Nature of Nuclear Weapons

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2 Dec 2010
International Relations: Week 11 - November 30th, 2010
Nature of Nuclear Weapons
- Nagasaki and Hiroshima only two instances where nuclear weapons were used
o Truman decision to use nuclear weapons was a war-time decision, primary concern was
to end the war and to destroy Japan
o The use of nuclear weapons against Japan cannot be separated from the conditions of
the end of the war t Z}}ÀoµZµv}v]]}voµv[
Left no room for negotiating the end of the war
o Goal was also to save American lives because an invasion of Japan was deemed
extremely costly in terms of U.S. casualties
o Way also for the U.S. to tell the Soviets that the U.S. was the number one superpower in
the world
- Images of mushroom clouds have entered the collective consciousness of humankind
- Mass destruction caused by nuclear devices have changed strategic relationships since
- Effect of nuclear bombs
o 1. Blast itself
o 2. Heat radiation producing fires surrounding the blast
o 3. Nuclear radiation which causes lasting damages
- A nuclear bomb can work in two ways:
o 1. Fission
o 2. Fusion
Much more powerful
o In both instances what is needed is highly enriched uranium (HEU), cannot be found in
nature, process to enrich uranium so that a nuclear explosion is possible
o Key scientific discovery regarding condition of nuclear explosion happened just before
Key discovery led first to a British weapon to develop nuclear weapons then
handed off to U.S. t Manhattan Project, cooperative project that brought large
number of scientists from all over the world to California
- Evolution of nuclear strategy was heavily influenced by technology
o Technology increased dramatically with development of H-bomb, nuclear fusion
technology, powerful enough to destroy any city in the world in a flash
o Delivery system changed also, after 1957 with Sputnik, delivery system changed from
aircraft to missiles
o ICBM, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, defence against such an attack became
One missile carrying one nuclear bomb, then development of MIRV, one missile
carrying multiple nuclear devices
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- Competition between U.S. and Moscow focused on arms race during Cold War, Soviets had huge
advance in terms of ICBM, gap filled by America in early 60s, wanted to keep up with each other
in terms of technological developments
- Training of infantry post Warsaw Pact took place in a nuclear environment
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o Soviets trained under actual nuclear explosions in Kazakhstan
- Soviets misunderstood the effect of radiation, used nuclear explosions to build lakes for
- Balance between the sword and the shield shifted with the invention of nuclear weapons
o Unprecedented capacity for destruction and punishment combined with no meaningful
ways to defend against that power
- Embededness of deterrence
o Consequences high enough for the countries to refrain to act
- Deterrence
o 1. Psychological Factor
Capacity of punishment so high, a decision maker must be convinced that its
action must be met by a nuclear reprisal
No one is crazy enough to lead to a collective suicide, deterrence is effective
o 2. Capacity
Capacity for second strike
A country in order to have a credible deterrence posture must be able to answer
after an attack, must be able to deliver nuclear weapons after being attacked
If your enemy believes that he can destroy your nuclear capabilities then there
is no deterrence because there is a premium to strike first in order to delete
your nuclear capabilities
If you have a relatively small number of nuclear weapons that fit in aircraft and
all aircraft are located in the same airfield and enemy has capacity to destroy
these aircraft, you are deprived of the capacity to strike after these have been
Need to be able to strike back
x Only ensured where the Soviet Union and the U.S. started to have the
technology for nuclear submarines able to fire nuclear weapons
wherever they are
o Submarines have nuclear engine and able to stay under water
for up to six months, no way for enemy to know where they are
o Deterrence in play
o Deterrence reached relatively quickly between U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold
One of the key factors explaining the stability of the Cold War itself
o U.S. relied on different doctrines regarding nuclear weapons
1. Massive retaliation
x Based on the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)
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x Message to Soviet Union was for any attack against the U.S., we will
launch our nuclear capabilities in a massive retaliation strategy
x Whatever you do, you will be destroyed
x Problem of doctrine was its lack of flexibility
o If everÇ]µ}µoo}oÁUZv][}ou
your entire defence posture is driven by MAD
o Is it worth it to run the risk of MAD
o Question arose at the end of 50s, incident on two tiny islands
offshore of Thailand
o U.S. realized that the threat of massive retaliation was not
credible as this little incident was not worth the end of the
o Influential book by Kissinger saying that posture of massive
retaliation made diplomacy impossible, foreign policy itself is
completely under the umbrella of nuclear strategy
o Kennedy fearful of nuclear war by miscalculation or by accident
o 2. Flexible Response
About increasing the threshold where nuclear weapons may be used
About meeting a Soviet attack with the same means, with a proportionality
If have two Soviet battalions attacking a periphery of West interests, answer is
to meet two battalions with two other battalions
x Nuclear weapons could be used after an escalation by both sides
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nuclear war immediately
x Increase threshold where nuclear weapons could be used
Mostly a political device to make sure nuclear weapons may be used but at a
further stage of confrontation
Took 10 years to develop as Allies of U.S. were not happy about it
x Germany in particular thought shift to use of flexible response was a
decrease in U.S. commitment to defend Germany
x Security of West Germany relied heavily on the use of nuclear weapons
x Inside NATO took a decade to come up with a consensus regarding
flexible response
x Issue was to reassure the U.S. allies in Europe that indeed America
would use nuclear weapons to defend those countries
o At the same time U.S. wanted to remain sure that the use of
nuclear weapons would be used for a good reason
o Balance was extremely difficult to find
Bottom line was about extended deterrence, commitment of super power to
defend its allies using nuclear weapons
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