Nuclear Weapons


Detonation refers to the sudden and violent explosion of any device including that of a nuclear weapon. Since the Second World War in the 1940s, there has been no war-related detonation of a nuclear weapon around the globe. Though this might sound positive, it is a major issue currently facing the United States National Security due to the fear that such weapons might be used by terrorists against America. Currently, terrorism is considered one of the major threats to the United States, and the country has been at the forefront of fighting against all terrorist acts. In order to prevent such incidences, and their innumerable social, economic, and environmental impacts, this issue should be addressed as urgently as possible and with all vigour (Kaufman, 2006).

Facing such a threat will undoubtedly go beyond simply tracking down the assailants or issuing mild warnings to the rogue states that they will be condemned for their actions. It will require banning all nuclear weapons as the viable instruments of warfare. This is one of the instances where things are easier said than done because a change of this policy can be very difficult to implement. This is because the general public, as well as national leaders, have little experience in the devastating effects of nuclear weapons; they actually ignore the moral taboos that explain their use. This document mainly focuses on this prickly issue by assessing the nuclear taboo and nuclear deterrence (Mueller, 2000). Later on, the paper will outline the importance of using the two methods in explaining nuclear detonation.

Brief Overview of the Nuclear Taboo

According to Tannenwald (2007), the nuclear taboo is the final result of over a decade of investigations, analysis and writing on the failure of the nuclear weapon use. Nina Tannenwald is an associate research professor at Watson Institute of International Studies. In her book, she argues that it is not the realist stress on the self-interest and cost-benefit evaluations of rationalists that have contributed to the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945. She successfully integrates the constructivist theory supported with more conventional explanations, like deterrence, to explain how various ideas related to national identity – a reasonable use of weapons, the morality in warfare, and norms – have played important roles in the world. She stresses on how the bottom line of the taboo firstly emerged from mere beliefs within the entire public that exerted a lot of pressure on political leaders (Elworthy, 2005; Scilla, 2005; Gabrielle, 2005). Ironically, these beliefs were later legally institutionalised in arms control agreements.

Tannenwald’s detailed accounts on how nuclear decisions have been made in the US White House were of massive interest to a wide range of audience. They followed the pattern that the book arranged in three integrated themes: a historical account of nuclear weapons of the non-use by the US since 1945, the factors and processes linking the rationales and self-interest which contributed to the emergence of the nuclear taboo, and the effects of the evolving nuclear taboo on the foreign policy of the United States.

In her argument, these are the norms that influenced the US warfare decisions in three main ways. Firstly, the norms define the constraints of acceptable actions that limit the policy options and strategy. Secondly, these norms are constitutive. This fact has the implication that they shape identities; for example, the identity of a sovereign nation that outlines the rule and strategy preferences (Elworthy, 2005; Scilla, 2005; Gabrielle, 2005). Thirdly, the norms can play the role of shielding complementary practices, like the use of conservative weapons from scrutiny.

Other than her constructivist explanation, Tannenwald makes a detailed evaluation of five alternatives: the deterrence; the short of military utility; the fear of establishing future standard limitations of materials, including the lack of organisations, systems and capabilities for utilisation; and the growing obsolescence of main conflicts. Rather than blaming the taboo as the sole source for the non-use, Tannenwald only labels it as one of the reasons. She further points out that the deterrence mainly depends upon the nuclear taboo (Bundy, 1988; Survival, 1988). To heighten the credibility of her research, she uses the case studies to trace back the origin and evolution of the taboo, as well as to show how the just and ethical discourse affected the decision making policy of the US administrators.

As a matter of fact, the nuclear taboo becomes a superb example of how a constructivist theoretical approach can supplement one’s basic understanding of issues facing the national security sector. This is sometimes viewed as the realm of the rationalist explanations (Bundy 1988; Survival 1988). Tannenwald’s case studies, as well as the theoretical arguments tactically merge the material factors, which mean the bomb, and the ideational factors, which include the norms, values, identities, and beliefs of the material upshot, together with launching or dropping of nuclear weapons.


Deterrence is another term used to refer to the use of ruthless punishments as an intimidation tool to stop, or rather deter people from being offensive. In this document, this term is used to refer to a theory of war, especially the one that has the connection with nuclear weapons. Deterrence has received criticism from many people in that it does not achieve its ultimate goal, as the offenders do not halt to take into account the present punishment for committing a particular crime, especially when drugs are involved (Bundy, 1988; Survival, 1988). As a matter of fact, offenders are likely to be intimidated by the threat of being caught, as opposed to the threat of punishment, no matter how monstrous it might sound.

Weapons of mass annihilation can never be made to offer the service for the rational ends. On the contrary, they negate the basic principle of life itself and fail to function as the instruments of ruling. In order for nuclear weapons to be effective, the threatening nation must have the capacity to use its nuclear weapons and must also communicate this to the nation that it is willing to deter. A deterrent force should have the capacity to exact payments at the price suitable to itself either by disallowing the opponent to achieve their objectives, by charging the adversary with a fine for attaining weapons, or by the combination of these two (Bundy, 1988; Survival, 1988).

Background on Nuclear Weapons

The first nuclear bomb was detonated as an experiment at Alamogordo, New Mexico. This happened in July 16, 1945. The USA government wanted to test the impact of the newly found weapon of destruction. Franklin Roosevelt was the President at the time of development of this weapon. After he had left the office, he was succeeded by Truman. The new president found the developed weapon that had been newly created. Truman was less in control of the international affairs like Franklin had been. This difference in the office change and the experience in diplomatic affairs with other nations led to the detonation of this first bomb. Truman wanted to see the impact of the bomb, which had been created, but he did not have enough knowledge of the consequences apart from his curiosity.

During the Second World War, Japan advanced a lot in technology, such that the USA and Russia, being the main superpowers, were starting to get concerned. The USA was not originally interested in joining the war. However, it was evident that there would be an emergence of the third superpower (“American Political Science”, 1993). The USA was concerned that if Russia were the first to hit Japan, it would get control of it. Under the influence of foreign advisors, Truman released the first atomic bomb on Japan; it hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, another bomb hit Nagasaki. This desire of the USA to end the war led to the use of the first atomic bomb in history of the mankind.

The bomb was intended to end the long period of the Second World War and to limit the Russian expansion in Japan. However, the bomb created adverse effects of destruction, political, social, and economic. It altered the national state of security and the diplomatic relations in the world (“American Political Science”, 1993). More countries started the development of atomic bombs all over the world.

Aftermath of the First Atomic Bomb Detonation

The USA successfully ended the Second World War after Truman had unleashed the first bomb on Japan. There were fears from Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard that if Hitler had developed the bomb, he would have destroyed all his enemies in order to rule the world. The USA government found all the justification they needed to finish the war (Bundy, 1988; Survival, 1988). This was after Franklin was advised by his two scientists of the possible damage of nuclear fission from bombing. The two scientists escaped from Germany just after Hitler had set out to eliminate all Jews. After the first atomic test in the desert, Germany had surrendered, which eliminated the possibility of Hitler accessing the atomic bomb.

There was a horrific aftermath of the use of atomic bomb, where an estimate of about 70,000 of the inhabitants in Nagasaki perished. After a few years down the line, over 300,000 people died due to the effects of radiation (Bundy, 1988; Survival, 1988). The period was very influential to other nations in the world. It led to the creation of atomic bombs, and this was the beginning of the arms race. Each country funded its operations in building atomic bombs, which created an impending risk of the future detonation.

The world witnessed adverse effects of the use of the first atomic bomb. The outcome was so devastating that every nation was terrified, including the USA, which had launched the product. The number that died remains unknown due to the heat that cremated many people (Cooper, 2006). The survivors of the brief but devastating blast died shortly after due to severe skin burns. This affected the genetic makeup of the Japanese that are still traced in parts of the population even today. The radiant heat, which travels with the speed of light, burned everything that was within its exposure (Tierney, 2005).

Nuclear Dilemma and National Security

The states in the world exist as a system of international relations. The states are sovereign to the extent that there is no international body strong enough to control all the states. Each state is responsible for its own security, protection, and survival. Machiavelli, the father of real politics, argues that all states exist to acquire, maintain, and expand power (Kaufman, 2006). Realism, according to him, is the best approach to reach solutions to the world peace. He holds that the world exists in the state of anarchy. This creates the foundation of deterrence and retaliation.

Idealists, on the other hand, like Woodrow Wilson, argue that states are potentially peaceful. The states should come together to form the collective security to punish any deviant state on matters of security. Wilson was a main founder of the League of Nations that eventually failed to avert the Second World War. The prime minister of Britain advocated for the principles of good neighbourliness as a solution to the world peace (Mueller, 2000). The problem with idealism was that it had failed to contain the states from exercising aggression. The state of anarchy and nuclear problem were bigger than diplomacy talks.

After the Second World War, it was evident that realism was the only solution to maintain peace. Thomas Hobbes argued that a strong body that would be strong enough to control all states was the only solution. The newly created United Nations was made up of major superpowers working against possibility of the Third World War.

Following the Second World War and the aftermath of the nuclear bombing nations of the world came to the understanding of the possible negative impacts that war among superpowers would have on the general state of peace in the world. The superpowers, therefore felt that it was their obligation to ensure that peace existed in the world at all costs.

The United Nations therefore put in place mechanisms to enhance nuclear deterrence which basically involved the use of the military threat against the enemies of a state. The nuclear power has a great coercive force when it is issued as a threat, even without its actual use. This was the main strategy that had been used by the two major superpowers – the USA and the USSR (Elworthy, 2005; Scilla, 2005; Gabrielle, 2005). During the Cuban Link crisis, where Russia had threatened to bomb the USA, John F. Kennedy was advised by foreign policy advisors to negotiate for peace. In a nuclear war, there is usually no winner. All the states at such a war end up in ruins as a result of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The states will want to be in the condition where they have the nuclear power always ready to be used.

Thomas Schelling explains the foundation of deterrence as a theory based on diplomacy which is a process of bargaining between nations that seek outcomes in their best national interests. Diplomacy works best when there is a common interest. It also helps avoid the mutual damage. War, in an ideal diplomatic scenario, can only be accidental, rather than the result of a military strategy or purpose. Schelling argues that the latent use of nuclear weapons will influence other nations to defend their national interests more aggressively (Kull, 2003; Steven, 2003; Ramsay, 2003; Lewis, 2003). Each nation aims at protecting its national interests and more often does it through coercion and threats of the nuclear arms. To coerce or deter another state, the states anticipate the violence should be avoided by accommodation. However, the success of deterrence lies in issuing threats, rather than the actual destructive use of weapons.

The United States and the Soviet Union have built nuclear weapons stations during the Cold War. The USSR was convinced that the Cold War could be fought and controlled. The USA, on the other hand, was convinced of deterrence as a credible threat of retaliation. This was the perfect fortress against the potential enemy attack. There was the use of ballistic missile submarine bases as a means of demonstrating the military power.

During the war in Vietnam, which lasted for 30 years, both the USA and the USSR keenly monitored each other’s moves in the military display. For example, when France tried to restore the colonial rule after the World War II, the fear of losing the Southeast Asia to communism led the U.S. into supporting the French efforts (“World Public Opinion”, 2007). The United States supported the weak, but pro-Western government of South Vietnam.

The nation spent $97 billion for missiles and $46 billion for the submarines share of the naval nuclear propulsion research. Submarines were more expensive than surface ships, but they were cheaper to operate. They had smaller crews and the purchase covered up for fuel costs as well.