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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Regular price $39.95 Sale

Comprehensive Unit
81 pages
Grade Level: High School
Includes curriculum unit + 5 lectures on DVD

Though the Cold War has ended, its legacy lives on. The Cold War left an indelible print on the global environment. The Cold War forever changed interactions between states, and introduced to the world not only weapons of mass destruction, but also the threat of their deployment. The end of the Cold War further influenced policy making and perspectives on arms control and international security. The lectures and accompanying lessons in this curriculum module strive to educate students about the past, present, and future implications of weapons of mass destruction by introducing them to the history, policies, ideologies, and strategies involved in decision making in this area.

Initiative on distance learning

The five lectures included with this module were originally given through a course offered in 2000 by the Initiative on Distance Learning, Institute for International Studies, Stanford University. The course was called "International Security in a Changing World" and consisted of 27 lectures. The course was a team-taught, interdisciplinary survey class covering the most pressing security problems facing the world today.


The following are goals for the curriculum module.

  • to teach students alternative social science theories for understanding contemporary international security problems
  • to provide the basic technical and scientific information needed to understand these problems
  • to explore the policy options that are available to decision-makers in the United States and other nations
  • to provide students with intellectual tools and a desire to continue to study international security issues

Connections to National Standards for Social Studies Teachers

The lectures help to support the following teaching standards from the National Council for the Social Studies.

Time, Continuity and Change

Learner Expectations: The study of time, continuity, and change allows learners to understand their historical roots and to locate themselves in time. Learning how to read and reconstruct the past allows them to develop a historical perspective and to answer questions such as: Who am I? What happened in the past? How has the world changed and how might it change in the future? Why does our personal sense of relatedness to the past change? How can the perspective we have about our own life experiences be viewed as part of the larger human story across time? How do our personal stories reflect varying points of view and inform contemporary ideas and actions? Learners also draw on their knowledge of history to make informed choices and decisions in the present.

School Applications: High school teachers can engage learners in a sophisticated analysis and reconstruction of the past, helping them to examine the relationship of the past to the present and extrapolating into the future. Teachers can facilitate learners' integration of individual stories about people, events, and situations so that they might form a holistic conception, in which continuity and change are linked in time and across cultures. Teachers can help learners to draw on their knowledge of history to make informed choices and decisions in the present.

Global Connections

Learner Expectations: The realities of global interdependence require that learners understand the increasingly important and diverse global connections among world societies. Analysis of tensions between national interests and global priorities contributes to the development of possible solutions to persistent and emerging global issues in many fields: health care, economic development, environmental quality, universal human rights, and others. Analyzing patterns and relationships within and among world cultures, such as economic competition and interdependence, age-old ethnic enmities, political and military alliances, and others, helps learners examine policy alternatives that have both national and global implications.

School Applications: High school teachers can assist learners in thinking systematically about personal, national, and global decisions, interactions, and consequences, including addressing critical issues such as peace, human rights, trade, and global ecology. They might ask learners to formulate policy statements that demonstrate an understanding of concerns, standards, issues, and conflicts related to universal human rights, or to illustrate how individual behaviors and decisions connect with global systems.

Civic Ideals and Practices

Learner Expectations: The study of civic ideals and practices prepares learners for full participation in society and is a central purpose of the social studies. Examining civic ideals and practices across time and in diverse societies prepares learners to close the gap between present practices and the ideals upon which our democratic republic is based. Learners confront such questions as: What is civic participation and how can I be involved? How has the meaning of citizenship evolved? What is the balance between rights and responsibilities? What is the role of the citizen in the community, in the nation, and in the world community? How can I make a positive difference?

School Applications: High school teachers can help learners recognize the rights and responsibilities of citizens in identifying societal needs, setting directions for public policies, and working to support both individual dignity and the common good. In addition, they can provide opportunities for learners to experience participation in community service and political activities and develop skill in using the democratic process to influence public policy. More specifically, learners can be guided through the processes of responsible citizenship participation in all its dimensions as they face political issues as citizens approaching voting age.

Lesson Overview

In Lesson One, students will be presented with a historical context for studying international security. Students will learn a definition of "international security" and examine how the term is employed today. They will also be introduced to international security before and after the Cold War, and consider issues regarding nuclear power, ideological competition, security and future challenges. Students will engage in a jigsaw activity and analyze political cartoons. At the end of the lesson, students should be able to synthesize their understanding of the past and future of international security with their understanding of issues regarding international security today.

In Lesson Two, students will be introduced to the concept of deterrence and its applications in times of war, in times of peace, and in daily life. They will learn to understand the requirements for deterrence, the controversial notion of "rational deterrence," and the issues involved in strategizing war when weapons of mass destruction may be involved. Students will create skits emphasizing one requirement for deterrence. At the end of the lesson, students should be able to identify the key requirements for deterrence and think critically about the application of deterrence in the realm of international security as well as in their own lives.

In Lesson Three, students will become familiar with the history of arms control and international security to better understand the current situation of arms control and the future of its potential. In this lesson, students will learn key terminology and concepts of arms control and international security, including issues surrounding nuclear proliferation, national missile defense, and the treaties that constitute the arms control framework. Students will explore historical texts and contemporary news stories as well as a map activity. At the end of this lesson, students should be familiar with the nuclear composition of the world, and be able to think critically about the issues of national missile defense and the importance of arms control in the international environment.

In Lesson Four, students will be given a pre-September 11th survey of biological weapons and bioterrorism. This lesson will help students understand the history of biological weapons, how they are employed, and how they tie in to issues of national and international security. They will learn about the steps involved in diagnosing a disease outbreak and determining if it is a case of bioterrorism. Students analyze disease outbreak case studies and participate in a game show format question and answer session. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to identify key biological weapons and understand the processes involved in preventing and responding to biological outbreaks.

In Lesson Five, students will be provided a framework for thinking about national and international policies surrounding the reduction of weapons of mass destruction. Students will learn about the policies currently in place and those under debate, regarding the reduction and limitation of arms arsenals throughout the world, as well as non-proliferation efforts. They will engage in dialogues of personal perspectives on the threat of nuclear war by interviewing family members or friends and also participate in a policy-making role-play. At the end of the lesson, students should be able to think critically about policies regarding arms reductions.