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Explained: What are Weapons of Mass Destruction, the existing law on which India now wants to amend?

The Bill seeks to amend The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, to provide against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in line with India's international obligations.

weaponsWhile there is no single, authoritative definition of a WMD in international law, the expression is usually understood to cover nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022 has been unanimously passed in Lok Sabha.

The Bill seeks to amend The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, to provide against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in line with India’s international obligations.

The 2005 Act prohibited the manufacturing, transport, and transfer of weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery.

According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, the need to amend the Act has arisen from the fact that “in recent times, regulations relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems by international organisations have expanded”, and “the United Nations Security Council’s targeted financial sanctions and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force have mandated against financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems”.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

The expression “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) is usually considered to have been used first by the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1937 to refer to the aerial bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica by German and Italian fascists in support of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

The expression WMD entered the vocabularies of people and countries around the world in the early 2000s after the US under President George W Bush and the UK under Prime Minister Tony Blair justified the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that the government of Saddam Hussain was hiding these weapons in the country. No WMDs were ever found.

NBC weapons

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While there is no single, authoritative definition of a WMD in international law, the expression is usually understood to cover nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “A weapon of mass destruction is a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or other device that is intended to harm a large number of people.”

India’s 2005 WMD Act defines:

* “Biological weapons” as “microbial or other biological agents, or toxins…of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; and weapons, equipment or delivery systems specially designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict”; and

* “Chemical weapons” as “toxic chemicals and their precursors” except where used for peaceful, protective, and certain specified military and law enforcement purposes; “munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals”; and any equipment specifically designed for use in connection with the employment of these munitions and devices.

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Control over use of WMDs

The use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements.

Among them are the Geneva Protocol, 1925, that banned the use of chemical and biological weapons; and the Biological Weapons Convention, 1972, and Chemical Weapons Convention, 1992, which put comprehensive bans on the biological and chemical weapons respectively.

India has signed and ratified both the 1972 and 1992 treaties. There are very few non-signatory countries to these treaties, even though several countries have been accused of non-compliance.

The use and proliferation of nuclear weapons is regulated by treaties such as Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

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First published on: 06-04-2022 at 16:08 IST
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