From the beginning of civilisation, man has strived to evolve deadlier weapons throughout history for both offensive and defensive capabilities. The arms race was a competition between the USA and USSR to out perform each other with the destructive capacity of their nuclear weaponry.
It all began with the Manhattan project in which scientists aimed to use the newly recongised fission process for military purpose. Using scientists (many of whom were refugees from fascist regimes in Europe) and $2 billion of funding, the Americans were successful in creating the world’s first atomic bomb which was tested at 5:30 am on July 16, 1945 in the New Mexico desert. The USA later went on to use two atomic bombs against Japan in World War 2. Dropping the first on Hiroshima, the explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people. Three days later, another A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Thanks to it’s nuclear development , America possessed the greatest military power the world had ever seen.
However, it was not long before the USSR (America’s new enemy), had its very own atom bomb. Although it had been the hopes of president Truman to intimidate the USSR into submission during early stages of the Cold War, Stalin displayed little fear in the knowledge of the US nuclear monopoly. On reason for this was the work of KGB spy Melita Norwood. As a secret member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Melita Norwood became friends with Andrew Rothstein, who recruited her to work for the NKVD in 1935. After working with the Russians during the Second World War, the information she supplied after allowed the Soviet Union to test an atomic bomb four years earlier than British and American intelligence thought possible.
The west, after realising their inability to threaten Stalin, pushed forward their Baruch plan. This was an international organisation aimed to monitor and regulate nuclear weaponry. Unfortunately for the west, it was refused by the Soviet Union who saw it as an attempt to deprive their nuclear power. To the surprise of the US, the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in August 1949- code named first lightning. The arms race increased insecurity on both sides as each country felt a need to keep up with the other to maintain mutually assured destruction. The biggest example of nuclear development was the H-bomb tested by America in 1952 and by the Soviets in 1953. The US hydrogen bomb was smaller in size than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, but 2,500 times more powerful.
The competition of arms was ever growing and America felt they were behind predicting that there existed a missile gap of 100 Soviet missiles to the US’ 30 at the end of 1960. The Soviet Union was also successful in launching the first ever space satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. In response to Russian success, USA piled up 1000 land-based missiles and 600 to be launched from submarines. This fueled Soviet development into working on an Anti-Ballistic Missile system (ABM) to intercept and destroy nuclear missiles. This only provoked the USA to implement their Multiple Independently Targetable Vehicle (MITV) programme. This increased the chances of missiles hitting their target. The USSR then tried to develop a similar programme. By 1981, the number of Soviet warheads sat at 6800, America’s standing at 7000.
It is clear that towards the end of the Cold War, both sides possessed the power to completely obliterate one another several times over. Fortunately, both sides saw the use of such weaponry as a last resort and thanks to the idea of mutually assured destruction the use of nukes was locked in a stalemate.