Saturday, March 6, 2010

Causes and Implications of the Cold War Arms and Space Race

Causes and Implications of the Cold War Arms and Space Race

Nuclear Arms Race

The nuclear arms race which took place during the Cold War had its origins in WWII. After America caused Japan’s surrender by deploying two atomic bombs, it believed it had a bargaining chip against the USSR, because it had the knowledge and materials to create atomic weapons while the USSR had none. However, the Soviets solved their lack of uranium, which was a main reason behind their lack of atomic weapons, and successfully tested their first atomic weapon in 1949, well before the USA’s predicted date of the mid 1950s.

After that, both sides spent massive amounts of resources to increase the quality and quantity of their nuclear arsenals. They quickly began work on hydrogen bombs and the United States successfully detonated the first such device on November 1, 1952. Again, the USSR surprised the Americans by exploding a thermonuclear device of their own the next August. The Soviet H-bomb was almost completely a product of the USSR’s own research, as their spies in the USA had only worked on very basic (and incorrect) versions of the hydrogen bomb. This meant that both the USA and USSR had to capability to cause enormous amounts of destruction to each other, should they choose to do so.

The most important development in terms of nuclear weapon delivery in the 1950s was the introduction of ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles). Missiles had long been viewed as the best platform for nuclear weapons, and were potentially a more effective delivery system than delivery via strategic bombers, which was the primary delivery method at the start of the Cold War. On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union showed the world that they had missiles that could hit anywhere in the world with the launch of Sputnik. The United States launched its own rocket on 31 October 1959. The Space Race resulted in technology that was critical to the delivery of nuclear weapons (ICBM boosters) while appearing to be done for the purpose of science and exploration. Thus, as a side effect of the Space Race, there was nowhere on Earth which was safe from the nuclear weapons of the Cold War, and the USA and USSR could easily strike at each other.

This period also saw attempts begin to defend against nuclear weapons. Both powers built large radar arrays to detect incoming bombers and missiles. Fighters to intercept nuclear bombers and anti-ballistic missiles to use against ICBMs were also developed. Large underground bunkers were constructed to save the leadership of the superpowers, and individuals were told to build fallout shelters and taught how to react to a nuclear attack (civil defence). These bombs could kill millions in the event of an attack by either side. Thus, the Cold War resulted in the creation of nuclear bunkers, and people in that era had their lives affected by the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Both sides also adopted the MAD doctrine (Mutually Assured Destruction). The MAD doctrine assumed that each side has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force. The expected result would be an immediate escalation resulting in both combatants' total and assured destruction. The doctrine also assumed that neither side would launch a first strike because the other side would launch on warning or launch with secondary forces (second strike) resulting in the destruction of both parties. MAD was seen as helping to prevent any direct full-scale conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union while they engaged in smaller proxy wars around the world. It was also responsible for the arms race, as both nations struggled to keep nuclear parity, or at least retain the capability for a second strike. Proponents of MAD as part of strategic doctrine believed that nuclear war could best be prevented if neither side could expect to survive a full scale nuclear exchange as a functioning state. Since the credibility of the threat was vital to such assurance, each side had to invest heavily in their nuclear arsenals even if they were not intended for use. In addition, neither side expected to adequately defend itself against the other's nuclear missiles. This led to the hardening and diversification of nuclear delivery systems (such as nuclear missile silos, ballistic missile submarines and nuclear bombers kept at fail-safe points). Thus, the MAD doctrine made both sides constantly upgrade their nuclear weapons to as to maintain the capability to retaliate against an attack, and this caused the Arms Race.

Space Race

The Space Race was a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, as each side tried to match or better the other's accomplishments in exploring outer space. It involved the efforts to explore outer space with artificial satellites, to send man into space, and to land him on the Moon.

The Space Race effectively began after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. The term originated as an analogy to the arms race. The Space Race became an important part of the cultural, technological, and ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Space technology became a particularly important arena in this conflict, because of both its potential military applications and the morale-boosting social benefits. Thus the Space Race started as a result of the two sides’ pride, and also because it had technological and military applications.

As a result of the Space Race, the world entered the Space Age, and technology such as GPS, satellite phones, and space shuttles were developed. Thus the Space Race indirectly contributed to many great advancements in technology.

Done by: Leon Lam

Nuclear Arms Race (Shao Xiong)

The arms race has left far-reaching consequences that still affect us today, one of which is the presence of huge stockpiles of highly destructive nuclear weapons. In an attempt to reduce the number of such weapons, various treaties have been drawn up like the 1991 START treaty, cutting the stockpiles of the US and the former Soviet Union.

One great worry about nuclear weapons is that they could fall into the hands of those who would not wield their power responsibly, like rogue states or terrorist organizations. After the collapse of the USSR, many nuclear weapons were left in former satellite states like Ukraine, often in poorly-guarded installations. Should a terrorist organization manage to steal one of these missiles, it could cause havoc, as a terrorist organization, not belonging to a fixed country, will have no reservations about using the nuclear weapon, since there is no possibility of a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Also, if a rogue state like North Korea gets its hands on blueprints for nuclear weaponry or fissionable material, it would cause great instability in the region, since a rogue state does not conform to international laws, and might be willing to use the nuclear weapon to further its aims.

However, the nuclear arms race was not without its beneficial consequences. Many important technologies were invented due to the nuclear arms race, such as space technology – without the arms race, the space race would never have happened, and we would not enjoy the benefits of space technology like satellite photos, live satellite TV, cheap international phone calls or weather satellites. The Internet was also a result of the arms race – it was developed from a system that would allow US key personnel to communicate even in the event of a nuclear attack.

Done by: Shao Xiong

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