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Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMDs, are highly destructive weapons that cause a disproportionate amount of damage when compared to other weapons. Typically, these types of weapons are divided into three categories: nuclear, chemical, and biological. The first WMDs were the primitive chemical weapons developed during World War I. Nuclear weapons were introduced in the late 1940s after World War II. The Japanese were the first to develop deployable biological weapons during the 1930s and 1940s, but today all major nations have, or had, a major biological weapons program.
The United States of America first began developing nuclear weapons during World War II under the order of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, motivated by a fear that they were engaged in a race with Nazi Germany to develop such a weapon. After a slow start under the direction of the National Bureau of Standards, at the urging of British scientists and American administrators the program was put under the Office of Scientific Research and Development, where in 1942 it was officially transferred under the auspices of the U.S. Army and became known as the Manhattan Project, an American, British and Canadian joint venture. Under the direction of General Leslie Groves, over thirty different sites were constructed for the research, production, and testing of components related to bomb making. These included the scientific laboratory, Los Alamos (in New Mexico), under the direction of physicist Robert Oppenheimer, a plutonium production facility, Hanford (in Washington), and a uranium enrichment facility, Oak Ridge (in Tennessee).
By investing heavily both in breeding plutonium in early nuclear reactors, and in both the electromagnetic and gaseous diffusion enrichment processes for the production of uranium-235, the United States was able by mid-1945 to develop three usable weapons. A plutonium-implosion design weapon was tested on 16 July 1945 ("Trinity"), with around a 20 kiloton yield. This made the United States the world's first nuclear-armed state.
Japanese nuclear development began in the late 1930s with the encouragement of its then ally, Nazi Germany, who was also developing them. Once the Japanese government learned of the destructive potential of such weapons, they made their creation a priority in order to have a defense against any other nation that may build them. Since the 1920s, Japanese nuclear science had made great strides. These scientists were gathered by the Japanese military to beginning the Japanese nuclear weapons program, led by Dr. Yoshio Nishina. A series of secret labs were build across Japan, with the largest being in central Manchuria. Resources from gathered from across Asia to facilitate the building of the weapons. On July 31, 1949, Japan tests its first nuclear weapon at a secret testing facility in the mountains of Tibet, making it the second nation to successfully develop nuclear weapons.
Joseph Stalin was first informed of American nuclear research because of a letter sent to him in April 1942 by Georgii Flerov, who pointed out that nothing was being published in the physics journals by Americans, Britons, or Germans, on nuclear fission since the year of its discovery, 1939, and that indeed many of the most prominent physicists in Allied countries seemed not to be publishing at all. This nonevent was very suspicious, and accordingly Flerov urged Stalin to start a program. However, because the Soviet Union was still involved with the war with Germany on its home front, a large scale domestic effort could not yet be undertaken.
The Soviet atomic project benefited from highly successful espionage efforts on the part of the Soviet military intelligence (GRU) as well as the foreign intelligence department of the NKVD. Evidence from intelligence sources in the UK had a role to play in the decision of the Soviet State Defense Council (GKO), in September 1942, to approve resolution 2352, which signalled the beginning of the Soviet atom bomb project.
Through sources in the Manhattan project, notably Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet intelligence obtained important information on the progress of the US atomic bomb effort. Intelligence reports were shown to the head of the Soviet atomic project Igor Kurchatov and had a significant impact on the direction of his own team's research.
For example, Soviet work on methods of uranium isotope separation was altered when it transpired, to Kurchatov's surprise, that the Americans had opted for the gaseous diffusion method. Whilst research on other separation methods continued throughout the war years, the emphasis was placed on replicating US success with gaseous diffusion. Another important breakthrough, attributed to intelligence, was the possibility of using plutonium, instead of uranium, in a fission weapon. Extraction of plutonium in the so-called "uranium pile" allowed the bypass of the difficult process of uranium separation altogether — something that Kurchatov had learned from the Manhattan project rather than the efforts of his own team.
In 1945, Soviet intelligence obtained rough "blueprints" of the first US atomic device, which may have contributed to the Soviet bomb project. Scholar Alexei Kojevnikov has estimated, based on newly released Soviet documents, that the primary way in which the espionage may have sped up the Soviet project was that it allowed Khariton to avoid dangerous tests to determine the size of the critical mass: "tickling the dragon's tail", as it was called in the U.S., consumed a good deal of time and claimed at least two lives; see Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. and Louis Slotin.
The Soviets tested their first nuclear device on August 29, 1949, making them the world's third nuclear-armed state.
Since gaining its independence in 1947, India has remained a staunch ally of Japan, but desired to set its own independent course separate from that of Japan. This culminated in the Indian Nuclear Program. In the 1960s and early 1970s, a small, highly secret nuclear program was initiated by the Indian government and led by Raja Ramanna at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. On September 7, 1972, authorization was given to begin the construction of a test nuclear device. The first test of an atomic device occurred on May 18, 1974. This came as a shock to the world, especially Japan, as India had now established itself as an independent military power. It caused a temporary disruption in their relations with Japan, but India assured them their alliance would continue unabated, simply on a more even footing.
China began its initial forays into nuclear technology in the late 1940s as its growing economy enabled such research to become possible. However, as the Communist insurgency grew throughout the 1950s, research funds became focused on the war effort and Chinese nuclear research fell behind. After the formation of the People's Republic of China, Chairman Mao directed massive funds towards nuclear weapons research in an effort to match the Japanese nuclear arsenal. With Soviet assistance, the PRC tested its first nuclear weapon on October 16, 1969 at the Lop Nur test site. After a series of tests, the People's Republic of China inititated a nuclear weapons buildup that would carry its stockhold into the hundreds. Further advances in nuclear weapons and related technologies came as a result of intensive Chinese research and successful espionage in Japan, India, and the United States.
In the 1980s, Africa underwent tumultuous political upheaval. During this period, many African military leaders aggressively pushed the need to possess nuclear weapons as the key to establishing Africa as a first-rate power. Using their increased political influence, the African Union initiated its nuclear weapons program in 1983. Since Africa had little experience with nuclear technology, massive efforts were initiated to train and develop a native nuclear technology base. This resulted in numerous secret sites across the continent devoted to nuclear research and weapons development. The testing of uranium and plutonium weapons began in 1994 at testing sites in the Sahara, to the horror of the existing superpowers. Additional research in hydrogen bombs continued after 1994 and Africa is now believed to possess working H-bombs. In addition, Africa has managed to believed to have acquired advance miniaturization and delivery technology from espionage in Britain.
United Arab Republic
As the oldest of WMDs, chemical weapons, and the technology they are build upon, is widespread throughout the world. Most nations with any significant military possess the ability to produce chemical weapons. However, due to numerous international treaties and the general unpopularity of these weapons, many nations do not possess stockpiles of chemical weapons and many stockpiles that do exist are being dismantled.