The Arms Race, a History of Weapons


The USSR and the US maintained an alliance through WWII, until the US produced the atomic bomb, a weapon of mass destruction and symbol of world domination. The Manhattan Project was held top-secret from 1942-1945, until the US uncovered a Soviet Union spy feeding top-secret atomic information back to the USSR (“Manhattan Project”). The Americans achieved the development of the atomic bomb before anyone on May 8, 1945. At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union sent a telegram to the US explaining the hostility the two countries possessed about communism versus democracy. The two dominant nations wanted to spread their ideological government structure all through the world. Due to the aftermath of WWII, the use of the atomic bomb on Japan, and the diverse ideological differences about government structure, the relationship between the US and USSR altered from allies to adversaries. Thus, the beginning of the Cold War and the clash of nuclear proliferation began between two global dominant nations.

The arms race intensified during diplomatic discussions regarding the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) because of the fact that the Soviet Union disagreed with the US and UN on the requirements established. The Atomic Energy Commission “…was created in the wake of the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan, the effects of which demonstrated that nuclear energy needed not only to be developed, but controlled. The AEC legally had absolute control over both the development and use of atomic energy” (“Atomic Energy Commission”). In addition to the AEC, the United Nations created the Baruch Plan that stated that failure to comply with the requirements of the AEC would result in harsh penalties. The Soviet Union, infuriated by the plan, rejected it stating that the US was too far ahead in weapon development (Fuller). To obtain top-secret information the Soviet Union planted a spy, Klaus Fuchs, among the British scientists during the Manhattan Project. Fuchs had been passing top-secret information about nuclear bombs to the Soviet Union since 1945 (Etcheson 43). To the US’s surprise, the Soviets established their own atomic bomb in 1949, without any prior indication of testing the bomb (Levine 64). The Soviets launch their first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949. With the Soviets successfully launching their atomic bomb, the battle for arms supremacy began. The US government countered with the development of the hydrogen bomb on November 1, 1952 (Fuller). When the US thought they had developed the strongest weapon in the world, the Soviet Union received more top-secret information about the hydrogen bomb from Fuchs. The Soviets were able to test and produce their hydrogen bomb in late 1955. The USSR launched the first satellite into space by using intercontinental ballistic missile on October 4, 1957 (Roberts). It appeared that the Soviet Union was extremely advanced in space operations and military tactics, and this frightened the US because the Soviets were able to launch missiles without the use of airplanes (Tirman).

The arms race took another turn due to the Sino-Soviet relations in the 1950’s. The US became frightened when it learned China possessed nuclear weapons and had been influenced greatly by the USSR (Tirman). During the 1950s, China, guided by a large number of Soviet advisers, followed the Soviet model of development, with its emphasis on heavy industry funded by surpluses extracted from the peasantry, while making consumer goods a secondary priority (Levine 69). By the late 1950s, however, Mao Zedong had begun to develop new ideas about how China should advance directly to Communism through a mobilization of China's massive labor force (Fuller). The USSR and China maintained a strong relation leading up into the 1960’s because of the similar communistic ideologies (“Sino-Soviet Relations”). With the help of the USSR, China successfully exploded its first atomic bomb October 16, 1961 (Roberts). The havoc and chaos about nuclear proliferation and the spread of communism left the US in position to try and dissolve communism. The US wanted to dissolve the threat of communism due to the lack of government control and the possession of nuclear weapons (Roberts).
Many communistic countries were spreading across the world in the 1960’s. With two of the most economic and militaristic countries under the influence of communism, President John F. Kennedy couldn’t let the world be inclined by the idea of communism. The US and Cuba are only 90 miles apart from one another. With the powerful technology of intercontinental ballistic missile able to launch without the use of an airplane, Kennedy invaded Cuba with Operation Bay of Pigs Invasion. Kennedy had the plan to overthrow the Cuban communist leader, Fidel Castro. Castro united with the USSR by trading sugar and other agricultural needs the USSR needed in trade for increased economic and military assistance (Levine 91). The operation failed when Kennedy called off the deployment of the bombers. With the failure of the Bay of Pigs, this left the USSR with world’s opinion of the most dominant nation. On October 15, 1962, the US gained intelligence of the USSR constructing numerous missile silos off the coast of Cuba, only 90 miles off the coast of Florida (“Arms Race”). With the US and the USSR being the world’s leaders in nuclear weaponry, the world was petrified of a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy rather than demanding the USSR to remove the missiles immediately, Kennedy deployed a naval blockade around Cuba to obstruct any USSR missiles from being transported. Suspense and tension with what would happen began to alleviate when Khrushchev sent a letter to Kennedy stating the removal of the silos if the US assured the USSR never to invade Cuba again (Fuller).

At the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and the Soviet Union recognized the concept of building a surplus amount of nuclear warheads could result in a catastrophic disaster on both nations if there was to be a nuclear war. Numerous actions were acquired in various treaties to avert any nuclear disaster to occur. On July 1968, the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed in Washington D.C., Moscow, and London (Roberts). Signed by 130 nations in 1968, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty went into effect on March 5, 1970 (Fuller). Its goal was to prevent the spread and development of nuclear weaponry. Notably, neither France nor China agreed to sign the treaty, and both countries have continued to develop their nuclear arsenal despite widespread condemnation from around the world (“Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty”).

The most significant treaty was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty held in 1972, known as SALT I. President Richard Nixon met with Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow and signed an agreement that provided for a severe limitation on the placement of antiballistic missiles and a freeze on the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles by each nation (“Arms Race”). In 1973, Brezhnev traveled to Washington, D.C., where the leaders agreed never to use nuclear weapons offensively and agreed for a second treaty, known as SALT II. With both nations in a relaxing time with compromises be addressed, this period was a called a détente (Ungar 109). On June 18, 1979, Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna. SALT II would have set a limit on long-range missiles that each country could possess and provided for a decrease in these missiles by 1981 (Etcheson 126). Before the Senate could authorize the new treaty, however, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, an act of aggression that heightened U.S. fears in the Cold War (“Arms Race”).

Even with these treaties, the Cold War and the arms race still continued until the election of Reagan and Gorbachev. Both political leaders realized the importance of reduction in nuclear arms (Levine 131). Even though the bombing of Japan ended WWII it was the beginning of the Cold War and the arms race between the US and the USSR, however through billions upon billions of dollars spent on nuclear proliferation the US and the USSR finally maintain a treaty to end the arms race (Fuller). In 1981, Ronald Reagan became president and confirmed his proposal of the reduction of nuclear weaponry. With great coincidence, Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the USSR, and he too believed in the reduction of nuclear weaponry (Levine 140). Regan began the funding of the “Star Wars” plan, which would design a state-of-the-art Anti-Ballistic Missile system that would use satellites to defend the US against missile attacks (Fuller). Finally, the US and the USSR developed a mutual political relationship. The Star Wars plan was aborted after the US spent more than 80 billion dollars without any sufficient progress (Fuller).

Reagan had been recognized for his advanced defense measures and his determination to overcome communism with the USSR, brought the USSR slowly crumbing in the late 1980’s. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed uniting West and East Germany (Etcheson 164). The wall was a long-term symbol of communism. On December 25, 1991, the USSR finally came to halt, when Boris Yeltsin, a strong political figure in Russia rallied up the Russian people to revolt against communism. On that Christmas day, communism and what was called the USSR seized to exist. In the following years, President George W. Bush and Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed the Treaty of Moscow on May 24, 2002 (“Arms Race”). The treaty put in place strategic offensive reductions, the most sweeping nuclear arms reductions in history. President Bush said the treaty erased, "The last vestiges of the Cold War" and forged a new Russian-American partnership (“Treaty of Moscow”). With long and vigorous tensions between the US and the USSR about nuclear proliferation, communism versus democracy, and the perspective of being the worlds dominate leader, both nations have reconciled and maintained a partnership. Although, the nuclear proliferation between the US and USSR have ended, other countries around the world have obtained possession of weapons of mass destruction that could result into another arms race, or even another World War.

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