the arms race

the arms race was sparked in the wake of the manhattan project of 1942-45. conducted by the americans, the project aimed to establish an uncontrolled nuclear fission chain reaction using plutonium – 239 that would produce an atomic bomb. by 1945, the team lead by oppenheimer were successful and dropped the first A bomb in new mexico.

Truman had hoped that with this new power, the us could enforce their demands of free elections in eastern Europe, during and after Potsdam. however, instead of stalin being more inclined to embrace the proposals of the west for fear of atomic annihilation, he grew increasingly defensive over the borders and soviet influence of this region, despite the nuclear monopoly of America.

this isolation in military pioneering was short lived, however, because of the soviet spy melita norwood. she was british, and began working for the director of Britain’s atomic bomb project in 1943. in 1945, she was able to transfer documents that expressed the behaviour of uranium metals at high temperatures to the soviets, which then lead to their first successful atomic bomb test in 1949, which the Russians called ‘first lightning’.

fears of a now snowballing arms race becoming catastrophic were evident in the 1946 baruch plan. the plan was constructed by the American presidential advisor Bernard baruch in an attempt to control this precarious competition by instructing that all nuclear arms be under the supervision of the UN, leading to the establishment of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC). this would allow universal access to the engineering of weapons, including the soviets. baruch was not alone in his reservations regarding this fact and added that the americans would maintain nuclear monopoly until all sections of the plan were achieved. naturally this was rejected by the Russians and the hopes of a controlled global nuclear arsenal had disintegrated.

the arms race was fuelled by the eternal, international climate of tension and suspicion. the might of the weapons of the nuclear age acted to enhance the great vulnerability felt by east and west because of the high stakes that were now in threatening global safety. this, coupled with secrecy and propaganda drove both sides to constant growth of their arms. it cant be unmentioned that internal factors had played their part in fanning the flames of the arms race considerably, due to its economic weight. the sectors responsible for this manufacturing had led to 30milion being employed in the us, and the money in this field was very lucrative to industries and scientists. this gave influence to the military in politics, when calls for slashing military budgets was raised in Russia, he military were able to oppose and supress this. In America, Eisenhower raised the issue of this situation but couldn’t overcome it. the military of both sided promoted the importance of this industry which supplied cannon fodder to each other in order to perpetuate its apparent necessity.

after the soviets’ ‘first lighting’ test in 1949, Truman had ordered the development of the hydrogen bomb. in 1952 they had successfully tested their first one, closely followed by Russia in 1955.

the us now feared that by 1960, the Russians would have 100 missiles to the American’s 30. the reaction was to start production that would amass 1000 land based missiles and 600 missiles in submarines. Russian eventually discovered this plan and put in place ABM defensive systems that would protect key locations like Moscow from American attack. us concerns about the effectiveness of their missiles then led to the creation of MIRV, which would increase the chances of their missiles hitting the intended target.

the dangers of this arms race were that the tactics of war were now shifting from direct confrontation to the launching of large scale missiles. the use of these had immense consequences, yet because of their abundance, the inclination to use them was greater now than it had ever been. this lead to brinkmanship in many situations by us, and could easily have resulted in nuclear Armageddon. this was maintained by the reduction of conventional arms due the cheaper option of nuclear weapons.

the arms race had a pivotal role in the politics of he cold war. the prospect of nuclear weapons being implanted was a powerful tool of negotiation, as well as bankrupting the soviet union to weaken their bargaining powers.


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