How The U.S. Went From Zero Nuclear Weapons To Nearly 66,000 At The Height Of The Cold War?

2022-01-17 16:27:50
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Wesleyan University
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During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were essential for the United States since they were used to maintain international security because they served as a means of deterrence. At the peak of the Cold War, the ownership of nuclear arms and weapons was deemed as competition for supremacy in the nuclear warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States (Sidel & Levy, 2007). Therefore, in an attempt to outduel the Soviet Union, the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, and this, as a result, saw the U.Ss nuclear weapons rise from zero to about 66,000.

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Definition of MAD, NUTS, and the Policies Supporting These Theories


Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is a renowned approach to nuclear strategy. According to this approach, nuclear weapons have, in the course of their existence, revolutionized deterrence and defense which means preventing an adversary from going to war and protecting oneself against an adversary, respectively. As reasoned by MAD, nuclear weapons are thought to cause catastrophic destruction, and for this reason, they are known only to serve a deterrence purpose since nuclear wars’ only outcome is annihilation. This being the case, those countries with nuclear weapons are discouraged from using them (Cosma, 2012). Nonetheless, these countries continue to build their arsenal to deter other countries from attacking, and in the end, this results at the end of total war owing to the fact that rival nations will refrain from the use of weapons of mass destruction to achieve their military goals.

The second-strike capability is one of the standard policies that support MAD. This, in essence, is said to be the assurance by a certain country that they can respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker. This particular ability is therefore considered very crucial in nuclear deterrence since if otherwise stated, the opposing side might attempt to win a nuclear war through a single but massive first strike against its opponent’s own nuclear forces (Shultz, Perry, Kissinger & Nun, 2007).


On the other hand, Nuclear Utilization and Target Selection (NUTS) is yet another approach to nuclear strategy. Unlike MAD, according to NUTS, it is possible for countries to wage a limited nuclear war and at the same time win it. In this regard, deterrence and defense do not change, but the types of weapons available have changed. Thus, NUTS states that this limited nuclear war would consist of targeting an adversary’s warheads which is contrary to their cities to destroy their nuclear arsenal and eventually gain victory. This being said, this particular policy encourages nuclear weapons owning countries to build up their arsenals, but unlike the MAD, this should be done with second-strike weapons that are protected efficiently and located on military bases hence making them a lot more difficult to destroy and also much more difficult to deploy (Cosma, 2012).

Evidence That Supports Nuclear Deterrence Theory

Nuclear deterrence is a common military doctrine that substantiates the possibility that a certain country will use the nuclear weapons that it owns as a means of retaliation and hence deter its enemy country from attacking. In this regard, all the nuclear arms-owning countries that have developed nuclear weapons have justified their decision by the pursuit of nuclear deterrence. The relevance of nuclear deterrence works is evidenced by the belief that it kept nations such as the United States safe for fifty years during the Cold War (Wilson, 2008). This, in essence, is substantiated by the claim that owing to the peculiar characteristics of mutually assured destruction, nuclear deterrence can provide unique stability in a crisis. Similarly, another evidence is seen in the various benefits of nuclear deterrence. These benefits are such as:

  1. Indefinable additional diplomatic clout.

  2. Their protection against attacks with nuclear weapons, by other nuclear arms-owning countries.

  3. They offer protection against attacks with conventional forces.

Evidence That Contradicts, Nuclear Deterrence Theory

According to modern-day scholars, a review of the practical record of nuclear deterrence substantiates that deterrence is far more problematic with more obvious failures than successes. This being said, various beliefs and pieces of evidence contradict the whole idea of the nuclear deterrence theory. For instance, the fact that the idea of nuclear deterrence requires a commitment to mass murder contradicts the theory. Throughout the existence of nuclear weapons, there have been ongoing policy debates regarding the number of threatened deaths as a result of nuclear weapons being enough to deter an adversary. Besides, others contend that the idea of nuclear deterrence is a misallocation of resources and also a diversion of efforts away from cooperative solutions to numerous global problems. Scholars also contend that this theory encourages nuclear proliferation making it valid as long as its flaws are overlooked. Therefore, the uncritical acceptance of nuclear weapons makes them seem like valuable instruments for the protection of a certain country (Bunn, Malin, Roth & Tobey, 2016).

Why International Leaders Who Once Advocated For Large Nuclear Arsenals Now Argue For Deep Reductions in Nuclear Arsenals

In the past, and especially during the Cold War, various international leaders supported the ownership of numerous nuclear arsenals on the basis of nuclear deterrence. This has however changed over the recent past since these leaders now advocate for the reduction of nuclear weapons ownership. One of the primary reasons why these leaders advocate for the reduction is to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons to other states or even to terrorist organizations, which have become the world’s greatest security threats (Perkovich, 2009). Besides, various United States administrations have advocated for the reduction of the nuclear threats through negotiation of nuclear arms control agreements with near-peer nuclear weapon threats such as the Soviet Union and eventually with Russia (Drell, 2014)

Description of the Trump Administration's NPR

Donald Trumps Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is a document that succeeds the 2010 review by the Barack Obama administration, and to many, this review is considered an ambitious departure from the status quo in the United States nuclear thinking. Unlike the previous nuclear policies, this particular review shows a great willingness of the United States to make use of nuclear weapons first, and it also calls for the development of new nuclear weapons and capabilities to counter its near-peer nuclear power states such as Russia and China. The review also substantiates that, owing to the fact that China has significantly advanced as a nuclear power, Beijing is, therefore, expanding and also modernizing its already considerable nuclear forces which are inclusive of new nuclear capabilities. These nuclear capabilities range from hypersonic boost-glide vehicles to cruise missiles.

Nonetheless, Trump’s review states that regardless of the evident build-up, China, as a nuclear power, has shown no particular transparency in its intentions. In similar regard, Trump NPR gives special value to euphemism hence referring to the low-yield weapons as supplements that will effectively enhance deterrence. This being said, Trump’s document contends that Russia being the United States’ closest-peer nuclear power threatens to use smaller nuclear weapons and for this reason, the United States ought to match and as a result, deter Russia in kind.

In a nutshell, Trump’s administration NPR critically expands the conditions under which the United States would make use of nuclear weapons to encompass a lot more non-nuclear attacks which are inclusive of cyber-attacks and attacks on nuclear control and commands.

The Differences between This Document and Previous Nuclear Policy

When compared to President Bush and Obama’s policies, the Trumps Administration NPR differs in so many ways. For instance, the 2010 NPR during President Obama’s administration sought to radically remove one tactical low-yield weapon from the United States arsenal. However, on the contrary, the Trumps administration NPR seeks to bring more low-yield weapons in the country. Besides, this document calls for the production of a considerable number of new nukes which is a representation of the break from the precedents that were established by other administrations such as the George Bush administration (Garcia-Navarro, 2018). For example, while the Bush administration cut the U.S stockpile down to about 5,000 warheads, the Trumps administration NRP does not list any form of warheads reduction. The document is also evidently vague concerning the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which is a global ban on nuclear explosive testing. The Trumps document states that the United States will not resume any form of nuclear testing, unless necessary. This is an evident contradiction with the 2010 NRP which reaffirms the United States’ dedication to maintaining its stockpile with no nuclear testing.


Bunn, M., Malin, M., Roth, N., & Tobey, W. H. (2016). Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline? MA: Cambridge

Cosma, M. (2012, December 6). MAD and NUTS About Nuclear Weapons | The Centrist Party.

Drell, S. D. (2014). Working toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Garcia-Navarro, L. (2018, January 28). The Other NPR: Nuclear Posture Review.

Perkovich, G. (2009). Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis.

Shultz, G. P., Perry, W. J., Kissinger, H. A., &amp Nun, S. (2007). Towards a Nuclear Weapons-Free World. The Wall Street Journal, 1.

Sidel, V. W., & Levy, B. S. (2007). The proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Opportunities for Control and Abolition. American Journal of Public Health, 97(9), 1589-1594.

Wilson, W. (2008). The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence. The Nonproliferation Review, 15(3), 421-439.

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