Global Governance | Readout and Recommendations

Future Weapons of Mass Destruction

June 2007


The 20th century has witnessed a well-tread arc common to the various forms of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) currently known (nuclear, chemical, biological, radiological): conception, invention, development, deployment, stockpiling, stigmatization, rules creation, limitation frameworks, reductions, destruction.

There is no reason to believe that the 21st century will be any less inventive or pursue new types of WMD with significantly different approaches. Yet the world of today is dramatically changed and changing. Scientific knowledge and expertise is spreading to all corners of the globe; the infrastructure needed to create, stockpile, and disperse WMD may become more difficult to detect; nonstate actors play an increasing role in international political affairs; and our mechanisms for control and enforcement are intermittently useful at best.

A wise approach should then be to survey the current and foreseeable future landscape; analyze past lessons and their analogous potential permutations into future scenarios; and bring together a diverse group of practitioners, academics, and policymakers to begin to consider the directionalities and implications of these confluences on defense and international security policy. This symposium is intended to begin this conversation. While particular lines of investigation have already been developed (e.g., nanotechnology) and certain audiences have already turned their attention to some of these issues (the defense tech agencies and media), little cross-cutting dialogue has brought the divergent areas together to consider the issues comprehensively.

The December 11 symposium, sponsored in association with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, considered three perspectives on the future WMD discussion: technical, strategic, and ethical, bringing together experts from each branch to present and lead discussions with policymakers, academicians, and WMD specialists toward common understandings and greater agreement on cutting-edge technologies and their potential international security implications for the United States and the international community.