Dr. Tsubokura's Radiation Lecture Vol.105

Author: Masaharu Tsubokura

Editors: Akihiko Ozaki M.D., Yuki Senoo

109. The acceleration of nuclear weapon development after the Cold War

    The assertive global rivalry between the East and West following World War II accelerated the race for nuclear weapons and the advancement of arms. Following the U.S. acquiring nuclear weapon in 1945, the former Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons in 1949. Ten years later (in 1955), the U.S. possessed several thousand nuclear missiles. In another ten years (in 1965), the U.S. possessed over 30,000 nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the former Soviet Union possessed about 40,000 nuclear missiles in 1985. At that time, over 70,000 nuclear weapons existed in the world.

 During the Cold War era, the number of countries with nuclear weapons gradually increased. By the 1960s, nine countries had developed nuclear weapons (including the countries suspected of having one): the United Kingdom (1952); France (1960); China (1964); and, later, Israel, India, South Africa, and Pakistan. Notably, South Africa dismantled all its nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War and no longer possesses any.

    The United States and the former Soviet Union signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons treaty (NPT) in 1968 in response to the increase of nuclear weapons. Under this treaty, “nuclear-weapon states” refers to countries that had tested a nuclear device before January 1, 1968. Therefore, the United Kingdom, France, and China ratified the treaty, but India, Israel, and Pakistan have not. In addition, North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.

110. Several global crises occurred when nuclear weapons were almost launched.

 The intensified conflict between the Communist East and the Democratic West after World War II accelerated the race for nuclear arms and for other weapons. As the number of nuclear missiles in the world rapidly increased, the tensions between the East and West also increased. This international tension manifested in the Korean War in 1950, the Berlin Crisis in 1961, and the Cuban Crisis in 1962. Humanity experienced several crises in which countries almost launched nuclear weapons.

 In 1972, following the Cuban crisis, the U.S and the Soviet Union agreed to halt the nuclear arms race by signing the SALT-I negotiation, which aimed to limit the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

 However, the negotiations did not seek to reduce the number of nuclear weapons because tensions between the U.S and the Soviet Union were still high. Therefore, the agreement did not aim to reduce army forces and put either side at a military disadvantage.

    Following the SALT-I negotiation, the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 gradually reduced the number of nuclear weapons. Although their number was reduced to about one-fifth of their peak, the U.S and Russia both still possess thousands of nuclear weapons.

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The Japanese version of the manuscript was originally published in Fukushima Minyu, a local newspaper in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, 13th and 20th January 2019 was reproduced for MRIC Global under the author's permission.

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