Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Weapons

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3984-1.ch007


This chapter is also devoted to examples of weapons design, this time in regard to nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The author begins, however, with a more detailed examination of deterrence, specifically nuclear deterrence. He discusses the Manhattan Project, the design of thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles. Much of this is relatively familiar and he emphasises those episodes that are most relevant for present purposes. The main point is that (nearly) all of this work was done in the Cold War in an era of superpower confrontation. The Cold War is over, but the weapons remain.
Chapter Preview


In April 2013 the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has, among other things, threatened to engulf the Korean Peninsular in thermonuclear war, and at the time of writing, the US Secretary of State has said that the option of an invasion of North Korea is on the table.1 And in the same month, evidence (though not conclusive) was found that the Syrian regime has used Sarin nerve gas on insurgents fighting against it in the Syrian civil war - the gas was definitely used in 1995 in Japan in the so-called Matsumoto Incident, in which eight people were killed. Sarin was discovered in 1938 and nuclear weapons were perfected in 1945, under circumstances altogether different from those that prevail today, either in Korea or Syria, or anywhere else (Schmidt, 2015: 74-78). These weapons exist today in some countries, like North Korea, that have a disturbing propensity to threaten to use them, in countries with unstable governments, like Pakistan and in countries that have been at war or under treat of war for many decades, like Israel. The weapons themselves have of course been manufactured recently, but they have been made on the basis of knowledge discovered over seventy years ago. Nuclear weapons, together with chemical and biological weapons, are maximally effective when used to kill large numbers of unprotected civilians, as was the case at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As such they differ from those discussed in the last chapter, and virtually all other (conventional) weapons, because they seem to be more suitable as deterrents, rather than as weapons that soldiers use to actually fight one another, weapons whose rationale is to threaten rather than actually be used.

Poison gas, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are not in some way ‘inherently’ deterring and so cannot be used for anything else apart from deterrence: aside from the arguments given in Chapter 5 against that suggestion, the facts of their actual use also speak against this idea. Nevertheless, as weapons of mass destruction, they are not ‘normal’ weapons, and as such they are especially dangerous if deterrence fails and they are used, or when their use seems imminent. This chapter is about nuclear weapons, by far the most dangerous category of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular their history and role as deterrents. It will be no surprise that this story provides further illustration and confirmation of UT. Much of the history is familiar, and I will only briefly sketch the details. I will begin by making some remarks about deterrence and then come back later to assess the past, present and future role of nuclear deterrence, because the rationale behind nuclear weapons design was, for the most part, deterrence.2

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: