United States and weapons of mass destruction

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Weapons of
mass destruction
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Chemical weapons
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Dirty bomb
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The Federal Government of the United States is known to possess three types of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. The U.S. is the only country in the world ever to have used nuclear weapons in combat. The U.S. arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is the largest in the world, along with Russia, depending on the definition.


Biological weapons

The U.S. cancelled its offensive biological weapons program by executive order in November 1969 and February 1970 and ordered the destruction of all offensive biological weapons by February 1973. The U.S. ratified the Geneva Protocol on January 22, 1975. In March 1975, the U.S. ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). [1] (http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB58/RNCBW9.pdf)

Negotiations for a legally binding verification protocol to the BWC proceeded for years. In 2001, negotiations ended when the Bush administration rejected an effort by other signatories to create a protocol for verification, arguing that it would interfere with legitimate biological research.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, produces small quantities of biological agents, for use in biological weapons defense research. According to the U.S. government, this research is performed in full accordance with the BWC.

Through the nonprofit American Type Tissue Collection and the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. government under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold or sent biological samples to Iraq under Saddam Hussein up until 1989. These materials included anthrax, West Nile virus and botulism, as well as brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene. Some of these materials were used for Iraq's biological weapons research program, while others were used for vaccine development. Other countries, including France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, supplied Iraq at this time. [2] (http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/flow/iraq/seed.htm)[3] (http://www.nti.org/e_research/e1_iraq_BWagents.html)

Chemical weapons

The U.S. ratified the Geneva Protocol which banned the use of chemical and biological weapons on January 22, 1975. The United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in April 1997. This banned the possession of several types of chemical weapons, some of which were possessed by the U.S. at the time.

According to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, as of March 24, 2005, the United States has destroyed 11,216 tons of chemical weapons or 35% of the original stockpile of nearly 31,500 tons of nerve and mustard agents declared in 1997. Of the weapons destroyed, 500 tons was mustard gas and the majority was other agents such as sarin (GB) and VX.

About 7,500 tons of prohibited weapons had been destroyed by 2002 to meet the Phase II quota and deadline, about 22 percent of the U.S. chemical arsenal. The original commitment in Phase III required all countries to have 45 percent of the chemical stockpiles destroyed by April 2004. Anticipating the failure to meet this deadline, the Bush administration in September 2003 requested a new deadline of December 2007 for Phase III and announced a probable need for an extension until April 2012 for Phase IV, total destruction (requests for deadline extensions cannot formally by made until 12 months before the original deadline). This extension procedure spelled out in the treaty has been utilized by other countries, Russia and the unnamed "state party". The U.S. also noted that even these deadlines may not be met due to environmental challenges and the U.S. decision to destroy leaking individual chemical shells before bulk storage chemical weapons. [4] (http://www.opcw.org/html/db/cwc/eng/cwc_frameset.html)[5] (http://www.opcw.org/docs/csp8_nat_statements/USA.pdf)

The primary chemical weapon storage facilities in the U.S. are Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon, Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana, Edgewood Chemical Activity in Maryland, Blue Grass Chemical Activity in Kentucky, Anniston Chemical Activity in Alabama [6] (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/anniston.htm), Pine Bluff Chemical Activity in Arkansas and Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah. [7] (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/cbw/cw.htm) The largest facility is Deseret.

Disposal of chemical munitions is occurring at Umatilla, Anniston, the Tooele Chemical Demilitarization Facility (for Deseret), and the Aberdeen Proving Ground (for Edgewood). The Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Arkansas began operations on March 29, 2005 after completing in 1988-1990, destruction of munitions containing BZ, a non-lethal hallucinating agent. Newport began destruction in May, 2005. Pueblo and Blue Grass are constructing pilot plans to test novel methods of disposal but full plants may not open until 2011. The U.S. also uses mobile treatment systems to treat chemical test samples and individual shells without requiring transport from the artillery ranges and abandoned munitions depots where they are occasionally found.

All chemical weapons at Johnston Atoll were destroyed by 2000. That facility is now closed.

See also: M687

Nuclear weapons

Main article: The United States and nuclear weapons

Nuclear weapons have twice been deployed in wartime: two nuclear weapons were used by the United States against Japan in World War II in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Altogether, the two bombings killed an estimated 110,000 Japanese citizens and injured another 130,000. Though the two cities were nominally military targets, the overwhelming majority of the casualties were civilian.

The U.S. conducted an extensive nuclear testing program. 1054 tests were conducted between 1945 and 1992. The exact number of nuclear devices detonated is unclear because some tests involved multiple devices while a few failed to explode or were designed to not create a nuclear explosion. The United States ceased atmospheric testing after 4 November 1962 before the Partial Test Ban Treaty. In 1976 the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to limit the size of tests to 150 kilotons. The last U.S. nuclear test was on 23 September 1992 before the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Currently, the United States nuclear arsenal is deployed in three areas:

The United States is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the US ratified in 1968. On October 13, 1999, the U.S. Senate rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, having previously ratified the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. The U.S. has not, however, tested a nuclear weapon since 1992, though it has tested many non-nuclear components and has developed powerful supercomputers in an attempt to duplicate the knowledge gained from testing without the actual tests themselves.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. shifted out of the mode of developing new nuclear weapons and instead devotes most of its nuclear efforts into stockpile stewardship, maintaining and dismantling its now-aging arsenal. The administration of George W. Bush decided in 2003 to engage in research about a new generation of small nuclear weapons, especially "earth penetrators". [8] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3126141.stm) The budget passed by the United States Congress in 2004 eliminated funding for some of this research including the "bunker-busting or earth-penetrating" weapons.

The exact number of nuclear weapons possessed by the United States is difficult to determine. Different treaties and organizations have different criteria for reporting nuclear weapons, especially those held in reserve, and those being dismantled or rebuilt:

  • As of 1999, the U.S. was said to have 12,000 nuclear weapons of all types stockpiled. [9] (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/summary.htm)
  • In its Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) declaration for 2003, the U.S. listed 5968 deployed warheads as defined by START rules.[10] (http://www.state.gov/t/ac/rls/fs/2004/30816pf.htm)
  • For 2004, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists listed the U.S. with about 7,000 operational and 3,000 reserve warheads. [11] (http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/nukenotes/mj04nukenote.html)

In 2002, the United States and Russia agreed in the SORT treaty to reduce their deployed stockpiles to not more than 2,200 warheads each. In 2003, the US rejected Russian proposals to further reduce both nation's nuclear stockpiles to 1,500 each. The US has adopted a plan to modernise and update its allowed weapons as well as investigate the possibility of manufacturing "micronuclear weapons" for use on the battlefield and against bunkers.

Land-based intercontinental ballistic and cruise missiles (ICBMs)

The US Air Force currently operates just over 500 ICBMs at around 15 missile complexes located primarily in the northern Rocky Mountain states and the Dakotas. These are of the Minuteman III and Peacekeeper ICBM variants. Peacekeeper missiles are being phased out by 2005. All USAF Minuteman II missiles have been destroyed in accordance to START, and their launch silos sealed or sold to the public. To comply with the START II most US multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, have been eliminated and replaced with single warhead missiles. However, since the abandonment of the START II treaty, the U.S. is said to be considering retaining 800 warheads on 500 missiles.[12] (http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/nukenotes/mj04nukenote.html)

Sea-based ICBMs

The US Navy currently has 15 Ohio-class submarines deployed. Each submarine is equipped with a complement of 24 Trident missiles, eight with Trident I missiles, and ten with Trident II missiles. Approximately 12 U.S. attack submarines are equipped to launch, but do not currently carry, nuclear Tomahawk missiles. Sea-launch weapons make up the majority of weapons declared under START II rules.

Heavy bomber group

The US Air Force also operates a strategic nuclear bomber fleet. The bomber force consists of 93 B-1s, 94 B-52s, and 21 B-2s. The majority of these heavy bombers either are being or have been retrofitted to operate in a solely conventional mode. The Strategic Air Command which for decades had kept nuclear weapons aloft 24 hours a day was disbanded in 1992 and merged into the US Strategic Command.

In addition to this the US armed forces can also deploy tactical smaller nuclear weapons either through cruise missiles or with conventional fighter-bombers. The U.S. maintains about 850 nuclear gravity bombs capable of use by F-15, F-16, JSF and Panavia Tornado fighter aircraft. Some 150 of these bombs are deployed at nine airbases in six European NATO countries. The U.S. keeps its 320 Tomahawk missiles at Bangor, Washington, and King's Bay, Georgia.

See also

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