The nuclear arms race



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A Level M. Nichols SCIE 2011


THE NUCLEAR ARMS RACE

(1945-1991)

Theme 4: The Nuclear Arms Race, 1945-91
The Spread of Nuclear Weapons

The USA developed nuclear weapons during WWII. The Manhattan Project was lavishly funded and utilized the talents of a multi-national collection of scientists, including Americans, Hungarians, German Jews and Britons. It was led by Robert Oppenheimer, a man who would later repudiate his earlier views and campaign for nuclear disarmament.


President Truman would authorize their use against Japan, dropping two weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945. It is the only time nuclear weapons (WMD) have been used in anger.
Why Truman used them remains controversial.


  • Was he trying to save lives, by forcing a Japanese surrender? The allies would have lost many men invading the Japanese mainland (Okinawa had already given them a glimpse of Japanese fanaticism); some historians believe Truman’s experiences as an artillery captain in WWI had given him a compassionate and empathetic insight into what ground troops faced;

  • Was he trying to intimidate the Soviets? Certainly, at Potsdam, Churchill suggests once the American president knew the Bomb worked (it had been tested in the New Mexico desert in 1945) he had become more arrogant towards the Soviets;

  • Or did he just want to test a weapon that had cost billions to develop?

Their use certainly helped the Cold War to develop. Truman refused to share the secrets of the Bomb, not even with GB. Stalin was understandably worried, and set about acquiring the technology from spies like Klaus Fuchs. By 1949, the Soviets also had an A-Bomb.




The first nuclear weapons were gravity bombs, such as this "Fat Man" weapon dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. They were very large and could only be delivered by heavy bomber aircraft


The USA

The US would develop many types of nuclear weapon after 1945.



Use the internet site: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon to find the answers. Use the links also to help you. Dates are approximate.


Weapon

Date

Description

Implications for Cold War

Gravity Bombs



1953

A relatively small explosion releases a huge amount of neutron radiation. It will kill masses of people, but not destroy infrastructure, and produce little fallout (dirt mixed with radiation)

Escalated the arms race as the US tested one in 1952, and by the autumn of 1953, the USSR also had H-Bombs. All this while the Korean War was going on, heightening tensions

Neutron Bombs



1956

Large, conventional-looking fission bombs that could only be dropped by heavy bombers like the B-29; small by later standards they had a maximum yield of

500 KNT. The US even today relies a lot on gravity weapons like the B28 (1958) - B83 (1983-)



These weapons are arguably the most dangerous, as they can be fired from anywhere and have great accuracy. The Americans developed nuclear-powered boats that can stay submerged for a long time. They still have 14 nuclear subs today.

Hydrogen Bombs



1954

Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles are fired from underwater vessels. The US developed Polaris, Chevaline, and later Trident I and Trident II systems, exporting them to GB

A US invention that would cause a lot of argument, as one missile could now carry say 10 individually targeted bombs. Led to many problems when it came to arms reductions talks.

SLBM’s



1945

Developed for use on the battlefield, as torpedoes, depth charges and artillery shells; even suitcase bombs were developed

A particularly controversial WMD as they were designed primarily to kill people. Carter cancelled them, but Reagan did not - ordering them in 1981

ICBM’s



1963

Much more powerful than Atom Bombs they are sometimes known as thermonuclear weapons as they rely on fusion. Their yield is theoretically unlimited and 100 Megaton devices are possible (though the largest ever tested was a Soviet one of 50 Megatons)

Triggered the start of the nuclear arms race as the USSR rushed to develop similar WMD to counter the advantage the USA now had in nuclear technology and numbers. They used espionage to gain the secrets they needed

MIRV’s



1960

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles can be fired great distances and have high yields and a deadly accuracy

Given they involve a variety of delivery systems, and are often small and portable, they were easy to hide and deploy

Tactical Weapons



1959

Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles are basically multiple warhead weapons. One missile can carry numerous weapons and hit various targets

Developed first by the USSR, they meant the two superpowers could destroy each other in only 30 minutes




Weapon

Date

Description

Implications for Cold War

Gravity Bombs













Neutron Bombs












Hydrogen Bombs













SLBM’s












ICBM’s












MIRV’s













Tactical Weapons













The USSR
At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets had between 16-45 000 nuclear weapons stockpiled. Though behind the US initially, in some ways they managed to forge ahead, especially in ICBM’s, explosive-yieldage, and in the space race.


Weapon

Date

Description

Implications for Cold War

Gravity Bombs


August 1949

Soviets test their first A-Bomb and stockpile 5 ‘Joe-1’s

Now the world was divided into two nuclear superpowers

Hydrogen Bombs


August

1953


Tested its first (partial) H-Bomb known as the RDS-6S

Soviets now had the much more powerful weapon as well

Tsar Bomba

October

1961


Most powerful nuclear device ever exploded was a three-stage 50 Megaton weapon that could cause third degree burns 100km from its epicentre!

Khruschev used it to intimidate the Americans, claiming the USSR was developing 100 Megaton devices like sausages!

ICBM’s


May 1957

R7 a 3-Megaton missile developed as world’s first ICBM.
(The USSR, like the USA, also had numerous IRBM’s, MRBM’s, MIRV’s, ABM’s, SRBM’s and tactical weapons)

Now the USSR could hit US cities without the need for strategic nuclear bombers. The US responded with its own ICBM’s from 1959. The US quickly developed a lead, but Eisenhower and Kennedy would always claim there was a ‘missile gap’ in the Soviets’ favour, which, as they knew, was simply untrue



Discussion

  1. Which nation originally had the most nuclear weapons?

  2. When did the two superpowers reach a rough parity?

  3. Which period saw the largest total stockpile of weapons?

  4. Why did the numbers fall from the late 1980s and 1990s?

The Other Nuclear Powers

Using your text and internet sites match up the details with the correct nation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/listofstateswithnuclearweapons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_and_the_United_Kingdom

Nation

Date Acquired

Description

Implications for Cold War

United Kingdom



1960

Developed its nuclear weapons programme, with initial Soviet help, from the 1950s. By 1967, it also had Hydrogen Bombs, and later MRBM’s

Trying to assert itself as a regional power, and as a deterrent against Pakistan and China. It further de-stabilised an already tense region

France



1952

Had secretly developed weapons as a way of protecting itself against its Arab neighbours, and said to have sixth largest stockpile in the world. It jailed Mordechai Vanunu for twenty years, after he revealed their existence in 1986

Concerned with its global status, but also determined to play a key role in NATO, alongside the USA; it was the third global nuclear power. During the Cold War it not only had SLBM’s, but also a strategic bomber force

China



1974

Created, despite fierce objections from nations like Canada, which had supplied peaceful nuclear technology

Developed as a guarantor of apartheid, but since abandoned after it signed the Nuclear NPT in 1991

Israel



1990

Produced six weapons in the 1980s, probably secretly testing them in the Indian Ocean (the Vela Incident)

De Gaulle’s forces de frappes, it was developed as much to maintain their status in the world as to ‘tear the arm’ from the Soviets should they ever attack

India



1979

Had developed and maintained its own weapons and nuclear submarines, despite the huge cost, after the 1956 Suez Crisis and increasing estrangement from the United States.

Developed weapons as a deterrent against both the US and USSR, but at a huge cost in resources (50% of all its electrical power in the test year!)

Pakistan



1979

The US’ closest ally had initially been denied American nuclear weapons technology by Truman, and so it developed its own gravity bombs and Blue Steel missiles. In 1957, it tested an H-Bomb. However, under Eisenhower, it acquired SLBM’s like Polaris (and later Trident)

Refused to declare whether it had them. Its possession led states like Iraq and Iran to try and develop their own WMD. Another example of how even its closest ally, the USA, could not control nuclear proliferation

South Africa



1964

Tested its first weapons 16 years after its neighbour and rival did.

Created its arsenal as a response to India, US imposed (ineffective) sanctions in 1990 on it




Nation

Date Acquired

Description

Implications for Cold War

United Kingdom












France












China












Israel












India












Pakistan












South Africa














Deterrence Theories
The irony of nuclear weapons was that they were never meant to be used. Instead their possession was meant to act as a deterrence to aggression.
Initially, the USA had a ‘First Strike’ policy. This meant that it would use nuclear weapons against, for example, an invasion by the USSR of Western Europe. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) under its unstable chief, General Curtis Le May, saw its role as to deliver a massive B-52 bomber assault on the Soviet Union itself. In the 1950s, its planes were kept on permanent standby and in the air 24/7. John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, had a “massive retaliation” policy. Submarine commanders were even allowed autonomous control of their SBLM’s. However, as the Cold War developed US policy changed. The First Strike option was removed as immoral and de-stabilizing, and later only the President had the ability to order a nuclear attack. It was also altered by the fact that rough parity between the superpowers (as well as the invention of ICBM’s) meant it was no longer even practical. Instead the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was implemented during the period of détente. This was the view that no side could win a nuclear war and in any exchange of thermonuclear weapons both would be destroyed.
Another shift came with the accession to the White House of Ronald Reagan. He had naïve ideas of developing a nuclear umbrella using Anti Ballistic Missiles and the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) or Star Wars programme. This worried the Soviets enormously as it seemed to indicate the Americans believed they could now win a nuclear war with a pre-emptive strike! It was for years a serious obstacle to successful arms talks.
The problems of deterrence can be summarized as:

  • Does not deal with maverick or suicidal opponents bent on destruction; enemies do not always act rationally; Israel did not expect an attack from Egypt in 1973 because it believed the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were so strong, Egypt knew it would be beaten; President Sadat attacked anyway;

  • Deterrence led to an arms race which involved the fallacious logic (or syllogism) that ‘unless I have as many or more weapons than my opponent, deterrence will be negated’; and it created a ‘security dilemma’ scenario;

  • Military build ups are not only de-stabilizing, but horrendously expensive and so create even further tensions within a nation; they also lead to a neglect of conventional forces meaning a nuclear war becomes more likely;

  • The possession of huge stockpiles of weapons can be as much to do with national (or even personal) status as with deterrence; France, for example, has its forces de frappes arguably more to maintain its permanent seat on the Security Council than for genuine defensive reasons;

  • An accidental launch can always occur or an over-reaction to say, a drifting weather balloon or a NATO military exercise (1983), can, and does, happen;

  • Nor did nuclear weapons do much to hinder or solve conflicts in the Third World;


Questions
Use the site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mutuallyassureddestruction



  1. What academic theory underpins MAD?




  1. What US developed weapons system undermined MAD?




  1. What was ‘second strike’ capability? Describe its rationale.



  1. Why was the development of SLBM’s so de-stabilising? How were they superior to ICBM’s?



  1. What was Carter’s countervailing strategy (Presidential Directive 59)?




  1. What is BMD? Why did the USSR and later Russia dislike it?




  1. Why would a missile launch from near the Sino-Russian border cause problems for the United States? What does this indicate about warning systems?



Test Ban Treaties
(See also page 23 in the ‘Globilisation of the Cold War’ booklet).
The 1972 SALT I agreement is called by Lundestad the most important of the arms limitation treaties. They were an important milestone and crucial element of détente. SALT I was signed by Nixon and Brezhnev in Moscow.
downribbonsharp


SALT I

  • ABM’s were limited to two deployments each; this was reduced to one apiece in 1974; this held until 2002;

  • Five year agreement on limiting the number of weapons’ launchers; USSR could have 2 200, the USA 1 700; the USA was allowed fewer because:

  • MIRV’s and strategic bombers were not included, and the US had more of these than the USSR;

  • Reynolds comments both superpowers had shown their willingness to limit their arms race by this agreement;






SALT II in 1979 saw new agreements signed by President Carter and Brezhnev in Vienna.

downribbonsharp

SALT II

  • Both sides agreed to a ceiling of 2 400 weapons, only 1 320 of which could have more than one warhead;

  • This reduced the disparity in launchers (which had been unpopular in the conservative US Senate), but also negated America’s advantage in MIRV’s;

  • Soviets also agreed to reduce their strategic bomber force;

  • New missile programmes (to improve missiles) were banned;





Problems & Limitations of SALT
SALT I had been unpopular with the Senate, which believed the Soviet Union was being allowed to keep more of its (bigger) missiles. Reynolds agrees, calling the terms of SALT I unfavourable to the USA.
SALT II was never ratified by Congress, and then it was repudiated by Reagan in 1986 (but it had been honoured by both sides up until then at least).
Both sides retained enough warheads to effectively destroy the planet many times over. Was the world really any safer? Or had just a few bullets been taken out of the magazine?
Other Agreements
Use internet sites to find the details required: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/strategicarmslimitationstalks


Treaty

Full Name

Date

Content

PTBT








NPT








ABMT








PNW Agreement








TTBT








INF








START I








START II









Ford and Brezhnev signing a joint communiqué on the SALT treaty in Vladivostok, November 23, 1974.

The Impact of the Nuclear Arms Race
David Reynolds claims that the Cold War was vital to the US’ economy. It led to a boom in the West of the nation, especially. Martin Walker also emphasizes how California’s population surged from 5 to 30 million as a result of the vast military-industrial complex. Aircraft production (particularly by Boeing) employed more people in Washington State than lumber or logging. The US was transformed by the arms race. The massive expansion in college funding was partially the result of a need for more technicians and engineers to make weapons. Painter claims that: “military expenditures tended to create constituencies that benefitted from the continuation of Cold War tensions”.
However, Oliver Edwards, stresses that US defence spending, except in certain years, was decreasing. It hovered around 9% of GNP (or even lower). He calls the expense “burdensome”, but affordable in comparison to the Soviet’s 25% of GNP. He also points out that the US saw fewer troops after the peak in 1953 and Universal Military Training (UMT) was never resorted to. Even taxes did not increase. He gives credit to Truman and Eisenhower for resisting militarization. If anything the hawk amidst the doves was the supposedly liberal Kennedy, under whom there were defence increases! Even Edwards, though, does not deny the costs of the Cold War. In 1955, $42.4 billion out of a total federal budget of $68.4 billion was spent on the armed forces. But the USA was still a place which was “able to afford both guns and butter” - unlike the USSR.
Khruschev had helped secure his position in the USSR by embarking on a massive strategic arms build-up and ‘space race’. The USSR launched the first satellite into orbit (‘Sputnik’ in October, 1957) and had developed the first ICBM (earlier in 1957). Still it lagged behind the US. By 1961, it had only 4 R-7s (ICBM’s). The USA had 224! The USSR’s attempts to close the ‘missile gap’ with the US would help bankrupt it. The USA had three times the USSR’s GNP. It could afford the expense and the technology. The USSR may have put a man in space (Yuri Gagarin) first, but one British diplomat could drive his car the 430 miles between Moscow and Leningrad in the same year, 1961, and come across only two petrol stations, at one of which the pumps did not work (an anecdote quoted by both Edwards and Reynolds)! The arms race clearly skewed the priorities of the Soviet government. To Edwards, “America’s higher rates of economic growth enabled it to sustain the Cold War, whereas ultimately relative Soviet economic weakness was a major reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War”. He concludes that the USSR was only ever an “incomplete superpower”. Nor must it be forgotten that US military expenditure in the 1960s was often high not because of direct Cold War rivalry, but because of indirect Cold War struggles like the Vietnam War.
The USA always knew about the arms disparities because of its U2 spy planes. The shooting down of a U2 in 1960 saw a nadir in relations, as Eisenhower tried to deny it was an espionage mission. This wrecked the 1960 Paris peace summit.
But the US did not need U2’s after 1960 anyway. It had satellites in space, which is why it was keen to de-militarise space. It did not want them getting shot down, especially given the Soviets early lead in the ‘space race’.
During the 60s, the USSR began a massive arms build-up which saw them devote a quarter of their GNP and workforce to it. It led to bluff, bullying and brinkmanship. The USSR bullied powers like China, which had far fewer missiles. It bluffed both the PRC and USA that it would launch a nuclear strike; and it took the world to the brink of the abyss in episodes like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Ultimately, we should see the arms race as not so much a corruptor of the US’ liberal values, and a bankruptor of the Soviet’s economy, as a disaster for Mankind. Nuclear weapons were the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over all our heads. While the Cold War may have ended, the sword remains ready to fall still.
Who Was to Blame for the Arms Race?

Match up the action with the response, and then say who instigated the original action.


Action

Response

Whose fault?

A-Bomb (1945)

Jupiter ICBM




A-35 ABM System

MIRV’s




H-Bomb (1952)

Pershing II & Cruise




R7 ICBM

H-Bomb (1953)




SLBM’s

Telstar




MIRV’s

A-Bomb (1949)




Sputnik

Sprint ABM




SS-20

SLBM’s







Action

Response

Whose fault?

A-Bomb (1945)






ABM’s






H-Bomb (1952)






R7 ICBM






MIRV’s






SLBM’s






Sputnik








SS 20








A Military-Industrial Complex?

pubrrectcallout



Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plow shares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Extracts from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, 1960


Questions (use Edwards pages 158-161 to help)


  1. What was the military industrial complex (MIC) Eisenhower was referring to?

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________



  1. What arguments are there to support his viewpoint?

______________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



  1. What arguments are there to suggest he exaggerated?

______________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



  1. How was Eisenhower being disingenuous?

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________


Past Questions


  1. How important were SALT I and SALT II to the limitation of nuclear weapons in the period from 1970 to 1989? [M. 2009]

  2. ‘The attempts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons were more successful than controlling nuclear weapons development.’ How far do you agree with reference to the period from 1960 to 1985? [N. 2009]



How important were SALT I and SALT II to the limitation of nuclear weapons in the period from 1970 to 1989?

This question offers candidates the opportunity to discuss the significance of the SALT treaties in the nuclear arms race. Candidates may state that the treaties were the first significant step in controlling the development of nuclear weaponry. SALT I limited the development of ABM systems. SALT II also limited development of weapons. However, SALT II was not ratified by the US Senate and its significance was overshadowed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. From 1979 the USSR developed theatre weapons such as the SS20 and the US deployed the Pershing II and Cruise missiles in central Europe. More significant was the Reagan/Gorbachev period of 1985-89

The attempts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons were more successful than controlling nuclear weapons development.’ How far do you agree with reference to the period from 1960 to 1985?

This question offers candidates the opportunity to engage in a comparative analysis of the success of attempts to prevent proliferation with attempts to control development in nuclear weapons. The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 should be the centre of any assessment of success of the first part of the assertion. Candidates may state that by 1985 nuclear weapons were limited to the USA, USSR, PRC, France, UK and India. They may also state that Israel and South Africa had secret nuclear capability. In terms of controlling nuclear development candidates may mention SALT I and SALT II and START. They may also mention deployment of SS20; Pershing II and Cruise in 1983 and the US plans for SDI.






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