News | Jan. 1, 2012

Defining "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (Revised)

By W. Seth Carus Occasional Paper 8

In January 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed that U.S. Strategic Command become “the lead combatant commander for integrating and synchronizing DOD [Department of Defense] in combating WMD [weapons of mass destruction].” This assignment was in response to the White House’s December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The Secretary’s memorandum, however, raised a thorny definitional problem with clear bureaucratic implications: what are weapons of mass destruction? Unfortunately, that is not an easily answered question. There are numerous definitions of WMD with some official or semi-official standing (more than 40 are identified in this paper), although most are variations of 1 of 5 basic definitions. In fact, even DOD has adopted alternative and fundamentally inconsistent definitions, including some different from the one used by the White House in its strategy and policy documents. READ MORE >>