JMcD – The Arms Race of The Cold War

In the early – mid twentieth century a competition broke out between the USA and USSR for superiority in the development and accumulation of weapons, in order to gain an advantage within the power struggle of the Cold War: the Arms Race. The mid 1960’s saw a massive rearmament and nuclear research plan of the Soviet Union under Stalin, triggered by the ever – present missile gap between it and rival superpower, America. This gap first began during World War II when the US began a programme to create atomic weapons that would eventually be used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The USA had used its nuclear monopoly as an intimidation tool during the Potsdam Conference, inducing fear in Stalin that America had superior military power and causing him to speed up his own nuclear programme. A key factor in initiating this process was the spy Melita Norwood, who passed crucial British secrets to Moscow concerning nuclear science, the likes of which led directly to the USSR exploding its bomb in 1949 – years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

The continued building of both sides’ weaponry was the result of international occurrences and internal factors within their nations. With the ongoing developments of the Cold War the superpowers viewed atomic weapons as a necessary safeguard of the Eastern and Western aims and actions. This coupled with Soviet leaders’ tactics of boasting about nuclear capability meant a pattern of each nation developing more sophisticated weapons than the other emerged, even up until the 1980’s.

Inside the USSR, armed forces could attain great power within Soviet government because such stress was placed on the need to bolster its defence- any threat to this notion was met with considerable resistance. For the USA, on the other hand, the production of nuclear arms provided a huge job market and improved its economy massively. The military industrial complex that formed held immense influence in US politics, so much so that it could over exaggerate the Soviet threat, highlighting the potential dangers it presented. In turn, USSR forces publicised the menace of the American nuclear arsenal and each took turns in instigating the arms race.

After the announcement that Soviet atomic bombs were being manufactured in 1949 the USA increased endeavours to develop a more powerful weapon: the hydrogen bomb, believing it was a necessity because of an estimation that by 1960 the USSR might have over 100 missiles in comparison to 30 American ones.

This further intensified the pace of the Arms Race, as both superpowers were fuelled by their own fear of nuclear strength, only until the new President of the US, Ronald Regan chose to press forward in mass rearmament in 1981. And so, the USSR was left incapable of competing any longer. Keeping up with the rate of production of the American military – industrial complex had strained the Russian economy, which could not withstand the cost of producing nuclear warheads. This can also be considered, therefore, a key factor in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.


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