By Chinagorom Emmanuel Alita
The Earth exploded into the nuclear age on 16 July 1945. On that day, the US tested a completely new type of weapon in the New Mexico desert. Crafted from a tennis-ball-sized plutonium sphere, the Trinity bomb produced an explosion equivalent to 20,000 tonnes of TNT.
Sixty years on, tens of thousands of tonnes of plutonium and enriched uranium have been produced. The global nuclear arsenal stands at about 27,000 bombs. Nine countries very probably possess nuclear weapons, while 40 others have access to the materials and technology to make them.
But nuclear technology has also been used for peaceful means. The first nuclear reactor to provide electricity to a national grid opened in England in 1956. Now, 442 reactors in 32 nations generate 16% of the world’s electricity.
Nuclear power has been championed as a source of cheap energy. But this was undermined at the end of the 20th century by high-profile reactor accidents, the problems of radioactive waste disposal, competition from more-efficient electricity sources and unavoidable links to nuclear weapons proliferation. Nonetheless, growing evidence for global warming had led some to argue that nuclear power is the only way to generate power without emitting greenhouse gases.
The first steps towards unleashing the power within the atomic nucleus began in 1905 when Albert Einstein established that even tiny quantities of mass are equivalent to immense amounts of energy, through his equation E=mc2. In 1938, Germans Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman split inherently unstable uranium atoms by bombarding them with neutrons. The following year, Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch elucidated this process of nuclear fission, in which atomic nuclei are split to create nuclei of lighter elements, with neutrons and energy as by-products.
In 1941 the US embarked on the top secret Manhattan Project, which developed the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. These are the only times nuclear weapons have been used in combat, though about 2000 have been tested. The Manhattan project cost $2 billion dollars and involved the work of 175,000 people, eight of whom were Nobel-prize winning physicists. The list includes Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr and Leo Szilard.
Uranium is the heaviest element found in nature in more than trace amounts, and natural ores contain two isotopes: U-238 and U-235. Only U-235, which makes up just 0.7% of ores, is fissile. So the uranium must be “enriched” to remove U-238 – highly enriched weapons-grade uranium can be up to 90% U-235.
When bombarded with neutrons, U-235 atoms absorb them and become unstable. They split to form two smaller nuclei of other elements and neutrons. Some of the mass is converted to energy in the form of gamma radiation and heat. Because only one neutron is needed to trigger fission and two or three are released, a chain reaction can result. This reaction is uncontrolled in an atomic bomb but tightly controlled in a nuclear reactor.
The father of Western modern strategic studies, Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), defined military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war.” B. H. Liddell Hart’s definition put less emphasis on battles, defining strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy”.Hence, both gave the pre-eminence to political aims over military goals.
Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) is often considered as the father of Eastern military strategy and greatly influenced Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese historical and modern war tactics. The Art of War by Sun Tzu grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society as well. It continues to influence many competitive endeavors in Asia, Europe, and America including culture, politics and business, as well as modern warfare. The Eastern military strategy differs from the Western by focusing more on asymmetric warfare and deception.
The period from 1939 to 1945 represented the acme of the old style of war, and with it strategy as the purposeful practice of matching military might with political objectives. In its aftermath a number of challenges to this classical paradigm of war emerged, the first in the closing days of World War II. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, inaugurated a new era of war, many observers felt. Bernard Brodie, an American military historian and pioneering thinker about nuclear weapons, declared in 1946: In some ways, nuclear weapons merely made effective the earlier promise of air power—overwhelming violence delivered at an opponent’s cities, bypassing its military forces. Nuclear weapons were different, however, in their speed, their destructiveness, and the apparent absence of countervailing measures. Furthermore, the expense and high technology of nuclear weapons suddenly created two classes of powers in the world: those who wielded these new tools of war and those who did not.
In the ensuing decades, nuclear facts and nuclear strategy had a peculiarly uneasy coexistence. Many of the realities of nuclear weapons—how many were in each arsenal, the precise means for their delivery, the reliability of the devices themselves and of the planes, missiles, and crews that had to deliver them—were obscure. So too were the plans for their use, although a combination of declassification of early U.S. war plans and the flood of information that came out of the Warsaw Pact countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 illuminated some of the darkness.
Nuclear strategic thought, however, was far less murky. Those who developed it stemmed less from the military community (with a few exceptions, such as French Gen. Pierre Gallois) than from the civilian academic world and less from the discipline of history than from economics or political science. An elaborate set of doctrines developed to explain how nuclear strategy worked. One such doctrine was “mutual assured destruction” (MAD), the notion that the purpose of nuclear strategy was to create a stable world in which two opponents would realize that neither could hope to attack the other successfully and that in any war both would suffer effective obliteration.
In all cases, the centre of gravity lay with the problem of deterrence, the prevention of adverse enemy behaviours rather than concrete measures to block, reverse, or punish them. Strategic thought now entered a wilderness of mirrors: What behaviour could be deterred, and what could not? How did one know when deterrence had worked? Was it bad to defend one’s population in any way—with civil defense or active defenses such as antiballistic missiles—because that might weaken mutual deterrence? The problem became more grave as additional countries acquired nuclear weapons: Were Chinese leaders deterred by the same implicit threats that worked on U.S. and Soviet leaders? For that matter, did Indians and Pakistanis view each other in the same way that Americans and Soviets viewed each other?
Initially, nuclear strategy concerned only a handful of states: the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, and France. These were countries embedded, initially at least, in Cold War alliances. In 1974 India tested a nuclear device; this was followed by competitive testing of weapons with Pakistan in 1998. Israel was understood to have acquired nuclear weapons during the 1970s if not earlier, and North Korea avowed its acquisition of at least one or two weapons in 2002. In 1991 it became apparent that Iraq had a vigorous and potentially successful nuclear program, and a similar Iranian program had been under way. The spread of nuclear weapons amounted effectively to a second nuclear revolution, which may have operated by a different logic than the first. The stylized (though nonetheless frightening) standoff of the Cold War was replaced by a world in which many of the same elaborate safeguards might no longer exist, by nuclear possession on the part of countries that routinely fought one another (particularly in the Asian subcontinent), and by the development of weapons small enough to be smuggled into a country in a variety of ways. By the beginning of the 21st century then, nuclear issues had revived as a subject of strategic concern, if not serious strategic thought. The proliferation of nuclear technology by a Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and the development of nuclear weapons by Kim Jong Il’s North Korea shook optimistic assumptions about the ability of the interstate system to stop marginal actors from acquiring and spreading the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons—including the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring such weapons. The overt entry of India and Pakistan into the nuclear club, the generally acknowledged Israeli nuclear arsenal, and the looming Iranian nuclear threat were no less unsettling.
Map showing the range of North Korean ballistic missiles on an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on P’yŏngyang.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Nuclear strategy is no different from any other form of military strategy in that it involves relating military means to political ends. In this case, however, the military means in question are so powerful and destructive that it has been doubted whether any worthwhile political purpose could be served by their use. On the one hand, it has been questioned whether any country with pretensions to civilization could unleash such a devastating force as nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it has been noted that their use against an opponent similarly endowed would result in an equally ruinous retaliation. The central issue for nuclear strategy, therefore, is less how to win and wage a nuclear war than whether by preparing to do so it is possible to create a deterrent effect. The minimum objective would be to deter another’s nuclear use, and the maximum would be to deter any aggression, on the grounds that any hostilities might create the extreme circumstances in which the restraints on nuclear use would fall away.
That maximum objective, which was the one adopted by both superpowers during the Cold War period, required close attention to the links with more conventional strategy and also to the wider political context, including alliance formation and disintegration. However, nuclear strategists paid little attention to this wider context because of the East-West conflict’s remarkable continuity, with two alliances each dominated by a superpower—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by the United States and the Warsaw Pact by the Soviet Union. Although attempts to reproduce those alliances in continents other than Europe met with scant success, their stability within Europe meant that they were virtually taken for granted. Nuclear strategy then became associated with more technical questions relating to the capabilities of various weapons systems and the range of potential forms of interaction with those of an enemy under hypothetical scenarios.
With the end of the Cold War, most of those scenarios became moot, raising the question of whether there was still a role for nuclear strategy. The answer seemed to lie largely in how the consequences of nuclear proliferation fit into a much more complex international system. With the rise of tensions around the peripheries of both Russia and China, however, it became most possible to imagine circumstances in which a great power war might break out, which would always carry a risk of nuclear escalation. The first successful test of the atomic bomb took place in New Mexico in July 1945 as the leaders of Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States met at the Potsdam Conference to discuss the shape of the postwar world. That context coloured the early American appreciation of the potential foreign-policy role of the new weapon, with the result that nuclear strategy thereafter became bound up with the twists and turns of the Cold War between East and West.
However, the decision to actually use the bomb against Japan reflected the more immediate urge to end the war as soon as possible and certainly before it became necessary to mount an invasion of the mainland. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was a means of shocking Japan into surrender. The choice of civilian rather than purely military targets, and the consequent immense loss of life, reflected the brutalizing experience of the massive air raids that had become commonplace during the war. Afterward it was assumed that any future atomic bombing would also be against cities. As weapons of terror, they appeared to have brought 20th-century trends in warfare to their logical conclusion. The first nuclear weapons were in the range of other munitions; the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was equivalent to the load of some 200 B-29 bombers. Also, at least initially, the weapons were scarce. The key development introduced by atomic bombs was less in the scale of their destructive power than in their efficiency. By the start of the 1950s, though, that situation had been transformed by two related developments. The first was the breaking of the U.S. monopoly by the Soviet Union, which conducted its first atomic bomb test in August 1949. Once two could play the nuclear game, the rules had to be changed. Anyone who thought of initiating nuclear war would henceforth need to consider the possibility of retaliation.
The second development followed from the first. In an effort to extend its effective nuclear superiority, the United States produced thermonuclear bombs, based on the principles of nuclear fusion rather than fission, upon which the atomic bombs were based. That made possible weapons with no obvious limits to their destructive potential. Opposition to that development by influential nuclear scientists, such as Robert Oppenheimer, was disregarded by U.S. Pres. Harry S. Truman on the grounds that the Soviet Union would not suffer from any comparable moral inhibitions.
That move was not matched by a pronounced nuclear bias in U.S. strategy. The weapons were still scarce, and it seemed only a matter of time before any advantages accruing to the United States through its lead would be neutralized as the Soviet Union caught up. The Truman administration assumed that the introduction of thermonuclear weapons would extend the time available to the United States and its allies (including NATO) to build up conventional forces to match those of the Soviet Union and its satellites. A series of events, from the Berlin blockade of 1948 to the Korean War of 1950–53, had convinced the United States that the communists were prepared to use military means to pursue their political ambitions and that this could be countered only by a major program of Western rearmament.
A nuclear weapon (also called an atom bomb, nuke, atomic bomb, nuclear warhead, A-bomb, or nuclear bomb) is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission (fission bomb) or from a combination of fission and fusion reactions (thermonuclear bomb). Both bomb types release large quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first test of a fission (“atomic”) bomb released an amount of energy approximately equal to 20,000 tons of TNT (84 TJ). The first thermonuclear (“hydrogen”) bomb test released energy approximately equal to 10 million tons of TNT (42 PJ). A thermonuclear weapon weighing little more than 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg) can release energy equal to more than 1.2 million tons of TNT (5.0 PJ). A nuclear device no larger than traditional bombs can devastate an entire city by blast, fire, and radiation. Since they are weapons of mass destruction, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a focus of international relations policy.
The first nuclear weapons were bombs delivered by aircraft. Later, warheads were developed for strategic ballistic missiles, which have become by far the most important nuclear weapons. Smaller tactical nuclear weapons have also been developed, including ones for artillery projectiles, land mines, antisubmarine depth charges, torpedoes, and shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles.
The Nuclear Age: Dropping the bomb
The Hiroshima bomb was made of enriched uranium, compressed by detonating explosives to achieve a supercritical mass. The Nagasaki bomb was made of plutonium, which is also fissile. Plutonium is produced in the spent fuel of a nuclear reactor, via the irradiation of uranium 238. It can be extracted to create weapons.
Following 1945, the US developed massively destructive hydrogen bombs. Some are equivalent to many millions of tonnes of TNT, and yield vast amounts of energy through nuclear fusion. In nuclear fusion, atomic nuclei fuse to form heavier elements. Hydrogen bombs use small fission explosions to create the huge temperatures required for heavy isotopes of hydrogen to fuse.
Nuclear weapons technology has been adapted for many military uses, such as intercontinental missiles, huge fission weapons, bunker busters, mini-nukes, gamma ray weapons, nuclear landmines and nuclear defence missiles.
By bombing Japan, the US started a worldwide arms race, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The Soviets developed and tested their own bomb in 1949. The United Kingdom achieved the feat in 1952, followed by France in 1960, China in 1964 and most recently India and Pakistan in 1998.
Israel is widely thought to possess nuclear weapons and North Korea declared in 2005 that it did too, though neither has conducted tests. Iraq and Libya have attempted to develop them in the past, and Iran has been accused of having a secret nuclear weapons programme.
While up to nine nations have nuclear weapons, 187 others have pledged not to manufacture them. Twenty countries such as Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and South Africa once had programmes; but as signatories to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), subsequently abandoned them.
The NPT aimed to limit the spread of atomic weapons and bound the five original nuclear weapons states to sharing nuclear technology and materials for peaceful means – mainly through US and Russian disarmament, the treaty has achieved the decommissioning of 38,000 warheads since 1986.
However, the treaty is under strain in 2005. Nuclear-armed states stand accused of failing to reduce their arsenals, and of considering new weapons, like mini-nukes. Iran reached an agreement with Europe to halt uranium enrichment activities, but may renege on that deal.
The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is an attempt to limit test detonations and slow nuclear armament, but the US senate refused to ratify it in 1999.
Controlling the remains of the Soviet Union’s vast and poorly protected nuclear arsenal is another great challenge. The G8 have repeatedly pledged billions of dollars to help safeguard the massive stockpile.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is struggling to keep track of smuggling and the black market in nuclear materials and technology, and fears of terrorists acquiring a dirty bomb are frequently expressed. The sale of materials and information was highlighted in 2004, when a Pakistani nuclear scientist admitted to selling nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Pakistan Nuclear strategy involves the development of doctrines and strategies for the production and use of nuclear weapons.
As a sub-branch of military strategy, nuclear strategy attempts to match nuclear weapons as means to political ends. In addition to the actual use of nuclear weapons whether in the battlefield or strategically, a large part of nuclear strategy involves their use as a bargaining tool.
Some of the issues considered within nuclear strategy include:
· Under what conditions does it serve a nation’s interest to develop nuclear weapons?
· What types of nuclear weapons should be developed?
· When and how should such weapons be used?
Part of military strategies in nuclear age includes
a. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender (see pre-emptive nuclear strike and second strike). It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.
The term “mutual assured destruction” was coined by Donald Brennan, a strategist working in Herman Kahn’s Hudson Institute in 1962.
b. Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons, fissionable material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information to nations not recognized as “Nuclear Weapon States” by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT. Proliferation has been opposed by many nations with and without nuclear weapons, as governments fear that more countries with nuclear weapons will increase the possibility of nuclear warfare (up to and including the so-called countervalue targeting of civilians with nuclear weapons), de-stabilize international or regional relations, or infringe upon the national sovereignty of states.
c. The balance of power theory in international relations suggests that states may secure their survival by preventing any one state from gaining enough military power to dominate all others. If one state becomes much stronger, the theory predicts it will take advantage of its weaker neighbors, thereby driving them to unite in a defensive coalition. Some realists maintain that a balance-of-power system is more stable than one with a dominant state, as aggression is unprofitable when there is equilibrium of power between rival coalitions
When threatened, states may seek safety either by balancing, allying with others against the prevailing threat; or bandwagoning, aligning themselves with the threatening power. Other alliance tactics include buck-passing and chain-ganging. Realists have long debated how the polarity of a system impacts the choice of tactics; however, it is generally agreed that in bipolar systems, each great power has no choice but to directly confront the other. Along with debates between realists about the prevalence of balancing in alliance patterns, other schools of international relations, such as constructivists, are also critical of the balance of power theory, disputing core realist assumptions regarding the international system and the behavior of states.
In summary, it is important to understand that though nations struggles to acquire this nuclear weapons to enrich their arsenals, yet its uses has remained tamed by the laws and policies guiding the international communities. The nuclear age has come to stay so is the quest for sophisticated weapons and the struggle to create weapons increases. Yet the memories of the impacts of this deadly weapons remains ever constant in the mind of nations following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the second world war and serves as a constant reminder to states of the unimaginable calamities posed by this mandate weapons.