to our president, Iran may follow soon enough. Remarkably, those two primitive bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thus far the only nuclear weapons that have deliberately been used to kill people, although there have been some very close calls.
There are two other relatively modern weapons types that have been the subject of much anxiety and discussion: chemical weapons and biological weapons. Despite the hype, biological weapons have not figured in serious military calculations and planning, but of course that is not true of chemical weapons. These latter were widely used in the First World War, but with only two exceptions that come to mind – the United States in Viet Nam and Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war – chemical weapons also have been more talked about than seriously incorporated into the war-making capabilities of modern powers.
Nuclear weapons are genuinely weapons of mass destruction, undermining all efforts at defense and hence requiring deterrence. But this is not true of chemical and biological weapons. They can be defended against and are not orders of magnitude more powerful than so-called conventional weapons. Defense, not deterrence, is an appropriate military response to the threat of their use.
Enter the myth, the ideology, the rationale, the fateful acronym: WMD.
Since the only Middle Eastern nation with a nuclear arsenal is Israel, a fact delicately left unmentioned in all discussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, some device had to be found to justify the unprovoked launching of wars in that region. By a skillful use of the old bait-and-switch technique of the sidewalk three card monte player, chemical and biological weapons were folded in with nuclear weapons as WMD, so that preemptive strikes only defensible in the presence of the threat of nuclear weapons could be defended as required by Iraq’s possession of WMD, even though those WMD were chemical, not nuclear in nature.
This is all well known, at least to anyone who has devoted more than a few moments of thought to the subject. It was certainly known by Joe Biden in 1998 when he publicly argued for preemptive war against Iraq to counter the threat of their WMD.