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Sanctions of Mass Destruction
John Mueller is Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester. Karl Mueller is Assistant Professor of Comparative Military Studies at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The opinions expressed herein are their personal views.See more by John MuellerSee more by Karl Mueller
With the demise of the Cold War, virtually all the major problems that afflicted great power relations over the last half-century have been resolved. Many argue, however, that new dangers such as those posed by "rogue states" and terrorism have emerged to replace the old ones of conventional or nuclear war. As part of this shift in how threats are constructed and perceived, old worries about nuclear weapons have been subsumed under the new concept of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), lumped together with arms that have killed relatively few people to date (biological weapons), arms of much lower potential lethality (chemical weapons), and dramatic but costly and often ineffective delivery vehicles (ballistic missiles).
As these have become prominent bogeymen, the maturation of another impressive method, if not exactly a weapon, of mass destruction has been largely overlooked. The irony is that in contrast to the others, this device -- economic sanctions -- is deployed frequently, by large states rather than small ones, and may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history. Comparing the record of these various threats to human well-being is an instructive exercise -- and one that casts U.S. policy toward Iraq, which levies sanctions to impede WMD programs, in a new and disturbing light.
TERRORISTS AND ROGUES
However dramatic terrorist attacks are, and however tragic for the innocent victims and their families, the total damage they have caused to date has been quite low and hardly constitutes grounds for panic and hysteria. On average, far fewer Americans are killed each year by terrorists than are killed by lightning, deer accidents, or peanut allergies. To call terrorism a serious threat to national security is scarcely plausible.