Slide: The spread of nuclear weapons

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The spread of nuclear weapons:

The story goes something like this.
1939 after the outbreak of WW2 in Europe.
The President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter from physicist Albert Einstein and his Hungarian colleague Leo Szilard, calling to his attention the prospect that a bomb of unprecedented power could be made by tapping the forces of nuclear fission.
The two scientists, who had fled from Europe in order to escape Nazism, feared that Hitler-Germany was already working on the problem.
Should the Germans be the first to develop the envisaged "atomic bomb," Hitler would have a weapon at his disposal that would make it possible for him to destroy his enemies and rule the world.
Einstein and Szilard urged the government of the United States to join the race for the atomic bomb.
Roosevelt agreed, and for the next four and half years a vast, utterly secret effort was launched in cooperation with the United Kingdom.
It was code-named "The Manhattan Project."
More than 200,000 worked on this including several thousands scientists and engineers, many of European background.
Finally, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was tested in the Alamogordo desert in New Mexico. Its power astonished even the men and women who had constructed it.
By the time of the Alamogordo test, Germany had already surrendered. This meant that the potential threat of a Nazi atomic bomb no longer existed.
But the war in the Pacific was still raging, and the President of the United States Harry S. Truman decided to use the atomic bomb in order to force the Japanese leadership to surrender as quickly as possible.
On August 6 an atomic bomb with an explosive yield equivalent to 12.5 kilotons of the explosives TNT (trinitrotoluene) was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, instantly killing some 70,000 people.

We now know that there are five immediate destructive effects from a nuclear explosion:

  1. the initial radiation, mainly gamma rays;

  2. an electromagnetic pulse, which in a high altitude explosion can knock out electrical equipment over a very large area;

  3. a thermal pulse, which consists of bright light (even many miles away) and intense heat equal to that at the center of the sun);

  4. a blast wave that can flatten buildings; and

  5. radioactive fallout, mainly in dirt and debris that is sucked up into the mushroom cloud and then falls to earth.

In addition


There are three longer-term effects from a nuclear explosion:

1. delayed radioactive fallout, which gradually over months and even years falls to the ground, offer in rain;

2. a change in the climate (possibly by lowering of the earth’s temperature over the whole Northern Hemispere which could ruin agricultural crops and cause widespread famine);

3. a partial destruction of the ozone layer, which protects the earth from the sun’s ultraviolent rays. If the ozone layer is depleted, unproteceted Caucasians could stay outdoors for only about 10 minutes before getting an incapacitating sunburn and people would suffer a type of snow blindness from the rays which, if repeated, would lead to permanent blindness. Many animals would suffer the same fate.

Another 70,000 died by the end of 1945.

On August 9, a second bomb was used against the city of Nagasaki.
This explosion had a higher yield (equivalent to 22 kilotons of TNT) but caused fewer instant deaths.
However, many of the survivors suffered from heavy burns, radiation sickness, etc., and the death toll continued to rise.
By the end of the year more than 70,000 of Nagasaki's citizens had lost their lives.
Five years later, as many as 340,000 people, or 54 percent of the original population, had died from the two explosions.

Nuclear proliferation

After the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, many people called for a ban on nuclear weapons in order to avoid a nuclear arms race and the risk of future catastrophes like the ones in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union declared that they were in favor of putting the atomic bomb under foolproof international control.
In spite of these declarations, the big powers were, in fact, never ready to give up their own nuclear weapons programs.
By the end of 1946 it was clear to everybody that the effort to prevent a nuclear arms race had failed.
Indeed, the Soviet Union had already launched a full-speed secret nuclear weapons program in an attempt to catch up with the United States.
Thanks in part to espionage, the Soviet scientists were able to build a blueprint of the American fission bomb that was used against Nagasaki and to conduct a successful testing of it on August 29, 1949.
In its turn, the fact that the Soviet Union had become a nuclear power figured heavily when President Truman in early 1950 decided to launch a crash program in order to develop a more advanced type of nuclear weapons, the so-called hydrogen bomb.
In contrast to the first atomic bombs, which destructive power came from the process of nuclear fission, the "H-bomb" would use a small fission bomb to trigger a tremendously powerful process of nuclear fusion.
By 1954, both the United States and the Soviet Union had successfully tested their first generation of H-bombs.
The tests proved that fusion bombs could easily be made to produce explosions more than 1,000 times as powerful as the fission bombs used in the Second World War.
The most powerful explosion ever took place at Novaya Zemlya on October 30, 1961, when the Soviet Union tested a "monster bomb" with a yield equivalent to 50 megatons of TNT.
It has been estimated that this explosion alone released more destructive power than all bombs and explosives used in the Second World War added together, including the three nuclear explosions of July and August 1945.
In the course of the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union had developed a total of about 50,000 nuclear weapons, the equivalent of 1 million Hiroshima bombs (about 3 tons of TNT for every man, woman, and child on the planet).
The Hiroshima bomb was about 12.5 kiloton device (a kiloton having the explosive force of 1,000 tons of TNT); some of the weapons today fall in the megaton range (a megaton being the equivalent is the equivalent of 1 million tons of TNT).

By 1961, two more countries had developed and successfully tested nuclear weapons. United Kingdom had started its program during the Second World War in close co-operation with the United States, and the first British bomb was tested on October 3, 1952.

On February 13, 1960, France followed suit. The French program received very little technological and scientific support from other countries.
Four and a half years later, on October 16, 1964, China became the fifth nuclear power after having received only reluctant assistance from the Soviet Union.

What’s the danger of nuclear proliferation?

The greater the number of countries with nuclear weapons the greater the chance that the nukes will be used?
In the early 1960s, many military experts and political leaders feared that the proliferation of nuclear weapons was likely to continue, and that within a decade or two a dozen additional countries were likely to cross the nuclear threshold.
In an attempt to forestall such a development, the United States and the Soviet Union took the lead in negotiating an international agreement that would prohibit the further spread of nuclear weapons without banning the utilization of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The result was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also referred to as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which opened for signature on July 1, 1968.

When it came into force on March 5, 1970, the NPT separated between two categories of states:
On the one hand, nuclear weapons states – that is, the five countries that were known to possess nuclear weapons at the time when the Treaty was signed (United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China).
On the other hand, non-nuclear weapons states – that is, all other signatories of the Treaty.
According to its provisions, the nuclear weapons states on signing the NPT agree not to release nuclear weapons or in any other way help other states to acquire or build nuclear weapons.
At the same time, the non-nuclear weapons states signatories agreed not to acquire or develop "nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."
In exchange for this self-denial, the nuclear weapons states promise to move toward a gradual reduction of their arsenals of nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of complete nuclear disarmament.
The NPT was first signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union together with 59 other countries.
China and France acceded to the Treaty in 1992.
In 1996, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan gave up their nuclear weapons, left over from the Soviet Union when it fell apart in 1991-92, and signed the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states parties.
The NPT is now the most widely accepted arms control agreement.
By June 2003, all members of the United Nations except Israel, India, and Pakistan had signed the NPT.
However, one signatory, North Korea, had recently pulled out from the Treaty.

Nuclear Arms Control Agreements:

The very first major nuclear arms control agreement was the Limited Test-Ban Treaty of 1963.
The LTBT prohibited nuclear explosions

in the atmosphere,

in outer space,

and under water.

This treaty was motivated first by a desire to reduce and contain the health hazards caused by radioactive fall-out from nuclear explosions in the atmosphere.
Due to the fact that many of the radioactive isotopes that were spread around the globe in the wake of such explosions have a lifetime of many tens or hundreds or even thousands of years, the continuation of atmospheric testing was likely to cause additional cancer deaths and other serious health problems on a large scale for many generations to come.
That being said, many countries supported the treaty for yet another reason: non-proliferation. Since it was considered very difficult to develop a reliable nuclear weapons capability without conducting at least one real-life test, a universal ban on testing would also serve as an effective measure against nuclear proliferation.
It was probably for the very same reason that most of the threshold states – that is, countries under suspicion of pursuing secret nuclear ambitions – for a long time refused to sign the LTBT.
Also France and China withheld their signature, arguing that the LTBT was unfair since it allowed the technologically more advanced nuclear weapons states to continue testing underground.
Eventually, on October 24, 1996, a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed that banned all nuclear explosions,

including underground tests, for military as well as peaceful purposes.

Both France and China were now ready to sign up. By June 2003, the CTBT had been signed by 167 and ratified by 100 out of altogether 197 countries.
Among the countries that had still to sign and/or ratify the treaty were Afghanistan,






North Korea,


Saudi Arabia,


and the United States (United States ratification has so far been stopped by the Senate).

The NPT distinguished between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states as parties of the Treaty.

From the very beginning there was in fact a third category of countries as well, namely, non-nuclear weapons states that for one reason or another had decided not to become parties of the NPT.
Cuba, for example, dismissed the NPT as an instrument that served to maintain the existing and, in their opinion, thoroughly unjust world order.
Others simply wanted to reserve the option of developing their own nuclear arsenal:

either to enhance their regional or international status,

to deter military aggression

or to underpin their political independence.

The first country outside the NPT to cross the nuclear threshold was India, which exploded a nuclear device in an atmospheric test in 1974.
In 1998, both India and Pakistan conducted several nuclear underground tests, inviting a storm of international protests and some short-lived economic and political sanctions.
Meanwhile, the ending of white minority rule in South Africa in 1993 had led to the sensational disclosure that, in the mid-1980s, South Africa had developed and stockpiled a small number of nuclear weapons.
The weapons had been dismantled and destroyed in the last years of apartheid because the white government feared that they might some day fall into the hands of militant black opposition groups and be used against the government.
Subsequently, South Africa signed both the NPT (1991) and the CTBT (1996) as a non-nuclear weapons state.
Allegations about a secret Israeli nuclear weapons program were frequently heard in the 1960s and 70s.
It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that the allegations were backed up with firm proof. In the fall of 1986, a former Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, disclosed illegally possessed evidence proving that Israel, by all meaningful definitions of the term, was indeed a nuclear weapons state, and a powerful one as well.
Drawing on Vanunu's photographs from the bomb factory underneath the small Dimona nuclear reactor, Western experts concluded that Israel at the time probably had acquired enough fissile material to produce more than 100 nuclear bombs and warheads. Today, Israel may possess as much as 150-200 nuclear weapons.
By June 2003 there were at least three countries – India, Israel, and Pakistan – that were both in possession of nuclear weapons and non-parties to the NPT.
In addition, North Korea withdraw from the NPT in 2007. The announcement came after repeated hints by North Korean representatives that their country already possessed a few nuclear weapons.
Past suspected aspiring nuclear powers: Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, Libya, South Korea, Taiwan, and South Africa.
Virtually there: Japan’s advanced civilian program could probably produce weapons within months.
Conservative politicians have started calling from the country to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which Japan has resisted since WW2.
What it has: Twenty-three tons of weapons-usable plutonium and the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium without much trouble. Sometimes described as a “virtual” nuclear weapons state, Japan has one of the world’s largest and most advanced civilian nuclear programs. It could likely have nuclear weapons within a few months of deciding it wanted them.
Why go nuclear: The only nation ever to have nuclear weapons used against it, Japan has long been staunchly anti-nuclear. But the country has also grown increasingly nervous about what it sees as deteriorating regional security. North Korea’s great leap may tip Japanese public opinion, and some politicians are calling for the country to debate openly whether it should have nukes. The country could withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty with three months’ notice by claiming its “supreme interests” are at risk.
What it has: No one knows for sure. Most estimates suggest that Iran is five to 10 years away from being able to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. But it has a history of using foreign sources of technology and equipment, as well as the nuclear black market, to pursue those materials. And its expertise has often been underestimated in the past. Its missiles are capable of delivering nuclear warheads to Israel or southern Europe, and it allegedly bought six cruise missiles from Ukraine in 2000 that are designed to carry 200-kiloton nuclear warheads.
Why go nuclear: Iran makes no secret of the fact that it wants to be the preeminent power in the Middle East. And it may be emboldened to accelerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons if North Korea gets only a slap on the wrist for its recent test. Domestically, both conservatives and reformers support their country’s right to develop nuclear technology, and many Iranian military leaders see nukes as a necessary supplement to Iran’s less-advanced conventional forces, which have been hampered by U.S. sanctions.

Nuclear Free Zones:
Different treaties made it possible to create several nuclear weapons-free zones in the world: Latin America, the Caribbean (except for Cuba), South East Asia, Central Asia and Africa.
More than 50% of the land on Earth is free of nuclear weapons (99% of all land south of the equator).
1,8 billion people live within these zones.
Other international treaties prohibit stationing and testing of any kind of nuclear explosives in the Antarctic, at the sea-bed, in outer space and on the moon.

Nuclear free world?

Ward Wilson in the reading: even if one could use them with impunity, nuclear weaposn would still have little practical value.
Two related strategies have been used to oppose the use of nuclear weapons: the horror strategy and the risk strategy.
The first relies on moral feelings and tries to persuade people that using nuclear weapons is too immoral to contemplate (criticism: in a crisis necessity almost always trumps morality).
The latter relies on calculations of the possibility that a small war could become an all-out nuclear war and tries to persuade people that the danger is too great (criticism: the end of the cold war reduced the likelihood of nuclear escalation).
By banning these weapons you eliminate the risks that they will fall into the hands of rogue states and or terrorist organizations.
In 2004 the US had an estimated 7,000 operational nuclear warheads and Russia had about 7,800.
Both countries tentatively agreed to reduce these to 3,500 warheads each by 2007 but the implementation of this agreement was in doubt in 2000 because of the controversy over a possible US antimissile defense system.
Russia said it would not carry out the new reductions if the US proceeded to build this defense system.
In 2002 President Bush ordered a partial missile defense system built even though tests had failed to show it would reliably work.
Control of nuclear weapons in Russia:
Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan
Until the states of the former SU become stable….
Indications that because the Russian conventional military forces are seriously deteriorated, Russia is now relying more on the possible use of its nuclear forces.
Today eight countries are possessing nuclear weapons. The five nuclear weapons states United States, Russia (former Soviet Union), United Kingdom, France and China, are the only countries allowed to have nuclear weapons according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from 1970. All members of the United Nations except Israel, India and Pakistan have signed the NPT.
The cleanup:
The production and testing of nuclear weapons in both the SU and the US led to huge environmental contamination with highly toxic chemical and nuclear wastes.
The extent of this contamination did not become public until the late 1980s in the US case.
It is painful to read about the deliberate inflicting of harm by a government on its own citizens.

National security considerations prevailed.

In the US, the plants were exempt from state and federal environmental laws, and actions were carried out that had long before been declared illegal for private industry and individuals.
An estimated 70,000 nuclear weapons have been produced in the US over the 45 year period, in 15 major plants.
At the beginning of the 21st century the National Academy of Science declared that most of the sited related to the production of nuclear weapons are so contaminated that they can never be cleaned up.
Of the 144 sites, the Academy believes that only 35 can be cleaned up enough so there is no potential harm to human beings.
The threat of nuclear terrorism:
Russia has reported that its customs service has detected 500 illegal shipments of nuclear and radioactive material across its borders, and the IAEA has reported that there have been 18 confirmed seizures of stolen plutonium or highly enriched uranium, both of which can be used to construct nuclear weapons.
Dirty bomb.
The little-known PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) might serve as a model initiated and headed by the U.S. It involves the Navies and Intelligence Services of sixty nations, working to stop traffic in nuclear arms and materials on the High Seas. But it also has the full blessing of the UN (under Resolution 1540).
Video clip: A.Q. Khan
North Korea's nuclear program could be stopped tomorrow by the country that provides roughly half of North Korea's energy and one-third of its food supplies - and that is China.
All China has to say to Kim Jong Il is: "You will shut down your nuclear weapons program and put all your reactors under international inspection, or we will turn off your lights, cut off your heat and put your whole country on a diet. Have we made ourselves clear?"

If the European Union said to the Iranians: "You will shut down your nuclear weapons program and put all your reactors and related facilities under international inspection or you will face a total economic boycott from Europe. Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

"the Chinese and the Europeans are all for combating nuclear proliferation - just not enough actually to do something about it."

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