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Nuclear weapons & influence


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This is a high school History lecture on nuclear policy since 1945.

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Nuclear weapons & influence

  1. 1. Nuclear Weapons & Influence Kevin J. Benoy
  2. 2. Initial Impact • The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it abundantly clear that the nature of warfare had changed dramatically. • Now the question was: “To what extend could nuclear weapons be applied directly to diplomatic influence.”
  3. 3. Initial Impact • While Politicians drooled over the possibilities, many scientists recommended international control over the weapons to prevent the suicidal possibilities the new technology presented – and to forestall a new and cripplingly expensive arms race.
  4. 4. Initial Impact • Along with the destructive capability of this new technology, there was also an apparent infinite potential for energy generation. • The matter of control rested on more than just military interests.
  5. 5. Initial Impact • The British and Canadians, co- developers of the bomb with the Americans, concluded that the destructive potential of the new weapon would soon spiral. • The technology would also spread. It could not be kept secret. Missile technology was developing quickly. • Many experts predicted that the Soviets would have atomic bombs of their own in 4 or 5 years.
  6. 6. Initial Impact • This estimation brought calls for international sharing and control of atomic technology. • Nothing would be lost in the long run and here would be excellent short term rewards for such magnanimity.
  7. 7. Initial Impact • Americans were divided on the issue: – One group favoured international control as expressed in the Acheson- Lilienthal proposal. – The opposing side won out, as became clear after Truman appointed Bernard Baruch to the UN’s Atomic Energy Commission.
  8. 8. Initial Impact • The Baruch Plan called for international control international management of the raw materials and inspection by international agencies of the facilities. • It also provided for no vetoes in the UN of these policies and majority rule in decision making. • The Atomic Development Authority would establish plants, not national governments. • This was unacceptable to the Soviets since it would not be able to develop facilities where they felt power requirements demanded them. • The Soviets countered by demanding the destruction of all atomic bombs, the cessation of production and an international agreement not to produce them. • Neither side would moderate their position, resulting in deadlock. • Canadian representative Andy McNaughton felt that the American programme was insincere “from start to finish.” • There would be no international sharing whatsoever. Everyone was excluded by the Americans who sought to exploit their atomic monopoly.
  9. 9. Initial Impact • The US atomic monopoly was countered by large standing forces on the part of the Soviets. • This became institutionalized in Soviet military thinking. • In the short run this would hold American interests in Western Europe hostage if the threat of Soviet attack was credible. When the Soviets gained their own atomic bombs, this threat made up for the American advantage in delivery systems. • Large forces on the ground also helped to maintain satellite nation loyalty.
  10. 10. Doctrine of Massive Retaliation • While they had an atomic monopoly and even after this, the threat of nuclear war was employed by the Americans several times. • This became increasingly dangerous as the Soviets developed weapons and delivery systems of their own.
  11. 11. Doctrine of Massive Retaliation • Gwynne Dyer notes: – President Eisenhower’s willingness to use nuclear weapons, if necessary, to break the stalemate in the Korean truce talks in 1953, like Churchill’s expressed willingness to use poison gas (and anthrax germ warfare bombs) on Germany in 1944, was almost natural in an era already inured to the idea of total war. The fact that neither Churchill or Eisenhower had to fear retaliation in kind also made it easier for them to think in such terms. The doctrine was eventually formalized under the title of “massive retaliation:” if the Russians attacked in Europe, there would be no shilly-shallying with conventionally equipped armies. The bombers of US Strategic Air Command would simply destroy the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons.
  12. 12. Doctrine of Massive Retaliation • This policy was most credible from 1945-49, but still remained US policy well into the 1950s, with vestiges still present as late as during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. • The massive Soviet nuclear build-up of the 1960s rendered it inconceivable.
  13. 13. Mutual Assured Destruction • With Americas superiority lost, nuclear planners needed other justifications for continuing to produce new and better bombs in an era when it was clear that nuclear war meant destruction of civilization in at least the northern hemisphere. • The new idea was to ensure that a credible nuclear deterrence was maintained. That one could have enough weapons survive a first strike to be able to retaliate effectively.
  14. 14. Mutual Assured Destruction • The US came to rely on what they termed the triad to ensure a second strike capability. • This consisted of the air force’s strategic bombers, land based missiles, and submarine launch missiles of the navy. In a military world of competing equipment demands, this spread atomic spending around.
  15. 15. Mutual Assured Destruction • The Soviets tended to put most of their effort into their land- based missiles at first. • Soviet aircraft were not thought capable of effective long- range delivery. • A second strike capability from submarine launched missiles was felt sufficient.
  16. 16. Mutual Assured Destruction • In theory the possession of relatively small numbers of weapons makes war between nuclear states unthinkable. • Interestingly, neither superpower extended this logic to others, opposing other nations adopting a similar strategy to prevent war.
  17. 17. Civil Defence • The idea of putting in place defensive measures for the civilian population in case of nuclear attacks runs counter to the notion of mutual assured destruction. • Nonetheless, most countries did something. – Efforts everywhere were more window-dressing than real. – The cost of effective defence measures was simply too great.
  18. 18. Civil Defence • In North America, efforts were almost comic. – The “Duck and Cover” film discussed what to do in a nuclear attack. – A siren in Victoria Park was set up to warn of nuclear attack – though there is nothing to be done about it. – Some downtown buildings had areas designated as “shelters” – but basic survival provisions were generally not stored. – Leaders and financial records were often provided for, but populations were not
  19. 19. Flexible Response • US Defence Secretary Robert MacNamara felt that only about 200 or so “invulnerable” missiles guaranteed western nuclear security. Maintaining submarine launch weapons alone could do this. • Others in the triad now had to justify their spending. • The result was the development of plans to fight and even win a “limited nuclear war.” • Allied to the generals in formulating these plans were the suppliers of weapon systems.
  20. 20. Flexible Response • In his 1961 farewell speech, President Eisenhower warned of the influence of the “military industrial complex.” • In the Soviet Union, Khruschev also warned of the power of what he termed the “metal eaters’ alliance.”
  21. 21. Flexible Response • Planners now thought that because the cost of all-out nuclear war was so high, perhaps both sides would shrink from using such weapons against enemy populations – since a similar fate would befall their own population. • They suggested a counter-force strategy, targeting military targets and dropping counter-value targets (cities). • The Doctrine of mutual assured destruction was dropped. • New and more accurate weapon systems made this strategy feasible; MacNamara bought it.
  22. 22. Flexible Response • Justification for nuclear build-ups were on two grounds: – Growth in enemy stockpiles required balanced growth to ensure parity and that refinement of delivery systems was needed to make the threat of retaliation credible. – A variety of nuclear weapon systems were now required to ensure an ability to respond to any situation – from a local battlefield exchange to a full holocaust nuclear exchange .
  23. 23. Flexible Responjse • When “flexibility” is stressed, the argument that there are only a limited number of realistic targets of all kinds and that the superpowers have enough weapons to destroy them all and turn the rubble a couple of more times no longer holds. • The numbers of weapons grow out of all proportion to the number of targets. • Furthermore, the deployment of more intermediate range weapons and cruise missiles added a further destabilizing element. For instance, the warning time to the Soviets for a Pershing II missile heading from W. Europe to Moscow is only 6 minutes (An ICBM from the USA takes 30). What kind of rational decision making can take place in this time frame?
  24. 24. Flexible Response • Planning was increasingly dominated by technical issues, rather than consideration of possible end results. • Daniel Ellsberg, former American strategic planner and the source of the leaked Pentagon Papers described this kind of work as being divorced from reality. Dealing with numbers on paper, the planners chart mega-death in the same way that engineers modify car designs. Ellsberg resigned when he thought about the implications of his work and leaked information to the press.
  25. 25. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) 1972 • The Nixon and Brezhnev governments recognized that leaps in defensive technologies might destabilize the Cold War balance as much as offensive advances. • In 1972 the US and USSR agreed to limit ABM systems used to defend areas against missile attacks – thus ensuring that deterrence could operate.
  26. 26. Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) • Americans constantly sought technological solutions to the problems confronting them. • The notion of technically solving America’s nuclear vulnerability was particularly appealing.
  27. 27. Strategic Defence Initiative (1980s Reagan’s America) • The official line was that a defensive shield should be built to prevent the penetration of enemy missiles. • This is a difficult thing to argue against. • However, a shield is also a weapon. Invulnerability gives the ability to launch a first strike without fear of retaliation, making war more, not less, likely.
  28. 28. Strategic Defence Initiative • Most independent scientists (those not employed by defence contractors) feel that complete protection is impossible. Even 95% reliability allows unacceptable casualties – enough to destroy the fabric of American society. • Some believe that the technical problems involved in ultra-sophisticated technology, using lasers, particle beam weapons, electromagnetic cannons and the incredible computing power needed to coordinate it all makes the entire project unfeasible.
  29. 29. Strategic Defence Initiative • Not the least of the problems associated with anti-nuclear defence work is the difficulty in actually testing it. • No above ground testing of nuclear explosions have happened since the early 1960s. • We have no idea of the effect of even a small number of exploding weapons in the atmosphere.
  30. 30. Strategic Defence Initiative • SDI comes with a very high price tag. • Critics point to relatively cheap ways of counter- acting it. – Massive use of decoys could overwhelm command and control. – Preliminary strikes against multi-billion dollar space platforms would obviously precede any attack. – Sailing weapons into enemy ports in freighters easily circumvents space based defence measures.
  31. 31. Nuclear Proliferation • Even when the USA had a nuclear monopoly, it was clear that it could not last. • Next to join the nuclear club was the USSR in 1949. • They were followed by the British, French and Chinese. • All justifications mirrored earlier claims that the weapons were purely defensive and intended to promote peace.
  32. 32. Nuclear Proliferation • This club hoped to remain exclusive. It didn’t. • Even countries that signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty sought the technology. • Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu blew the whistle on his country’s successful programme. • India exploded a bomb in the 1970s – and Pakistan eventually followed suit. • South Africa and Iraq nearly acquired weapons. • Canada, Japan, Argentina, Iran and Brazil can do so. • North Korea is certainly a member of the nuclear club. • Even organizations could build simple weapons if they had fissionable material. ABC television hired to Physics Grad Student to build a mock up with fake material, using plans available on the Internet.
  33. 33. Nuclear Proliferation • Even delivery systems, from fighter-bombers to missiles are available in the international market place. Despite an embargo, Iraq was able to build missile guidance systems from Playstation components. • Potential nuclear powers wonder why some countries seem to be allowed them and others not.
  34. 34. Arms Limitation Agreements • The Cuban Missile Crisis alerted the world to the danger of all-out conflict. • The potential for accidental war was too high; both powers sought to diffuse the problem. • The US leaked its fail-safe technology to the Soviets and both sides took the installation of a telephone hotline between the two national leaders very seriously. • The threat of war between the super-powers remained dangerously high.
  35. 35. Arms Limitation Agreements • The first important treaty was signed in 1963 – the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which ended above- ground testing of nuclear weapons. • China and France did not sign at the time – but they too took to underground testing only.
  36. 36. Arms Limitation Agreements • After the Non-Proliferation Treaty (negotiated in 1968 and put into force in 1970) came the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT 1) in 1969. • Both sides agreed to limit the number of launchers they would employ. • Though a good first step, technology outran diplomacy. Soon new multiple-warhead weapons arrived – as well as mobile launch systems and cruise missiles – which rendered the agreement practically useless.
  37. 37. Arms Limitation Agreements • SALT 1 was signed in Moscow in 1972 and extended in Vladivostok in 1975. • In 1979 President Carter and Leonid Brezhnev came to a more comprehensive agreement, SALT 2, in Vienna. • Soviet involvement in Afghanistan led to the killing of the deal by new President Ronald Reagan and his conservative Senate supporters.
  38. 38. Arms Limitation Agreements • Even the cooling of great power relations did not stop other talks. • In 1982 the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) began. • Though there was little initial progress, a breakthrough was eventually reached when Mikhail Gorbachev established a trusting relationship with the American President.
  39. 39. Nuclear Winter • Arms talks were difficult, often bogging down over minor points and evading major ones. • As we noted, technology often outran diplomacy. • In the end it was technology that provided a way out of the impasse. • Progress came from a seemingly unrelated field.
  40. 40. Nuclear Winter • In 1971, scientists examined meteorological data from Mariner 9 s trip to Mars. • Dense dust clouds frustrated them as they sought to study the planet. • They concluded that these long-lasting dust storms significantly lowered surface temperatures.
  41. 41. Nuclear Winter • Vulcanologists also considered the effects of volcanic ash and dust spewed into earth’s atmosphere. • It was well known that the 19th century eruption of Krakatoa depressed global temperatures. Scientists wondered if prehistoric extinctions might not have been generated by such a catastrophe.
  42. 42. Nuclear Winter • In 1982 other scientists considered the dust and smoke effects of a potential nuclear war – in light of this knowledge. • They concluded that massive forest fires would be ignited in such a conflict, sending hundreds of millions of tons of smoke into the atmosphere that “would strongly resist the penetration of sunlight to the earth’s surface.” • The result would plunge the world into darkness for as much as 6 months. • A drop of 40 degrees centigrade was predicted in the continental interiors,.
  43. 43. Nuclear Winter • In 1983 a symposium of 40 scientists met to further probe possibilities. • Carl Sagan and his colleagues concluded that fighting even a limited nuclear war could be suicidal – even if one side was not directly hit.
  44. 44. Nuclear Winter • Their conclusions were further test by a study of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. • They felt that a war in which 5,000 megatons of weapons were exploded (57% as groundbursts over hardened targets and 20% as airbursts over cities) could end most life on the planet. Smaller conflicts would also devastate the world. • Nuclear war on any but very small scale, is, therefore, suicidal.
  45. 45. Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty • In 1988 the US and USSR signed the first treaty banning an entire category of weapons. • Allowing only a tiny response time, these weapons had the world on a hair-trigger. • The elimination of Pershing IIs showed that Reagan was serious about dealing with Gorbachev and that he trusted the Soviet leader. Statue at the UN in New York. St. George Slaying the Dragon – made from Pershing II missile parts.
  46. 46. The Current Situation • Talks and more talks in the 1980s brought some progress. • More important were developments in the Soviet Union, where Gorbachev sought to fix the systemic problems plaguing the country. • His playing down Cold War tensions and his valiant attempts to modernize his country vastly reduced the danger of war.
  47. 47. The Current Situation • In the end, it also brought complete collapse in 1991. • At first the Soviet collapse seemed to make the world more, not less dangerous, as huge stockpiles of weapons were outside the Russian Republic. • Khazakhstan held many ICBMs and the Ukraine had a vast arsenal.
  48. 48. The Current Situation • Fear of the Russians initially complicated things, but generous American aid eventually greased a deal ensuring the patriation of old Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia. • The Ukraine became a poster country for voluntarily decommissioning its large nuclear arsenal (3rd largest in the world) – the cost to the US was estimated at $630 million. Soviet missile silo, now a Ukrainian museum
  49. 49. The Current Situation • The US & Russia signed the Mutual Detargeting Treaty (MDT) in 1994. • They agreed to stop automatically targeting the other country, assuming that it was an enemy.
  50. 50. The Current Situation • As Russia looked inward, sorting itself out in the post- Soviet world – it looked as though the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation was gone. • The post 9-11 world brought new fears, however. Governments everywhere worry about the unsecured and missing fissionable material – that rogue countries or terrorist organizations might use.
  51. 51. The Current Situation • Fear of “rogue states” developing Nuclear weapons and delivery systems were huge worries in the early 21st century. • North Korea clearly had such weapons and they possessed IRBMs and were working on ICBMs – though to this point they have not had a successful test.
  52. 52. Current Situation • Iran’s nuclear capability was another concern – particularly for the USA. • The Iranians claim they only want to generate power. • The US fears weapon development is the real agenda. • There was talk of an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran – as they had attacked Iraq’s Osiris facility in 1981.
  53. 53. The Current Situation • In July, 2010 Iran’s nuclear facilities were crippled by a computer virus. • In what has been called a “weaponized computer virus”, Iran’s nuclear programme was set back several years. • The source of the Stuxnet Virus appears to be Israel’s top secret Dimona Complex. The developers appear to be Israeli and American.
  54. 54. The Current Situation • 2010 also saw international cooperation between the two main nuclear powers as they went to Prague to sign the New START agreement -- a follow-up agreement to the START agreement, agreeing to cut their weapons numbers by 1/3. • It was finally ratified by the US Senate on Dec. 30, 2010. Obama & Medvedev After Signing New START
  55. 55. What Next? • A Trump presidency presents more questions than answers. • The President has not demonstrated much understanding of issues beyond his narrow expertise in real-estate development and he has shown no understanding of diplomacy. His constant tweeting in response to criticism is bizarre and un-statesmanlike. Twitter is an inappropriate forum for policy pronouncements or musings on relationships with foreign powers. • More concerning is his distrust and disregard of experts in most areas and his not listening to even his closest international allies.
  56. 56. What Next? • There are still thousands of nuclear weapons in the world that pose existential risks to the planet. • Arms control and nuclear proliferation are as important now as during the Cold War. • International conflicts are inevitable, so nuanced understanding of the world is vital if we are to avoid Armageddon.
  57. 57. finis