Unit 4D Nuclear Weapons


  • Nature of weapons of mass destruction
    • Nuclear weapons classified by the UN in 1948 as WMD
    • mass collateral damage; widely viewed as ‘non-legitimate’ or ‘inhuman’ war crimes?
    • significant deterrence effect – at least according to realists
    • development of nuclear weapons (Hiroshima and Nagasaki);
    • emergence of biological and chemical weapons.
    • Nuclear proliferation Order of Acquisition – USA 1945, USSR 1949, UK 1952, France 1960, China 1964, India 1974, Israel 1979, Pakistan 1998, North Korea 2009. First Nuclear age (1945-1990). Second Nuclear Age (1990 to today)


  • horizontal and vertical proliferation;


    • nuclear proliferation during the Cold War period (vertical proliferation among superpowers; only UN ‘veto powers’ had nuclear weapons;
    • attempts to control nuclear proliferation
    • multilateral treaties (1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and bilateral treaties (SALT I and II; INF TREATY, 1987 – Gorbachev & Reagan removal of nuclear weapons from Europe; START I and II, START [strategic arms reduction talks] G.H.W. Bush & Gorbachev (1991); START III Clinton & Yeltsin (1993)
    • SORT Treaty
    • NEW Start Treaty – 2010 Treaty – recently both Russia and US have accused each other of violating the Treaty
    • Treaty details here: you don’t need the fine detail: https://www.armscontrol.org/print/2556
    • nuclear proliferation in post-Cold War period
    • horizontal proliferations due to regional conflict India and Pakistan; Israel and Iran; easier access to weapons and technology
    • Debates about nuclear proliferation implications for peace ‘balance of terror’
    • Greater responsibility etc vs ‘tactical’ use,
    • danger of getting into the ‘wrong hands (‘pariah’ states such as Iran and North Korea and terrorist organisations


  • UN Security Council Resolution 1887 (2009)-With this resolution, the UN Security Council sought “a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”


    • It called on all countries to adhere to their obligations under the NPT, including co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and for nations to establish measures to reduce nuclear arms.
    • Chomsky Hypocrisy of NPT and its application.


  • Nuclear Weapons and the Balance of Power
  • Realism – Waltz (1979): portrayed the balance of power as the theory of international politics.
  • For Classical realists, the balance of power is a product of political intervention and statesmanship.
  • For Neorealists, the balance of power is treated more as a system/ arrangement that arise automatically, not self-willed.
  • The balance of power is then imposed by events’ (determinism).
  • Happens when states try to prevent the emergence of hegemonic domination by a single state. A balance of power can develop from a bipolar system, but not multipolar. (Neorealists stability theory)
  • Liberalism – Critical of the idea.
  • Balance of power legitimizes international and political rivalry, which can cause instability and distrust.
  • The idea that other states pose a threat to security that can only be contained by build up of power.
  • Mindset could be to cause war than prevent it.
  • Finding  more effective mechanisms to ensure peace and security.
  • The liberal solution is the construction of international organizations such as the UN (capable of managing the balance of power between states)


Past Paper Questions (15 marks)

What are the major reasons behind proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Why has nuclear arms control been so difficult to bring about?

Explain why there has been growing concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Essay Questions (45 Marks)

To what extent does nuclear proliferation threaten peace and security?


  • The association of nuclear proliferation with the growing possibility of nuclear war as well as understanding how and why realists in particular have linked nuclear proliferation to international stability and peace.
  • Impressive understanding of deterrence theory and, in particular, of the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Contrasting ideas of nuclear utilisation theory. However, weaker responses sometimes appeared to be framed in the context of the Cold War and failed to take account of more recent developments, not least about nuclear weapons getting into the ‘wrong hands’.
  • An awareness of the difference between the ‘first’ nuclear age (1945-90) and the ‘second’ nuclear age (post 1990), analysing how the dynamics of nuclear proliferation have, arguably, become more complex and threatening in the latter period.
  • Effective use of modern examples, particularly the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea and the seemingly imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.
  • Good responses also took account, where appropriate of the significance of recent initiatives to ensure nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear weapons are of symbolic importance only.’ Discuss.


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