NUCLEAR ARMS RACE IN THE COLD WAR
The nuclear arms race is one of the most significant events of the entire Cold War. The Cold War was a major world event that took place from approximately 1945 until 1990. In general, the Cold War involved a stand off and competition between the superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR). This competition was seen in many aspects of life at the time, but especially in the development of nuclear weapons. Both superpowers raced each other to develop as many nuclear weapons as possible. This was the essence of the nuclear arms race in the Cold War.
World War II ended in Europe by May of 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied Powers, but the war did not officially end in the Pacific Theatre until the atomic bombing of Japan in August of 1945. The United States had developed its atomic weaponry through its secretive program called the Manhattan Project. With the atomic bombing of Japan, the United States had begun the era of nuclear weapons and the nuclear arms race.
At the outset of the Cold War, the United States was the only nation in the world to contain atomic weapons, such as those used against Japan in 1945. As such, the Soviet Union was not able to militaristically challenge the United States and worked to develop their own atomic weapons. However, on August 29th, 1949, the Soviet Union performed a test of their first atomic bomb codenamed ‘First Lighting’.
Throughout the rest of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union each stockpiled thousands of nuclear weapons. As well, each superpower challenged the other for supremacy and developed more powerful weapons. By the 1950’s each country had developed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other. This development was an important aspect of the Cold War, as the stockpiles of nuclear weapons acted as a means of defence. Essentially, each nation was deterred from going to war with other, or from escalation tensions, due to the fear of a nuclear war. Historians refer to this idea as Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) since any escalation to war could result in the total destruction of both countries.
As stated previously, each nation had developed thousands of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. For example, the United States had created over 30,000 warheads while the Soviet Union had created 40,000. However, as the Cold War progressed, each nation began to see the need to slow the development of nuclear weapons, from events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a result, the later years of the Cold War saw the superpowers negotiate a series of treaties aimed at limiting the construction of nuclear weapons. These treaties are collectively known as the disarmament agreements and mark the ‘détente’ period of the Cold War, which involved a lessening of tensions between the two competing nations. In general, the two sides began to negotiate and discuss the dangers of nuclear proliferation, which was a positive step toward reducing the tensions.