The Arms Race.

The Arms Race became an integral part of the Cold War conflict. It was the focal point of tension and a significant factor responsible for the continuation of hostility between the superpowers for such a prolonged period of time. The arms race also became a weapon in itself, placing enormous economic strain on both the USA and the USSR. By the 1980s it was used as a deliberate method of bankrupting the enemy.

Manhattan Project

The Manhattan project involved the US creating weapons and using them against Japan in World War 2. The US then went on to use this as a tool of intimidation at the Potsdam Conference, effectively turning it into a nuclear monopoly. America’s use of a nuclear monopoly caused Stalin to feel great vulnerability and jealousy against American aggression, and thus he increased the speed of the Soviet Union’s own nuclear program. In addition to this, the vulnerability felt by Stalin stemmed from view that atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were in fact an subliminal warning to the USSR.

The Baruch Plan

The west called for an international organisation to monitor and regulate nuclear weapon, the soviets rejected this as they saw it as an attempt to hinder Soviet development of their own nuclear bomb. Through espionage and their own independent research, the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb in August 1949 – codenamed First Lightening. The Americans were very surprised by the speed at which the USSR was able to develop their nuclear capability.

By 1955, both sides had developed a Hydrogen bomb.


This led to a dramatic response in arms spending and weapons research that would last up until the 1980s due to the US government’s Star Wars initiative, systems which involved missiles located in space to shoot down and intercept nuclear missiles. The cost of matching such defence system would have bankrupt the USSR

massive build up of US missiles to put in place over 1000 Land-based missiles and over 600 submarines,  resulted in the soviet response of increasing their own arsenal of nuclear weapons and developing the  ABM (anti-Ballistic Missiles, way to intercept and destroy nuclear weapons), in order to prevent the USA using nuclear missiles against targets such as Moscow. By the end of 1960s, the USA were so concerned about the effectiveness of their missiles that the MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle) programme  was formed, this increased the chances of nuclear missiles hitting their intended target.  In response, The USSR developed its own MIRV programme in 1975 and undoubtedly heightened the intensity of the Arms Race dramatically.

Impact on conventional arms

If the devastation caused by nuclear weapons was too horrific to contemplate except as a last resort, the importance of conventional arms remained central to military strategy. Moves to reduce conventional arms were attempted by Eisenhower and Khruschev, both of whom saw  Nuclear weapons as  a cheaper alternative. The Korean and Vietnam wars were fought with conventional arms and showed the need to keep a substantial numerical advantage in terms of conventional weaponry. Therefore, allowing each side an alternative to nuclear missiles which Kennedy named ‘Flexible Response’.

Causes of the Arms race,

External factors

– Growing hostility between the superpowers after 1945

– Necessary to safeguard the interests of East and West, this is because the nuclear age increased the destructive power of weapons, thus increasing the vulnerability felt from either superpower.

– Stalin and Khrushchev boasting of nuclear capabilities fuelled US concerns of wanting to keep ahead of the USSR.

– Either superpower saw nuclear superiority seen as the only way of guaranteeing defensive needs.

Internal factors.

– The groups that benefited from armaments orders gained great power and influence.

– Armed forces in USSR were able to exert influence within Soviet government because defence needs were allocated such high priority.

– Spending cuts on arms resisted.

– In the US The Arms race provided Large amounts of money to manufacturers, scientists and the armed forces to the extent that it led to the employment of over 30 million US civilians.

Military-industrial complex was able to wield enormous control over US politics; Eisenhower even raised concerns about this development but was unable to reduce power of this sector of economy as it was in the interests of MIC to highlight the danger posed by the Soviet Union. Similarly, the Soviet army emphasised the US threat in order to secure resources. Both sides fed off of each other in perpetuating the arms race it.


Dangers of initiating nuclear war restrained both the USA and the USSR from direct, armed confrontation. The concept of limited war was used to avoid direct confrontation.

this led to the USA tactic of brinkmanship,  a strategy of being prepared to go to the brink of nuclear war in order to stop enemy aggression. by 1970s, both superpowers possessed enough nuclear missiles to destroy the other and had systems to ensure a counter-strike was possible even after being hit first.

This resulted in, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and hence, strategy of counter force, using smaller, target nuclear missiles to provide the option of using more limited action to achieve more specific objects.

Space Race (A product of the Arms race).

Sputnik 1, an R-7 ICBM was the first manmade object to be launched into orbit in 1957 by the Soviets. The Americans viewed space as the next frontier, a logical extension of the grand American tradition of exploration, and it was crucial not to lose to much ground to the Soviets in terms of Space exploration. This demonstration of the power of the R-7 missile, potentially capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into the U.S air space, made gathering intelligence about Soviet military activities particularly urgent. In an attempt to catch up with the Soviets, in 1958, the US launched Explorer 1 and Eisenhower created NASA. Alongside NASA, CORONA was created and run by the CIA and NRO to investigate the military potential of Space.13823b902c682de9e7763fd7cd98c24f.640x454x1


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