SS – The Arms Race

The Arms Race:

The Arms race became the most important part of the Cold War conflict. It was a cause of tension and significant factor responsible for the continuation of hostility between the superpowers. The arms race also became a weapon itself. The amount of resources needed to sustain the arms race put sever economic strains on both the USA and USSR. By the 1980s it was used as a deliberate method of bankrupting the enemy.

Background of Military power:

When World War II ended, most Americans agreed that the best defence against the Soviet Union as a threat was “containment”. Due to America’s containment strategy it also led to the build up of an arms race in the United States. In 1950, a National Security Council Report known as NSC–68 had echoed Truman’s recommendation that the country use military force to “contain” communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be occurring. American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons like the ones that had ended World War II. Therefore it began a deadly “arms race.” In 1949, the Soviets tested an atom bomb of their own.


The Manhattan Project:

The Manhattan Project is when US created atomic weapons and on July 16th 1945 an atomic bomb was exploded at Alamogordo in New Mexico. On August the 6th and the 9th, two atomic bombs were released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was also used as a tool of intimidation at the Potsdam Conference.

Rather than reducing insecurity the arms race increased it. The period of US nuclear monopoly between 1945 and 1949 gave the Soviet Union a disadvantage in competing for position in the early years of the Cold War. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a warning to the USSR and immediately Stalin ordered his scientists to develop their own atomic bomb as soon as possible. Stalin was jealous of America’s nuclear monopoly and felt very vulnerable against American aggression and sped up his own nuclear programme.


The Baruch Plan:

The United States presents the Baruch Plan for the international control of atomic weapons to the United Nations. The failure of the plan to gain acceptance resulted in a dangerous nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

When, the United States dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan, it became the only nation to use nuclear weapons during wartime. The successful use of the bombs not only ended World War II, but also left the United States with a monopoly on the most destructive weapon. As the Cold War began to develop between the United States and the Soviet Union, a discussion happened between Truman and some officials. They argued that the United States should share its atomic secrets with the Soviet Union to prevent growing Russian suspicions which would lead to an arms race. Other officials argues against this and stated that the Soviets are people that could not be trusted and the Unites States would be foolish to discuss with them.

The battle between these two groups was evident in 1946, when the Unites states proposed the formation of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) to establish an international control over the spread and development of nuclear weapons and technology. Bernard Baruch, and advisor of the US was chosen to present this proposal to the United Nations. Baruch sided with those who feared the Soviets, and this was evident in his proposal. In his proposal he announced that the United States would maintain its nuclear weapons monopoly. Therefore, the Soviets rejected the Baruch Plan as they saw it as an attempt to stop the Soviets getting the bomb.

Furthermore, through espionage and their own independent research, the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb in August 1949 it was codenamed the First Lighting. When this was announced in 1948 the US government was surprised at the speed which the USSR was able to develop their nuclear capability. America than increased their efforts to develop the hydrogen bomb which both countries possessed by the end of 1955.


The Cold War saw an increase in the resources devoted to espionage by both the USA and the USSR. In the absence of direct conflict the use of spies became a central weapon in the battle for superpower supremacy. Espionage was used to gain information on the enemy as well as to act as a support to the other methods of securing influence in those parts of the world where the battle between capitalism and communism was being fought. It is evident that both superpowers gained valuable information about the other.

Melita Norwood:

Melita Norwood was an elderly women exposed as the longest-serving Soviet spy in Britain. She was 25 years old when her political idealism first drove her into spying for the Soviet Union. Melita like her father always had fiercely left-wing views. Her spying career began four years after Stalin had seized power. She had been working for five years in the general office of the British Non Ferrous Metals Research Association in Euston, North London when her career in espionage ( The practice of spying or using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and military information) first began. The association was working on the top secret business of developing Britain’s nuclear deterrent. By the time she agreed to work for the KGB ( Soviet espionage was organised by the KGB – State Security Committee, which was formed in 1954 from its forerunners the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the MGB ( Ministry for State Security), she had been promoted and was a personal assistant to the director. She was a highly trusted employee, sensitive documents crossed her desk each day, she would pass those secrets to Moscow via the clandestine meetings with Russian agents.


The Internal and External Factors of the Arms Race:

External Factors – The growing hostility between the superpowers after 1945. As the Cold War developed arms was viewed as necessary to safeguard the East and the West. What was unique about the arms race was the development of the atomic bomb. The nuclear age increased the destructive power of the weapons and this was a huge threat for the side that failed to keep up with the new technology. Stalin and Khrushchev’s tactic of boasting about their nuclear capability helped fuel the US concerns that they needed to keep ahead of the USSR. The developing of nuclear weapons from both sides carried on until the 1980s when the US government announced its decision to develop the so called Star Wars initiative. This is where the US would place defence systems in space to shoot down nuclear missiles. For the USSR to match this would result in them being bankrupt.

Internal Factors – The groups who benefited from armaments orders gained considerable power and influence. In the USSR the armed forces were able to exert influence within the Soviet Union because defence needs were given such high priority. Any attempts to cut the amount of spending on arms was resisted. In the USA the arms race provided large sums of money to manufacturers , scientists and the armed forces to the extent that it led to the employment of over 30 million US civilians. This military-industrial-complex ( the term given to the powerful bloc created by links between the armed forces and those sectors of the economy reliant on defence orders) was able to control US politics. They highlighted the danger posed by the Soviet Union.



The impact of the Arm Race:

After the Soviet Union had created their own atomic bomb in 1949 the US government was surprised at the speed of this development. They then increased their efforts to develop the hydrogen bomb which both countries possessed by the end of 1955. The USA was concerned that the Soviet Union had pulled ahead in the arms race and a “missile gap” had developed. The launching of the Sputnik ( first ever space satellite) by the USSR seemed to confirm this. The US Air Force reported that the USSR would have 100 missiles in place by the end of 1960 compared with only 30 US missiles. The US responded to this by a massive build up of US missiles to put in place over 1000 land-based missiles and over 6000 missiles in submarines. The Soviet response to this was to increase their nuclear weapons and develop ABM ( Anti-Ballistic MissilesMissiles systems used to intercept and destroy nuclear weapons) defensive systems that would prevent the USA using nuclear missiles against targets such as Moscow.

USA was concerned about the effectiveness of their missiles that the MIRV ( Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehiclea device launched by a missile that allows several warheads to be used, each guided to a different target) was instituted. This increased the chance of nuclear missiles hitting their targets.

The dangers of the Arms Race became increasingly evident in the use of nuclear missiles, which had an impact on the nature of military strategy. The danger of a nuclear war restrained both the USA and USSR from direct, armed confrontation. Conventional warfare during the Cold War was played out on immediate territory and was kept localised. Both sides were forced due to nuclear weapons to think twice before taking any measure to escalate war. This led to the development of MAD ( Mutually Assured Destruction) in which both sides agreed to use smaller, targeted nuclear missiles to provide the option of using more limited action to achieve more specific objectives. Moreover, the arms race had an impact on conventional arms. Nuclear weapons was too horrific to use except at last resort, the importance of conventional arms remained central to military strategy. The Korean and Vietnam wars were fought with conventional weapons and showed the need to keep a numerical advantage in conventional weaponry. This showed an alternative instead of using nuclear missiles.

Even though nuclear arms were not used during the Cold War it does not make them an insignificant part of the conflict. The Arms Race was one of the prominent methods by which the conflict took place and it was therefore an important part for the struggle of supremacy. The nuclear arms race provided one of the reasons of the end of the Cold War, by bankrupting the Soviet Union so that they could no longer continue in the race.





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