W3018 Weapons of Mass Destruction

Catalog Course Description:

A review of the history and environmental consequences of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD); of how these weapons work, what they cost, how they have spread, how they might be used, how they are currently controlled by international treaties and domestic legislation; and what technical issues, and policy issues, arise in current WMD debates.

Instructor's Course Description:

This course will be concerned both with the implications of WMD in the hands of states, and in the hands of terrorists. Since nuclear weapons have the longest history and pose one of the greatest threats of mass casualties and disruption, we will dedicate a significant portion of this course to a study of these weapons - the physics underlying their function, the health and economic danger they pose, and the politics (past and present) having to with their use (arms control treaties, arsenal development around the world, etc.) We will also discuss in some depth "dirty bombs" and chemical and biological weapons, particularly in the context of the threats posed by terrorist groups. Guest lectures may be invited to discuss chemical and biological weapons as well as selected other topics.

A significant portion of the course will be dedicated to discussion, critical thought, and practical synthesis of information. Each of you will either work independently or in a group (writing a paper or leading a class discussion) to expose a realistic threat posed by WMD. You will be asked to identify the specific vulnerability (both from the technical and political perspective) and to construct a realistic fallout scenario including health and environmental effects, economic, and political impact of the WMD use. You will then be asked to make recommendations from what you have read and learned in the course as to how we could better protect ourselves from this threat.

Classes will be a combination of lecture and discussion. Every attempt will be made to tailor the course to the interests of the students. Active participation will be expected and encouraged.

Course Syllabus:

1.   Course Introduction, Nuclear Basics I: atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, fusion, fission, binding energies
2.   Nuclear Basics II: the nuclear chain reaction, fissile materials, mining, converting, and enriching uranium
3.   Nuclear power, nuclear waste, reprocessing, introduction to nuclear weapons 
4.   Types of nuclear weapons, yield, effects, stages of a blast, etc.
5.   Immediate effects of a nuclear bomb, stages of the blast, radiation effects on humans - long and short term
6.   Radioactive fallout, early history of chemical and biological weapons (precursors to WMD)
7.   WMD and precursors in the early 20th century, the Manhattan project
8.   The Mahnattan project, WWII, and the political aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
9.   Midterm #1
10.   Nuclear weapons delivery systems, the arms race, and arms control treaties
11.   The cold war, nuclear deterrence, treaties, accidents and incidents
12.   The cold war, nuclear deterrence, treaties, accidents and incidents
13.   Introduction to Biological Weapons I
14.   Biological Weapons - Guest Lecture
15.   Biological Weapons - Guest Lecture
16.   Biological Weapons - Class discussion on readings
17.   Spring Break
18.   Spring Break
19.   WMD Today: States - policies, debates, conflicts, concerns
20.   Midterm #2
21.   WMD Today: States - policies, debates, conflicts, concerns
22.   WMD Today: The Terrorist Threat - issues, vulnerabilities, concerns
23.   WMD Today: The Terrorist Threat - issues, vulnerabilities, concerns
24.   Student Term Project Presentation
25.   Student Term Project Presentation
26.   Student Term Project Presentation
27.   Student Term Project Presentation
28.   Student Term Project Presentation
29.   WMD Issues in the News
30.   Discussion/Wrap Up