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Concepts as Weapons (of Mass Destruction)

Michelle Bentley
University of London, Royal Holloway College
Michelle Bentley
University of London, Royal Holloway College
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper analyses the relevance of frame building in facilitating US military intervention in Iraq and the wider war on terror, specifically within the context of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD). Where WMD were central to post-9/11 policy implementation, this paper seeks to explain how that threat was exploited as part of a more expansive frame endorsing the war on terror and the media’s role/responsibility in terms of its replication at the public level. This has typically been reduced to issues of vulnerability; the WMD threat was used to exacerbate public fear, particularly as the result of a passive relationship between the media and the government where the former simply reproduced the claims of the latter. However, this paper argues that the process of framing was more complex. It is claimed that the US government constructed WMD as a general and undefined threat. The WMD concept is supposedly a reference to specific weapons systems i.e. nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons. However, this distinction was never made. Consequently, the abstract nature of this meant the threat was too vague to criticise fully; where it was not clear what WMD referred to, this could not be questioned. Therefore, the frame relating to the war on terror was not simply a case of ‘spoon-feeding’ by the US government, but a situation in which the debate was structured so that criticism was not possible. This meant the US government could manipulate the WMD threat without ever having to fully justify their claims and precluded the media’s ability to demand any such justification. Ultimately, this paper asks how political actors manipulate the concepts they use to create certain frames, specifically frames constructed in a manner that they cannot be re-interpreted by the media.