Nuclear warfare

Nuclear warfare

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Nuclear warfare, or atomic warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

ry is detonated on an opponent. Compared to conventional warfare
Conventional warfare
Conventional warfare is a form of warfare conducted byusing conventional military weapons and battlefield tactics between two or more states in open confrontation. The forces on each side are well-defined, and fight using weapons that primarily target the opposing army...

, nuclear warfare can be vastly more destructive in range and extent of damage. A major nuclear exchange could have severe long-term effects, primarily from radiation
Radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

 release but also from possible atmospheric pollution leading to nuclear winter
Nuclear winter
Nuclear winter is a predicted climatic effect of nuclear war. It has been theorized that severely cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years could be caused by detonating large numbers of nuclear weapons, especially over flammable targets such as cities, where large...

, that could last for decades, centuries, or even millennia after the initial attack. Nuclear war is considered to bear existential risk
Existential risk
Existential risks are dangers that have the potential to destroy, or drastically restrict, human civilization. They are distinguished from other forms of risk both by their scope, affecting all of humanity, and severity; destroying or irreversibly crippling the target.Natural disasters, such as...

 for civilization on Earth.

Only two nuclear weapons
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 near the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. On 6 August 1945, a uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 gun-type device code-named "Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

" was detonated over the Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese city of Hiroshima
Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

. Three days later, on 9 August, a plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 implosion-type device code-named "Fat Man
Fat Man
"Fat Man" is the codename for the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States on August 9, 1945. It was the second of the only two nuclear weapons to be used in warfare to date , and its detonation caused the third man-made nuclear explosion. The name also refers more...

" was exploded over Nagasaki, Japan. These two bombings resulted in the deaths of approximately 200,000 Japanese people—mostly civilians—from acute injuries sustained from the explosions.

After World War II, nuclear weapons were also developed by the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, and the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, which contributed to the state of conflict and tension that became known as the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. In the 1970s, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and in the 1990s, Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, countries openly hostile to each other, developed nuclear weapons. Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

, and South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 are also believed to have developed nuclear weapons, although South Africa became the first country to subsequently abandon them. Nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for testing purposes and demonstrations.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resultant end of the Cold War, the threat of a major nuclear war between the superpower
Superpower
A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests...

s was generally thought to have receded. Since then, concern over nuclear weapons has shifted to the prevention of localized nuclear conflicts resulting from nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

, and the threat of nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism denotes the use, or threat of the use, of nuclear weapons or radiological weapons in acts of terrorism, includingattacks against facilities where radioactive materials are present...

.

Types of nuclear warfare


The possibility of using nuclear weapons in war is usually divided into two subgroups, each with different effects and potentially fought with different types of nuclear armaments.

The first, a limited nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to a small scale use of nuclear weapons by one or more parties. A "limited nuclear war" would consist of a limited exchange between two nuclear powers targeting each other's military facilities, either as an attempt to pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a defensive measure or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces as an offensive measure. This term would apply to any limited use of nuclear weapons, which may involve either military or civilian targets.

The second, a full-scale nuclear war, consists of large numbers of weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including military, economic and civilian targets. Such an attack would almost certainly destroy the entire economic, social, and military infrastructure of the target nation, and would probably have a devastating effect on Earth's biosphere.

Some Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 strategists such as Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger
Heinz Alfred "Henry" Kissinger is a German-born American academic, political scientist, diplomat, and businessman. He is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He served as National Security Advisor and later concurrently as Secretary of State in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and...

 argued that a limited nuclear war could be possible between two heavily armed superpowers (such as the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

) and if so several predicted that a limited war could "escalate
Conflict escalation
Conflict escalation describes the escalation of a conflict to a more destructive, confrontational, painful, or otherwise "less comfortable" level; in particular, it is concerned with how persons or forces can be controlled or subdued in conflict...

" into an all-out war. Others have called limited nuclear war "global nuclear holocaust in slow motion" arguing that once such a war took place others would be sure to follow over a period of decades, effectively rendering the planet uninhabitable in the same way that a "full-scale nuclear war" between superpowers would, only taking a much longer and more agonizing path to reach the same result.

Even the most optimistic predictions of the effects of a major nuclear exchange foresee the death of a hundred million people within a very short amount of time; more pessimistic predictions argue that a full-scale nuclear war could bring about the extinction of the human race
Human extinction
Human extinction is the end of the human species. Various scenarios have been discussed in science, popular culture, and religion . The scope of this article is existential risks. Humans are very widespread on the Earth, and live in communities which are capable of some kind of basic survival in...

 or its near extinction with a handful of survivors (mainly in remote areas) reduced quality of life
Quality of life
The term quality of life is used to evaluate the general well-being of individuals and societies. The term is used in a wide range of contexts, including the fields of international development, healthcare, and politics. Quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of...

 and life expectancy
Life expectancy
Life expectancy is the expected number of years of life remaining at a given age. It is denoted by ex, which means the average number of subsequent years of life for someone now aged x, according to a particular mortality experience...

 for centuries after and cause permanent damage to most complex life on the planet, Earth's ecosystems, and the global climate, particularly if predictions of nuclear winter
Nuclear winter
Nuclear winter is a predicted climatic effect of nuclear war. It has been theorized that severely cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years could be caused by detonating large numbers of nuclear weapons, especially over flammable targets such as cities, where large...

 are accurate.

A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union
American Geophysical Union
The American Geophysical Union is a nonprofit organization of geophysicists, consisting of over 50,000 members from over 135 countries. AGU's activities are focused on the organization and dissemination of scientific information in the interdisciplinary and international field of geophysics...

 in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics
Subtropics
The subtropics are the geographical and climatical zone of the Earth immediately north and south of the tropical zone, which is bounded by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, at latitudes 23.5°N and 23.5°S...

 each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (ca. 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers, the researchers estimated fatalities from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country. Also, as much as five million tons of soot
Soot
Soot is a general term that refers to impure carbon particles resulting from the incomplete combustion of a hydrocarbon. It is more properly restricted to the product of the gas-phase combustion process but is commonly extended to include the residual pyrolyzed fuel particles such as cenospheres,...

 would be released, which would produce a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

, including most of the grain-growing regions. The cooling would last for years and could be "catastrophic" according to the researchers.

Either a limited or full-scale nuclear exchange could be an accidental nuclear war, in which a nuclear war is triggered unintentionally. Possible triggers for this scenario have included malfunctioning early warning devices and targeting computers, deliberate malfeasance by rogue military commanders, accidental straying of planes into enemy airspace, reactions to unannounced missile tests during tense diplomatic periods, reactions to military exercises, mistranslated or misscommunicated messages, and so forth. A number of these scenarios did actually occur during the Cold War, though none resulted in a nuclear exchange. Many such scenarios have been depicted in popular culture
Nuclear weapons in popular culture
Since their public debut in August 1945, nuclear weapons and their potential effects have been a recurring motif in popular culture, to the extent that the decades of the Cold War are often referred to as the "atomic age."-Images of nuclear weapons:...

, such as in the 1962 novel Fail-Safe
Fail-Safe (novel)
Fail-Safe is a novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, published in 1962.The popular and critically acclaimed novel was first adapted into a 1964 film of the same name directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, Dan O'Herlihy, and Walter Matthau. In 2000, the novel was adapted again for...

(released as a film in 1964) and the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, commonly known as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 black comedy film which satirizes the nuclear scare. It was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and featuring Sterling...

, also released in 1964.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


During the final stages of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945 and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s in war to date.

For six months before the atomic bombings, the United States intensely fire-bombed 67 Japanese cities. Together with the United Kingdom and the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

, the United States called for a surrender of Japan in the Potsdam Declaration
Potsdam Declaration
The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S...

 on July 26, 1945. The Japanese government ignored
Mokusatsu
is a Japanese word meaning "to ignore" or "to treat with silent contempt". It is composed of two kanji: and . The government of Japan used the term as a response to Allied demands in the Potsdam Declaration for unconditional surrender in World War II, which influenced President Harry S...

 this ultimatum. By executive order of President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

, the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 "Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

" on the city of Hiroshima
Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

 on Monday, August 6, 1945, followed by the detonation of "Fat Man
Fat Man
"Fat Man" is the codename for the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States on August 9, 1945. It was the second of the only two nuclear weapons to be used in warfare to date , and its detonation caused the third man-made nuclear explosion. The name also refers more...

" over Nagasaki
Nagasaki
is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Nagasaki was founded by the Portuguese in the second half of the 16th century on the site of a small fishing village, formerly part of Nishisonogi District...

 on August 9.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. The Hiroshima prefectural health department estimates that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness
Radiation Sickness
Radiation Sickness is a VHS by the thrash metal band Nuclear Assault. The video is a recording of a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London in 1988. It was released in 1991...

, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In a U.S. estimate of the total immediate and short term cause of death, 15–20% died from radiation sickness, 20–30% from flash burns, and 50–60% from other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.

Six days after the detonation over Nagasaki, on August 15, Japan announced its surrender
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...

 to the Allied Powers
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

, signing the Instrument of Surrender
Japanese Instrument of Surrender
The Japanese Instrument of Surrender was the written agreement that enabled the Surrender of Japan, marking the end of World War II. It was signed by representatives from the Empire of Japan, the United States of America, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist...

 on September 2, officially ending the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

 and therefore World War II, as Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 had already signed its Instrument of Surrender on May 7, ending the war in Europe
European Theatre of World War II
The European Theatre of World War II was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe from Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 until the end of the war with the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945...

. The bombings led, in part, to post-war Japan
Post-Occupation Japan
Post-Occupation Japan is a phrase used to describe the period in the history of Japan which started at the end of the Allied occupation in 1952.During this period, Japan re-established itself as a global economic and political power....

's adopting Three Non-Nuclear Principles
Three Non-Nuclear Principles
Japan's are a parliamentary resolution that have guided Japanese nuclear policy since their inception in the late 1960s, and reflect general public sentiment and national policy since the end of World War II. The tenets state that Japan shall neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor...

, forbidding the nation from nuclear armament. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical
Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 justification for them, as well as their strategic
Strategy
Strategy, a word of military origin, refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked...

 importance, is still debated
Debate over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The debate over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki concerns the ethical, legal and military controversies surrounding the United States' atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 August and 9 August 1945 at the close of the Second World War...

.

Immediately after the Japan bombings


Immediately after the bombings of Japan, the status of atomic weapons in international and military relations was unclear. Presumably, the United States hoped atomic weapons could offset the Soviet Union's superior conventional ground forces in Eastern Europe, and possibly be used to pressure Soviet leader Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 into concessions. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union pursued its own atomic capabilities through scientific research and espionage against the American program. The Soviets believed that the Americans, with their limited nuclear arsenal, were unlikely to engage in any new world wars, while the Americans were not confident they could prevent a Soviet takeover of Europe, despite their atomic advantage.

Within the United States the authority to produce and develop nuclear weapons was removed from military control and put instead under the civilian control of the United States Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

. This decision reflected an understanding that nuclear weapons had unique risks and benefits separate from other military technology.


For several years after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the US developed and maintained a strategic force based on the Convair B-36
Convair B-36
The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force from 1949 to 1959. The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made. It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built , although there have...

 bomber that would be able to attack any potential enemy from bomber bases in the US. It deployed atomic bombs around the world for potential use in conflicts. Over a period of a few years, many in the US defense community became increasingly convinced of the invincibility of the United States to a nuclear attack. Indeed, it became generally believed that the threat of nuclear war would deter any strike against the United States.

Many proposals were suggested to put all US nuclear weapons under international control—for example, by the newly formed United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 — as an effort to deter both their usage and an arms race. However no terms could be arrived at that would be agreed upon by both the US and the USSR.
On August 29, 1949 the USSR tested its first nuclear weapon at Semipalatinsk
Semipalatinsk Test Site
The Semipalatinsk Test Site was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons. It is located on the steppe in northeast Kazakhstan , south of the valley of the Irtysh River...

 in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 (see also Soviet atomic bomb project
Soviet atomic bomb project
The Soviet project to develop an atomic bomb , was a clandestine research and development program began during and post-World War II, in the wake of the Soviet Union's discovery of the United States' nuclear project...

). Scientists in the United States from the Manhattan Project had warned that, in time, the Soviet Union would certainly develop nuclear capabilities of its own. Nevertheless, the effect upon military thinking and planning in the US was dramatic, primarily because American military strategists had not anticipated the Soviets would "catch up" so soon. However, at this time, they had not discovered that the Russians had conducted significant espionage
Nuclear espionage
Nuclear espionage is the purposeful giving of state secrets regarding nuclear weapons to other states without authorization . During the history of nuclear weapons there have been many cases of known nuclear espionage, and also many cases of suspected or alleged espionage...

 of the project from spies at Los Alamos, the most significant of which was done by the theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs
Klaus Fuchs
Klaus Emil Julius Fuchs was a German theoretical physicist and atomic spy who in 1950 was convicted of supplying information from the American, British and Canadian atomic bomb research to the USSR during and shortly after World War II...

. The first Soviet bomb was more or less a deliberate copy of the Fat Man
Fat Man
"Fat Man" is the codename for the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States on August 9, 1945. It was the second of the only two nuclear weapons to be used in warfare to date , and its detonation caused the third man-made nuclear explosion. The name also refers more...

 device.

With the monopoly over nuclear technology broken, worldwide nuclear proliferation accelerated. The United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 tested its first independent atomic bomb in 1952, followed by France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in 1960 and then the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 in 1964. While much smaller than the arsenals of the USA and the USSR, Western Europe's nuclear reserves were nevertheless a significant factor in strategic planning during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. A top-secret white paper
White paper
A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions, and are often requested and used in politics, policy, business, and technical fields. In commercial use, the term has also come to refer to...

 produced for the British Government in 1959, compiled by the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

, estimated that British atomic bombers were capable of destroying key cities and military targets in the Soviet Union, with an estimated 16 million deaths in the USSR (half of whom were estimated to be killed on impact and the rest fatally injured) before bomber aircraft from the United States' Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 reached their targets.

The 1950s


Though the USSR had nuclear weapon capabilities in the beginning of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, the US still had an advantage in terms of bombers and weapons. In any exchange of hostilities, the US would have been capable of bombing the USSR, while the USSR would have more difficulties arranging the reverse.

The widespread introduction of jet
Jet engine
A jet engine is a reaction engine that discharges a fast moving jet to generate thrust by jet propulsion and in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. This broad definition of jet engines includes turbojets, turbofans, rockets, ramjets, pulse jets...

-powered interceptor aircraft
Interceptor aircraft
An interceptor aircraft is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Interceptors generally rely on high speed and powerful armament in order to complete their mission as quickly as possible and set up...

 upset this imbalance somewhat by reducing the effectiveness of the US bomber fleet. In 1949 Curtis LeMay
Curtis LeMay
Curtis Emerson LeMay was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in 1968....

 was placed in command of the Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 and instituted a program to update the bomber fleet to one that was all-jet. During the early 1950s the B-47 and B-52
B-52 Stratofortress
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber operated by the United States Air Force since the 1950s. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, who have continued to provide maintainence and upgrades to the aircraft in service...

 were introduced, providing the ability to bomb the USSR more easily.

Before the development of a capable strategic missile force in the Soviet Union, much of the war-fighting doctrine held by western nations revolved around using a large number of smaller nuclear weapons used in a tactical role. It is debatable whether such use could be considered "limited" however, because it was believed that the US would use their own strategic weapons (mainly bombers at the time) should the USSR deploy any kind of nuclear weapon against civilian targets. Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

, an American general, was fired by President Harry Truman, partially because he persistently requested permission to use his own discretion in deciding whether to use atomic weapons on the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 in 1951 (as the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 was raging). Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

, China's communist leader, gave the impression that he would welcome a nuclear war with the capitalists because it would annihilate their imperialist system.
Several scares about the increasing ability of the USSR's strategic bomber forces surfaced during the 1950s. The defensive response by the US was to deploy a fairly strong layered defense consisting of interceptor aircraft
Interceptor aircraft
An interceptor aircraft is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Interceptors generally rely on high speed and powerful armament in order to complete their mission as quickly as possible and set up...

 and anti-aircraft missiles, like the Nike
Project Nike
Project Nike was a U.S. Army project, proposed in May 1945 by Bell Laboratories, to develop a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The project delivered the United States' first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax, in 1953...

, and guns, like the Skysweeper
Skysweeper
Skysweeper was an anti-aircraft gun deployed in the early 1950s by both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force...

, near larger cities. However this was a small response compared to the construction of a huge fleet of nuclear bombers. The principal nuclear strategy was to massively penetrate the USSR. Because such a large area could not be defended against this overwhelming attack in any credible way, the USSR would lose any exchange.

This logic became ingrained in US nuclear doctrine and persisted for the duration of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. As long as the strategic US nuclear forces could overwhelm their USSR counterparts, a Soviet preemptive strike could be averted. Moreover, the USSR could not afford to build any reasonable counterforce as the economic output of the United States was far larger than that of the Soviets, and they would be unable to achieve nuclear parity.

Soviet nuclear doctrine, however, did not match US nuclear doctrine. Soviet planning expected a large-scale nuclear exchange followed by a conventional war which itself would involve heavy use of tactical nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, US doctrine rather assumed that Soviet doctrine was similar—the mutual in Mutually Assured Destruction necessarily requiring that the other side see things in much the same way, rather than believing, as the Soviets did, that they could fight a large-scale, combined nuclear and conventional war.

A revolution in nuclear strategic thought occurred with the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missile
Intercontinental ballistic missile
An intercontinental ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a long range typically designed for nuclear weapons delivery...

 (ICBM), which the USSR first successfully tested in August 1957. In order to deliver a warhead to a target, a missile was more cost-effective than a bomber, and enjoyed a higher survivability due to the enormous difficulty of interception of the ICBMs due to their high altitude and speed. The USSR could now afford to achieve nuclear parity with the US in terms of raw numbers, although for a time they appeared to have chosen not to.

Photos of Soviet missile sites set off a wave of panic in the US military, something the launch of Sputnik would do for the public a few months later. Politicians, notably then-US Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 John Kennedy suggested a "missile gap
Missile gap
The missile gap was the term used in the United States for the perceived disparity between the number and power of the weapons in the U.S.S.R. and U.S. ballistic missile arsenals during the Cold War. The gap only existed in exaggerated estimates made by the Gaither Committee in 1957 and United...

" between the Soviets and the US. The US military gave missile development programs the highest national priority, and several spy aircraft
Reconnaissance aircraft
A reconnaissance aircraft is a manned military aircraft designed, or adapted, to carry out aerial reconnaissance.-History:The majority of World War I aircraft were reconnaissance designs...

 and reconnaissance satellites were designed and deployed to observe Soviet progress.

1960s



Issues came to a head during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation among the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War...

 in 1962. The Soviet Union placed medium range missiles 90 miles (144.8 km) from the US - a move considered by many as a direct response to American Jupiter missiles placed in Turkey. After intense negotiation, the Soviets ended up removing the missiles from Cuba and decided to institute a massive building program of their own. In exchange, the US dismantled its launch sites in Turkey, although this was done secretly and was not publicly revealed for over two decades. Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

 did not even reveal this part of the agreement when he came under fire by political opponents for mishandling the crisis.

By the late 1960s, the number of ICBMs and warheads was so high on both sides that it was believed either the USA or USSR was capable of completely destroying the other country's infrastructure and population. Thus a balance of power
Balance of power in international relations
In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

 system known as mutually assured destruction (MAD) came into being. It was thought that any full-scale exchange between the powers could not produce a victorious side and thus neither would risk initiating one.
One drawback of this doctrine was the possibility of a nuclear war occurring without either side intentionally striking first. Early warning system
Warning system
A warning system is any system of biological or technical nature deployed by an individual or group to inform of a future danger. Its purpose is to enable the deployer of the warning system to prepare for the danger and act accordingly to mitigate or avoid it....

s were notoriously error-prone. On 78 occasions in 1979, for example, a "missile display conference" was called to evaluate detections potentially threatening to the North American continent. Some of these were trivial errors, spotted quickly. But several went to more serious levels. On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov
Stanislav Petrov
On September 26, 1983 the Nuclear Early Warning System of the Soviet Union twice reported the launch of American Minuteman ICBMs from bases in the United States. These missile attack warnings were correctly identified as a false alarm by Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air...

 received convincing indications of a US first strike launch against the USSR but positively identified the warning as a false alarm. Though it is unclear what role Petrov's actions played in preventing a nuclear war, he has been honored by the United Nations for his actions.

Similar incidents happened many times in the US, due to failed computer chips, flights of geese, test programs, and bureaucratic failures to notify early warning military personnel of legitimate launches of test or weather missiles. For many years, US strategic bombers were kept airborne on a rotating basis round the clock, until the number and severity of accidents persuaded policymakers it was not worthwhile.

1970s


By the late 1970s, citizens in the US and USSR (and indeed the entire world) had been living with MAD
Mutual assured destruction
Mutual Assured Destruction, or mutually assured destruction , is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of...

 for about a decade. It became deeply ingrained into the popular culture. Such an exchange would have killed many millions of individuals directly and possibly induced a nuclear winter
Nuclear winter
Nuclear winter is a predicted climatic effect of nuclear war. It has been theorized that severely cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years could be caused by detonating large numbers of nuclear weapons, especially over flammable targets such as cities, where large...

 which could have led to the death of a large portion of humanity and, potentially, the collapse of global civilization.

On May 18, 1974, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 conducted its first nuclear test in the Pokhran
Pokhran
Pokhran is a city and a municipality located in Jaisalmer district in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a remote location in the Thar Desert region and served as the test site for India's first underground nuclear weapon detonation.-Geography:Pokhran http://marupradesh.org/ located at...

 test range. The name of the operation was Smiling Buddha
Smiling Buddha
The Smiling Buddha, formally designated as Pokhran-I, was the codename given to Republic of India's first nuclear test explosion that took place at the long-constructed Indian Army base, Pokhran Test Range at Pokhran municipality, Rajasthan state on 18 May 1974 at 8:05 a.m....

 and India termed the test as a "peaceful nuclear explosion".

According to the 1980 United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 report General and Complete Disarmament: Comprehensive Study on Nuclear Weapons: Report of the Secretary-General, it was estimated that in total there were approximately 40,000 nuclear warheads in existence at that time with a total yield of approximately 13,000 megatons
TNT equivalent
TNT equivalent is a method of quantifying the energy released in explosions. The ton of TNT is a unit of energy equal to 4.184 gigajoules, which is approximately the amount of energy released in the detonation of one ton of TNT...

. By comparison, when the volcano Mount Tambora
Mount Tambora
Mount Tambora is an active stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano, on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. Sumbawa is flanked both to the north and south by oceanic crust, and Tambora was formed by the active subduction zone beneath it. This raised Mount Tambora as high as , making it...

 erupted in 1815 (turning 1816 into the Year Without A Summer
Year Without a Summer
The Year Without a Summer was 1816, in which severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4–0.7 °C , resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere...

 due to the levels of ash expelled), it exploded with a force of roughly 1,000 megatons. Many people believed that a full-scale nuclear war could result in the extinction of the human species
Human extinction
Human extinction is the end of the human species. Various scenarios have been discussed in science, popular culture, and religion . The scope of this article is existential risks. Humans are very widespread on the Earth, and live in communities which are capable of some kind of basic survival in...

, though not all analysts agreed on the assumptions required for these models.

The idea that any nuclear conflict would eventually escalate was a challenge for military strategists. This challenge was particularly severe for the United States and its NATO allies because it was believed until the 1970s that a Soviet tank invasion of Western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 would quickly overwhelm NATO conventional forces, leading to the necessity of escalating to tactical nuclear weapons.

A number of interesting concepts were developed. Early ICBMs and bombers were inaccurate, which led to the concept of countervalue
Countervalue
Countervalue is the targeting of an opponent's cities and civilian populations. In contrast, counterforce refers to the targeting of an opponent's military personnel, forces and facilities.-Theory:...

 strikes — attacks directly on the enemy population leading to a collapse of the enemy's will to fight. During the Cold War the USSR invested in extensive protected civilian infrastructure such as large nuclear-proof bunkers and non-perishable food stores. In the US, by comparison, smaller scale civil defense
Civil defense
Civil defense, civil defence or civil protection is an effort to protect the citizens of a state from military attack. It uses the principles of emergency operations: prevention, mitigation, preparation, response, or emergency evacuation, and recovery...

 programs were instituted starting in the 1950s where schools and other public buildings had basements stocked with non-perishable food supplies, canned water, first aid, dosimeter
Dosimeter
Dosimeters measure an individual's or an object'sexposure to something in the environment — particularly to a hazard inflicting cumulative impact over long periods of time, or over a lifetime...

 and Geiger counter
Geiger counter
A Geiger counter, also called a Geiger–Müller counter, is a type of particle detector that measures ionizing radiation. They detect the emission of nuclear radiation: alpha particles, beta particles or gamma rays. A Geiger counter detects radiation by ionization produced in a low-pressure gas in a...

 radiation measuring devices. Many of the locations were given "Fallout Shelter
Fallout shelter
A fallout shelter is an enclosed space specially designed to protect occupants from radioactive debris or fallout resulting from a nuclear explosion. Many such shelters were constructed as civil defense measures during the Cold War....

" designation signs. Also, CONELRAD
CONELRAD
CONELRAD was a method of emergency broadcasting to the public of the United States in the event of enemy attack during the Cold War. It was intended to serve two purposes; to prevent Soviet bombers from homing in on American cities by using radio or TV stations as beacons, and to provide...

 Radio information systems were adopted, whereby the commercial radio sector would broadcast on two AM frequencies in the event of a CD emergency. These two frequencies can be seen on 50's vintage radios on online auction sites and museums, with many of these radios still in use on tabletops across America. Also, the occasional backyard fallout shelter was built by private individuals.

This strategy had one major and possibly critical flaw, soon realised by military analysts but highly underplayed by the US military: Conventional NATO forces in the European theatre of war were outnumbered by similar Soviet and Warsaw Pact
Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance , or more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe...

 forces, and it was assumed that in case of a major Soviet attack (commonly perceived as the "red tanks rolling towards the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

" scenario) that NATO, in the face of conventional defeat, would soon have no other choice but to resort to tactical nuclear strikes. Most analysts agreed that once the first nuclear exchange had occurred, escalation to global nuclear war would become almost inevitable.

The 1980s


In the late seventies and early eighties the US renewed its commitment to a powerful military, which required large spending on military programs. These programs, originally part of President Jimmy Carter's defense budget, included spending on conventional and nuclear weapons systems, as well as defensive systems like Strategic Defense Initiative
Strategic Defense Initiative
The Strategic Defense Initiative was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983 to use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic...

.

Another major shift in nuclear doctrine was the development of the submarine
Submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

-launched ballistic (nuclear) missile, the SLBM
Submarine-launched ballistic missile
A submarine-launched ballistic missile is a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that can be launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles each of which carries a warhead and allows a single launched missile to...

. It was hailed by some military theorists as a weapon that would make nuclear war less likely. SLBMs, which can move with stealth virtually anywhere in the world, give a nation a "second strike
Second strike
In nuclear strategy, a second strike capability is a country's assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker...

" capability. Before the advent of SLBMs, thinkers feared that a nation might be tempted to initiate a first strike if it felt confident that such a strike would incapacitate the nuclear arsenal of its enemy, making retaliation impossible. With the advent of SLBMs, no nation could be certain that a first strike would incapacitate its enemy's entire nuclear arsenal. To the contrary, it would have to fear a retaliatory second strike from SLBMs. Thus a first strike was much less of a feasible option, and nuclear war was held to be less likely.

However, it was soon realized that submarines could "sneak up" close to enemy coastlines and decrease the warning time—the time between detection of the launch and impact of the missile—from as much as half an hour to under three minutes. This effect was especially significant to the United States, Britain, India and China, with their capitals all within 100 miles (160.9 km) of their coasts. Moscow was more secure from this type of threat. This greatly increased the credibility of a "surprise first strike" by one of the factions and theoretically made it possible to knock out or disrupt the chain of command
Chain of Command
Chain of Command may refer to:* Chain of command, in a military context, the line of authority and responsibility along which orders are passed* "Chain of Command" , the fifth episode of the first season of Beast Wars...

 before a counterstrike could be ordered. It strengthened the notion that a nuclear war could be "won", resulting not only in greatly increased tension, and increasing calls for fail-deadly
Fail-deadly
Fail-deadly is a concept in nuclear military strategy which encourages deterrence by guaranteeing an immediate, automatic and overwhelming response to an attack. The term fail-deadly was coined as a contrast to fail-safe.-Military usage:...

 control systems, but also in a dramatic increase in military spending. The submarines and their missile systems were very expensive (one fully equipped nuclear powered nuclear missile submarine could easily cost more than the entire GNP of a developing country
Developing country
A developing country, also known as a less-developed country, is a nation with a low level of material well-being. Since no single definition of the term developing country is recognized internationally, the levels of development may vary widely within so-called developing countries...

), but the greatest cost came in the development of both sea- and land-based anti-submarine defenses and in improving and strengthening the chain of command. As a result, military spending skyrocketed.

South Africa developed a nuclear weapon capability during the 1970s and early 1980s. It was operational for a brief period before being dismantled in the early 1990s.

On Sept. 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet Jet Fighters. On the 26th, a Soviet early warning station under the command of Stanislav Petrov
Stanislav Petrov
On September 26, 1983 the Nuclear Early Warning System of the Soviet Union twice reported the launch of American Minuteman ICBMs from bases in the United States. These missile attack warnings were correctly identified as a false alarm by Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air...

 falsely detected 5 inbound intercontinental ballistic missile
Intercontinental ballistic missile
An intercontinental ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a long range typically designed for nuclear weapons delivery...

s from US. Petrov correctly assessed the situation as a false alarm, and hence did not report his finding to his superiors. It is quite possible that this prevented World War III, as the Soviet policy at that time was immediate nuclear response upon discovering inbound ballistic missiles.

The world came unusually close to nuclear war (although perhaps not as close as during the Cuban Missile Crisis) when the Soviet Union thought the NATO military exercise Able Archer 83
Able Archer 83
Able Archer 83 was a ten-day NATO command post exercise starting on November 2, 1983 that spanned Western Europe, centred on the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Headquarters situated at Casteau, north of the Belgian city of Mons. Able Archer exercises simulated a period of conflict...

 was a cover up to begin a nuclear strike. The Soviets responded by readying their nuclear arsenal. Soviet fears of an attack went away once the exercise concluded without incident.

Post–Cold War


Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War and greatly reduced tensions between the United States and Russia (the Soviet Union's formal successor state), both nations remained in a "nuclear stand-off" due to the continuing presence of a significant number of warheads in both nations. Additionally, the end of the Cold War led the United States to become increasingly concerned with the development of nuclear technology by other nations outside of the former Soviet Union. In 1995, a branch of the US Strategic Command produced an outline of forward-thinking strategies in the document "Essentials of Post–Cold War Deterrence".

The former chair of the United Nations disarmament committee states there are more than 16,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons ready for deployment and another 14,000 in storage. The U.S. has nearly 7,000 ready for action and 3,000 in storage and Russia has about 8,500 on hand and 11,000 in storage, he said. China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 has 400 nuclear weapons, Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 200, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 350, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 120, and Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 90. North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 is confirmed as having nuclear weapons, though it is not known how many (a common estimate is between 1 and 10). Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 is also widely believed to have nuclear weapons
Nuclear weapons and Israel
Israel is widely believed to be the sixth country in the world to have developed nuclear weapons and to be one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty , the others being India, Pakistan and North Korea...

. NATO has stationed 480 US nuclear weapons in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Turkey, with several other countries in pursuit of an arsenal of their own.

A key development in nuclear warfare in the 2000s has been the proliferation
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

 of nuclear weapons to the developing world, with India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 both publicly testing nuclear devices and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 conducting an underground nuclear test on October 9, 2006. The US Geological Survey measured a 4.2 magnitude earthquake in the area where the test occurred. A further test was announced by the North Korean government on May 25, 2009. Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, meanwhile, has embarked on a nuclear program which, while officially for civilian purposes, has come under scrutiny by the United Nations and individual states.

Recent studies undertaken by the CIA cite the enduring India-Pakistan conflict as the most likely to escalate into nuclear war. During the Kargil War
Kargil War
The Kargil War ,, also known as the Kargil conflict, was an armed conflict between India and Pakistan that took place between May and July 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir and elsewhere along the Line of Control...

 in 1999, Pakistan came close to using its nuclear weapons in case of further deterioration. Pakistan's foreign minister had even warned that it would "use any weapon in our arsenal", hinting at a nuclear strike against India; the statement was condemned by the international community with Pakistan denying it later on. It remains the only war between two declared nuclear powers. The 2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoff
2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoff
The 2001–2002 India–Pakistan standoff was a military standoff between India and Pakistan that resulted in the massing of troops on either side of the International Border and along the Line of Control in the region of Kashmir...

 again stoked fears of nuclear war between the two countries.

Despite these very serious threats, relations between India and Pakistan have been improving somewhat over the last few years. A bus line directly linking Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir
Kashmir
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range...

 has recently been established. However, with the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks
2008 Mumbai attacks
The 2008 Mumbai attacks were more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India's largest city, by Islamist attackers who came from Pakistan...

, India does not rule out war with Pakistan.

Another flashpoint which has analysts worried is a possible conflict between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 over Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

. Although economic forces have decreased the possibility of military conflict, there remains the worry that increasing military buildup (China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 is rapidly increasing their naval capacity) and a move toward Taiwan independence
Taiwan independence
Taiwan independence is a political movement whose goals are primarily to formally establish the Republic of Taiwan by renaming or replacing the Republic of China , form a Taiwanese national identity, reject unification and One country, two systems with the People's Republic of China and a Chinese...

 could spin out of control.

Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 is another possibility as it is thought to possess between one hundred and four hundred nuclear warheads. It has been asserted that the submarines which Israel received from Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 have been adapted to carry missiles with nuclear warheads, so as to give Israel a second strike
Second strike
In nuclear strategy, a second strike capability is a country's assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker...

 capacity. Israel has been involved in wars with its neighbours on numerous occasions, and its small geographic size would mean that in the event of future wars the Israeli military might have very little time to react to a future invasion or other major threat; the situation could escalate to nuclear warfare very quickly in some scenarios.

In the Persian Gulf, Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 appears to many observers to be in the process of developing a nuclear weapon, which has heightened fears of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East, either with Israel or with Iran's Sunni neighbors.

Sub-strategic use


The above examples envisage nuclear warfare at a strategic level, i.e. total war
Total war
Total war is a war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of fully available resources and population.In the mid-19th century, "total war" was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare...

. However, many nuclear powers are believed to have the ability to launch more limited engagements.

Sub-strategic use would see the deployment of either low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, or of scalable-yield strategic nuclear weapons in a very limited role rather than the battlefield exchanges of strategic nuclear weapons. This was described by the UK Parliamentary Defence Select Committee
Defence Select Committee
The Defence Select Committee is one of the Select Committees of the British House of Commons, having been established in 1979. It oversees the operations of the Ministry of Defence and its associated public bodies, including the armed forces.-Membership:...

 as "the launch of one or a limited number of missiles against an adversary as a means of conveying a political message, warning or demonstration of resolve". It is believed that all current nuclear weapons states possess tactical nuclear weapons, with the exception of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 which decommissioned its tactical warheads in 1998, however the UK does possesses scalable-yield strategic warheads. American, French and British nuclear submarines are believed to carry some missiles with such warheads for this purpose, potentially allowing a strike as low as one kiloton against a single target. Only the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 and the Republic of India have declarative, unqualified, unconditional no first use
No first use
No first use refers to a pledge or a policy by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons...

 policies.

Commodore Tim Hare, former Director of Nuclear Policy at the British Ministry of Defence, has described Sub-strategic use as offering the Government "an extra option in the escalatory process before it goes for an all-out strategic strike which would deliver unacceptable damage". However, this sub-strategic capacity has been criticized as potentially increasing the acceptability of using nuclear weapons. The related consideration of new generations of limited-yield nuclear weapons by the United States has also alarmed anti-nuclear groups, who believe it will make the use of nuclear weapons more acceptable.

Also of note is that the United States adopted a policy in 1996 of allowing the targeting of its nuclear weapons at "non-state actors" armed with weapons of mass destruction
Weapons of mass destruction
A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures , natural structures , or the biosphere in general...

.

Nuclear terrorism



Nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism denotes the use, or threat of the use, of nuclear weapons or radiological weapons in acts of terrorism, includingattacks against facilities where radioactive materials are present...

 by non-state organizations is an unknown factor in nuclear deterrence thinking, as states possessing nuclear weapons are susceptible to retaliation in kind, but sub- or trans-state actors are not. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the possibility that former Soviet nuclear weapons might become available on the black market (so-called 'loose nukes'), while no warheads are known to have been mislaid, it has been alleged that suitcase-size bombs
Suitcase bomb
A suitcase nuke is a tactical nuclear weapon which uses, or is portable enough that it could use, a suitcase as its delivery method. Synonyms include suitcase bomb, backpack nuke, mini-nuke, pocket nuke and snuke....

 might be unaccounted for.

Another possible nuclear terrorism threat are devices designed to disperse radioactive materials over a large area using conventional explosives, called dirty bomb
Dirty bomb
A dirty bomb is a speculative radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of the weapon is to contaminate the area around the explosion with radioactive material, hence the attribute "dirty"....

s. The detonation of a dirty bomb would not cause a nuclear explosion, nor would it release enough radiation to kill or injure a lot of people. However, it could cause severe disruption and require potentially costly decontamination.

See also



  • Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

  • No first use
    No first use
    No first use refers to a pledge or a policy by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons...

  • Nuclear weapon
    Nuclear weapon
    A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

  • Nuclear weapon design
    Nuclear weapon design
    Nuclear weapon designs are physical, chemical, and engineering arrangements that cause the physics package of a nuclear weapon to detonate. There are three basic design types...

  • Nuclear weapons debate
    Nuclear weapons debate
    The nuclear weapons debate is about public controversies relating to the use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Even before the first nuclear weapons had been developed, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project were divided over the use of the weapon. The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated...

  • Nuclear weapons in popular culture
    Nuclear weapons in popular culture
    Since their public debut in August 1945, nuclear weapons and their potential effects have been a recurring motif in popular culture, to the extent that the decades of the Cold War are often referred to as the "atomic age."-Images of nuclear weapons:...

  • Nuclear sharing
    Nuclear sharing
    Nuclear sharing is a concept in NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence, which involves member countries without nuclear weapons of their own in the planning for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO, and in particular provides for the armed forces of these countries to be involved in delivering these...

  • Nuclear strategy
    Nuclear strategy
    Nuclear strategy involves the development of doctrines and strategies for the production and use of nuclear weapons.As a sub-branch of military strategy, nuclear strategy attempts to match nuclear weapons as means to political ends...

  • Single Integrated Operational Plan
    Single Integrated Operational Plan
    The Single Integrated Operational Plan was the United States' general plan for nuclear war from 1961 to 2003. The SIOP gave the President of the United States a range of targeting options, and described launch procedures and target sets against which nuclear weapons would be launched...

  • Strategic nuclear weapon
    Strategic nuclear weapon
    A strategic nuclear weapon refers to a nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on targets as part of a strategic plan, such as nuclear missile bases, military command centers and heavily populated civilian areas such as large towns and cities....

  • Tactical nuclear weapon
    Tactical nuclear weapon
    A tactical nuclear weapon refers to a nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations. This is as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons which are designed to menace large populations, to damage the enemy's ability to wage war, or for general deterrence...



Cold war:
  • Deterrence theory
    Deterrence theory
    Deterrence theory gained increased prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, and features prominently in current United States foreign policy regarding the development of nuclear technology in North Korea and Iran. Deterrence theory however was...

  • Doomsday Clock
    Doomsday Clock
    The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, maintained since 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is estimated to be to global disaster. , the Doomsday Clock now stands at six...

  • Mutual assured destruction
    Mutual assured destruction
    Mutual Assured Destruction, or mutually assured destruction , is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of...

  • Nuclear arms race
    Nuclear arms race
    The nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies during the Cold War...

  • Square Leg
    Square Leg
    Square Leg was a 1980 British government home defence exercise that assessed the effects of a Soviet nuclear attack. It was assumed that 131 nuclear weapons would fall on Britain with a total yield of 205 megatons...

  • Strategic Defense Initiative
    Strategic Defense Initiative
    The Strategic Defense Initiative was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983 to use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic...



Proliferation:
  • Nuclear proliferation
    Nuclear proliferation
    Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

  • Nuclear disarmament
    Nuclear disarmament
    Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated....

  • List of states with nuclear weapons


US specific:
  • Nuclear weapons and the United States
    Nuclear weapons and the United States
    The United States was the first country to develop nuclear weapons, and is the only country to have used them in warfare, with the separate bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. Before and during the Cold War it conducted over a thousand nuclear tests and developed many long-range...

  • North Korea – United States relations
  • Iran – United States relations
  • Essentials of Post–Cold War Deterrence


Post nuclear exchange:
  • Continuity of government
    Continuity of government
    Continuity of government is the principle of establishing defined procedures that allow a government to continue its essential operations in case of nuclear war or other catastrophic event....

  • Nuclear holocaust
    Nuclear holocaust
    Nuclear holocaust refers to the possibility of the near complete annihilation of human civilization by nuclear warfare. Under such a scenario, all or most of the Earth is made uninhabitable by nuclear weapons in future world wars....

  • Nuclear winter
    Nuclear winter
    Nuclear winter is a predicted climatic effect of nuclear war. It has been theorized that severely cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years could be caused by detonating large numbers of nuclear weapons, especially over flammable targets such as cities, where large...



General:
  • Atomic Age
    Atomic Age
    The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

  • Doomsday event
    Doomsday event
    A doomsday event is a specific, plausibly verifiable or hypothetical occurrence which has an exceptionally destructive effect on the human race...

  • Weapon of mass destruction
  • World War III
    World War III
    World War III denotes a successor to World War II that would be on a global scale, with common speculation that it would be likely nuclear and devastating in nature....


External links