The ethics of modern warfare

Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)

The key question is whether it is ever morally justifiable to use modern armaments in warfare. The term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs) is in now used for many of these weapons, including nuclear weapons. Examples include:

  • Chemical weapons – A chemical weapon is a canister containing a poisonous substance. When the canister is detonated, this poison contaminates a large area, causing severe reactions to any living thing. Chemical weapons are inhumane and it can take up to half an hour to die an agonising death. They are also very indiscriminate as they can be blown anywhere by the wind.
  • Biological weapons – These are also WMDs, similar to chemical weapons. However, the agent which is released is a harmful germ or virus. This means that death is caused through an infectious disease. Like chemical weapons, you cannot choose who to kill. This goes against the rules of war, where only military targets can be justified. Biological weapons also pollute the land for many years.
  • Smart missiles – These are called ‘smart’ because they have a computer guidance system in the missile, and (in theory) they can be remotely controlled to a specific target, such as an army base. In practice, they are not completely accurate and widespread civilian deaths still occur. They are also extremely expensive and cost money that could be put to better use. Some people are concerned that war should not be turned into some sort of glorified computer game, making it easier for conflicts to start and continue.