The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: was the use of the atomic bomb on Japan an act of necessary evil to create peace post-world war 2 and can we rely on nuclear deterrence as a form of conflict deterrent?

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This is my dissertation that I wrote in my final year at the University of York. I received a second class (division one) classification for this dissertation. The images, appendices and other
visuals may not be visible in Booksie due to copy & paste errors but if you want to read to original version please just send me an email and I will be happy to send it on request.

Submitted: August 14, 2018

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Submitted: August 14, 2018



Exam No: Y3840295



Exam number:






The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: was the use of the atomic bomb on Japan an act of necessary evil to create peace post-world war II and can we rely on nuclear deterrence as a form of conflict deterrent?





Department of Politics

The University of York


BA Politics with International Relations




Word Count:





After 7 months of intense reading and research, I want to write this acknowledgement as the finishing touch to my undergraduate dissertation. This has been the first time I have written a dissertation and most likely the last time, so I hope I did a good job on this one in a lifetime opportunity.


I take this opportunity to express gratitude to all of the faculty members in the department of politics for their help and support, especially my supervisor Dr Adam Fusco, who helped me throughout this dissertation. I would also like to specifically thank Dr Nick Ritchie and Dr Dimitrios Stroikos, both being experts in the field of nuclear weapons, helped me locate the relevant core literature and guided me on this dissertation. Lastly, I also thank my parents and my friends who read my dissertation and encouraged me throughout the way.


The London Library and the University of York Library resources and staff have helped me a lot in finding and locating literature. I extremely appreciate and thank them all for assisting me.


(9th April 2018)



This paper seeks to answer one of the most prominent questions of international politics – whether nuclear weapons deter and was the bombing of Japan justified? This paper will begin with a brief introduction, literature review, followed by chapter 2, which goes into the origins of nuclear weapons. These first parts of the paper will give the reader all the details and background information about the topic I seek to answer in the following chapters. Chapter 3 will lay out the arguments on the justifications of Japan. In this chapter we will see if Japan can be justified or not, which will help us answer the first part of the question. Chapter 3 will include all arguments for and against the nuclear bombing of Japan. In chapter 4 we will move onto nuclear deterrence. Since the use of the first nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945, nuclear weapons have mainly been used as a form of deterrence thereafter. Nuclear weapons have only ever been used twice; both on Japan. Since then the main purpose of the weapon has been for deterrence and security. But does nuclear deterrence work? In chapter 4 this paper will look into the theory of nuclear deterrence. The chapter looks briefly into the theory of nuclear deterrence and assesses whether the theory is workable in practice. To do this this paper will look at the stability nuclear weapons created during the Cold War. Using structural realist arguments, as well as the works of Kenneth Waltz, we will see that nuclear deterrence does indeed work because history shows us that whenever a state acquires nuclear weapons deterrence automatically takes affect and stability follows.

We will also look into the most recent works of Scott Sagan and Mira Rapp-Hooper who argued that nuclear deterrence still works and could be the solution to the United States and North Korea situation. Nuclear deterrence does work because there has been an absence of nuclear war, absence of any major war between superpowers, and an absence of any other form of military engagement between the superpowers. However, history also shows us that nuclear deterrence can fail and not always work as it is supposed to. The remaining half of chapter 4 will analyse and look into the Cuban Missile Crisis and ‘rogue’ states to illustrate when nuclear deterrence has not and could not work. This paper looks into several historical events where nuclear deterrence has and has not worked, thus reaching the conclusion that nuclear deterrence is not guaranteed to work, nor guaranteed the fail either. The conclusion will argue that it has worked during the Cold War but it does not tackle problems of the 21st century, therefore, it is no longer an effective form of conflict deterrent.



Nuclear weapons; nuclear deterrence; nuclear peace; nuclear order; nuclear fusion; nuclear fission; nuclear free-zone; security; mutually assured destruction; secure second strike capabilities; proliferation; non-proliferation; United States; Soviet Union; Cold War.





Foreword 6


Chapter 1: Introduction 7

  1. – Introduction.…………………………………………………………………7
  2. – A Review of the Literature………………………………………………....8


Chapter 2 9

The Historical Timeline of ‘the Bomb’

2.1 – Origins……………………………………………………………………………9

2.2 – The Manhattan Project…………………………………………………….......11

2.3 – The ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’…………………………………………………12

2.4 – Hiroshima and Nagasaki……………………………………………………....14

2.5 – The Hydrogen Bomb……………………………………………………………16


Chapter 3 19

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

3.1 – Traditionalist and Revisionist Arguments…………………………………......19

3.2 – An Act of ‘Necessary Evil’/Justified Evil……………………………………….20

3.3 – Demonstration Affect…………………………………………………………….22

3.4 – An Act of ‘Pure Evil’……………………………………………………………...23

3.5 – The Theory and Birth of Nuclear Deterrence………………………………….25


Chapter 4 28

Nuclear Deterrence

4.1 – Deterrence in Practice – has it ever worked and will it continue to work against North Korea………………………………………………………………………………...........28

4.2 – Mutually Assured Destruction (MADness)………………………………………31

4.3 – The Cold War……………………………………………………………………….33

4.4 – When Deterrence Goes Wrong (Cuban Missile Crisis)………………………..36

4.5 – Risks of Nuclear Deterrence (Able Archer 83)…………………………............38

4.6 – The Future of Nuclear Deterrence………………………………………............40


Chapter 5: Conclusion 44

5.1 – Conclusion………………………………………………………………………….44


Appendices 46-47


Bibliography 48-55



“The lesson of the Cold War is that against nuclear weapons, only nuclear weapons can hold the peace…the only thing that kept the Cold War cold was the mutual deterrence afforded by nuclear weapons”  – Chung Mong-joon


“Nuclear weapons offer us nothing but a balance of terror, and a balance of terror is still terror” – George Wald


“A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us” – Margret Thatcher


“All mankind is now learning that these nuclear weapons can only serve to destroy, never become beneficial” – Alva Myrdal



Chapter 1



1.1 – Introduction


It has been over seven decades since the first and only use of nuclear weapons in war but they still remain as central to international security today as they have ever been (Futter 2015). The use of the weapon on Japan has been a controversial decision that divides many scholars into either the traditionalist or the revisionist bracket. Traditionalists argue that the decision to use the bomb was a rational one and an act of necessary evil, whilst the latter group argues the opposite. Besides its use on Japan, nuclear weapons have a new use. They are used as a form of conflict deterrence - structural realists are strong supporters of this nuclear deterrence (Burchill and Linklater 2013). However, the effectiveness and the need for nuclear deterrence too have divided scholars. There are some who support nuclear deterrence and others who argue we need to take a non-proliferation route (Futter 2015).

In the following chapters we will look into several different arguments that seek to justify the bombing of Japan and the existence of nuclear weapons. Chapter 2 will give a brief historical account of nuclear weapons, which will contextualise the key events we will look into at chapter 3 and chapter 4. This paper seeks to answer two main questions, which is whether the bombing of Japan could be justified? And does nuclear deterrence work? Chapter 3 concentrates on the first and chapter 4 looks more at the latter. Within these chapters we will look at arguments from scholars who try to justify the bombing of Japan, arguments against it, and the critiques towards these arguments. Therefore, this paper will be extremely informative, detailed and comprehensive.

In sum, this paper will look to include elements from different perspectives on nuclear use and nuclear deterrence, including traditionalism, revisionism, realism, and many more. It will look at the rational actor model and concepts such as mutually assured destruction to form arguments on whether nuclear deterrence deters. in conclusion, this paper will hopefully illustrate to the readers that the use of nuclear weapons on Japan was not an act of necessary evil because ending the war could have been achieved in other less costly alternatives. It did however have a demonstration affect that added onto the credibility of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear deterrence has worked during the Cold War but it does not tackle problems of the 21st century, therefore, it is no longer an effective form of conflict deterrent. This is my personal perceptive in a very narrowly summarised statement but this paper will outline opposing arguments too, which the reader might agree more with. Therefore, the aim of this paper is not to get the reader to agree with my perspective but rather to lay the main arguments so the reader can form his or her own.


1.2 – Literature Review


This paper will include a very rich and large amount of literature from the field of nuclear weapons. We look into literature from many different perspectives on Japan and nuclear deterrence. This paper goes into a lot of realist texts, especially the works of Kenneth Waltz, one of the founders of neorealism and international politics. Waltz argues nuclear deterrence is one of the greatest strategies to security and peace, thus he endorses nuclear proliferation (Waltz 2012). However, scholars such as Lebow (1983), Trachtenberg (1985), and Morgan (2003) argue against the school of realism regarding nuclear deterrence. The works of the three authors above, as well as many more we will look at in chapter 4, argues that the risks and dangers outweigh the benefits of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear deterrence does not deter new threats and is not as applicable as it was during the Cold War. However, within this chapter we look into the arguments and works of several other influential scholars too in order to get a good sense on when, how, and why does nuclear deterrence work or not.

In 1947 Henry Stimson, who was Truman’s adviser and the man who advised Truman to drop the bomb on Japan, wrote an article to Harper’s Magazine on why the bomb was dropped. Stimson argued that the bomb saved lives from both sides and ended WW2 (Stimson 1947). Samuel Walker (2005) adopted a similar view to Stimson and argued that the bomb ended the war at the earliest possible date and no other alternative would have achieved this result. Historian Richard Frank (2001) looked into important Japanese documents opened after the death of the Emperor Hirohito in 1989 and found out that Japan was not going to accept surrender before the bombing of Hiroshima. These are a few of the literature within chapter 3 that seeks to justify the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Some revisionist arguments that argue against Stimson comes from Ehrlich (1985) who said the bombing of Hiroshima led to an arms race in which the Soviets were able to build a bomb of their own by 1949. Other alternatives in ending the war would have had a better outcome. In fact, Bernstein argues that most of the other alternatives, such as an invasion, would have had less casualties than dropping the bomb (Bernstein 1995). Overall, due to nuclear deterrence being such a large field with so much work written on it, it is difficult to talk about them all within this literature review. This paper will have a very long list of literature within the bibliography, providing the readers will a large variation of perspectives and ideas that they can grasp and use when forming their own.



Chapter 2

The Historical timeline of ‘the bomb’


2.1 – Origins


In 1933, Leo Szilard realized the concept of nuclear chain reaction. He thought of the idea of an ‘atomic bomb’ in September 1933 whilst walking in London, which he described it as that it “suddenly occurred to me” (Szilard, Weart, and Szilard, 1980). He later patented the idea in 1934. This was the birth of nuclear weapons (Long, 2001). In 1933 Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and by August 1934, he had declared himself Führer. For the next six years, until 1939, Szilard tried to keep this concept a secret in fear that Hitler might try to achieve such bomb of this massive capability (Evans, 2006).

However, by 1938 other scientists started to understand the concept of nuclear chain reaction. German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman split the uranium atom by bombarding uranium with neutrons; this is called a nuclear fission (Long, 2001). In 1939 German aggression increased in Europe and with the invasion of Poland, Szilard believed that Germany was trying to develop the first atomic bomb (Szilard, Weart, and Szilard, 1980). Due to this, Szilard moved to the United States as he felt that the US should build the bomb before the Nazis (Long, 2001). In August 1939, Szilard wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt outlining the horrific dangers that could arise if Germany made the first atomic bomb (Long, 2001). However, at the time Szilard was an unknown scientist with no influence, especially in the United States. To make the letter more influential, it was not signed by Szilard but by his old colleague, Albert Einstein. The letter was the slow beginnings of the Manhattan Project (see section 2.2)(Lanoette and Silard, 1994).

In December 1942, Szilard and Enrico Fermi created the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in the University of Chicago (Long, 2001). Szilard was a scientist on the Manhattan Project. Were it not for his genius, Szilard would have been fired from the project due to his outspoken criticisms in how poorly the project was run (Long, 2001). The general in charge of the project, Leslie Groves, only allowed each scientist to know about their own piece of the project. This was to keep the entire project a secret (Szilard, Weart, and Szilard, 1980). Szilard believed this was slowing down the United States from achieving the atomic bomb. This policy of secrecy was later abandoned and project scientists could discuss more of their ideas to each other (Long, 2001).

However, Germanys defeat was inevitable as of spring 1945. Szilard started to question the need to use the atomic bomb since world war two was ending. Until now, Szilard was driven by the fear of the Germans building the atomic bomb before the allies but now that Germany lost the war, there was no need to build the bomb (Lanoette and Silard, 1994). Many believed that the use of the atomic bomb was an act of necessary evil, which we will discuss in the coming chapter, but Szilard believed that using the bomb before an international control agreement will only start an arms race with the Soviets, which will be catastrophic (Lanoette and Silard, 1994). Using another letter from Einstein, Szilard schedules a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt for May 8th to discuss the possible dangers of an arms race (Long, 2001). However, on April 12th, President Roosevelt died. Without Szilard, history may have been different. He created the first controlled nuclear fusion in 1942 at the University of Chicago. Without Szilard and Albert Einstein, the Manhattan project may have not as been as successful as it was known in history today (Long, 2001).

In May 1945 Szilard had a meeting with Secretary of State James Byres. Szilard tried to convince him that the defeat of Germany meant that the Atomic bomb must never be used. Such use of the bomb would be ‘pure evil’ (Long, 2001). Szilard was one of the main contributors of the Frank Report in June 1945. The report argued that the atomic bomb must never be used, even if it would save lives, due to the possibility of a nuclear arms race, which increased the likelihood of a nuclear war that would take much more lives than it could save if used (Long, 2001; Lanoette and Silard, 1994). Despite the lack of impact the report had, Szilard continued his efforts to bring nuclear weapons under control. He found the Council for a Liveable World, which still continues to work for peace today (Long, 2001). Below is a photo of Einstein and Szilard.


2.2 – The Manhattan Project


The findings of Hahn and Strassman in 1938 meant that the potential for creating an atomic bomb was now a reality, which led to the Germans starting their nuclear project later on in 1939. They also discovered that when uranium was bombarded with neutrons, it produced barium, an element half its weight (Hughes, 1983). Nuclear fission was based on Einstein’s E=mc² elaborated in his special theory of relativity (Futter, 2015). As we discussed above, many German scientists flew to the US to help them achieve the bomb before the Germans. Soon after this, with the Szilard-Einstein letter, the US started their nuclear project – the Manhattan Project (Futter, 2015). The Manhattan Project was a research and development undertaken during the Second World War that led to the creation of the first nuclear weapon. The project was by the US, UK, and Canada, but later on become an American project only (Hughes, 1983). The bombs were designed in the Los Alamos laboratory and employed over 130,000 people. The project cost the government nearly $2 billion (equal to about $34 billion today).

The German nuclear programme started in April 1939 but it was eventually decided that nuclear fission would not contribute to ending the war, so in 1942, the Heereswaffenamt turned the programme over to the Reich Research Council (Wiegrefe, 2005). Overtime many scientists and other employees on the project diminished and numbers slowly reduced. The most influential scientists on the German nuclear project were Kurt Diebner, Abraham Esau, Walther Gerlach and Erich Schumann (Wiegrefe, 2005; Hughes, 1983; Futter, 2015). However, most of the German academia flew out of Germany as of 1933 and at the end of the war the allied powers obtained the surviving components of the German nuclear project, as well as the V-2 missile programme (Wiegrefe, 2005). So in one sense, it can be argued that the Manhattan Project is the completion of the German nuclear project.

In 1941, there was a discovery of plutonium and the process by which uranium-238 would decay into the fissile isotope Pu-239, and that it has much smaller critical mass than U-235 (Futter, 2015). So in 1942 the US was determined to develop the atomic bomb through the uranium and plutonium route. Renowned scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project and most of the work was conducted at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The project was also gathering intelligence on the German nuclear weapon project, which at that point was much more developed than the Manhattan Project (Futter, 2015). Some Manhattan Project employees served in Europe where they gathered nuclear materials and documents from the Nazis, as well as rounded up several German scientists to gain information on nuclear weapons. However, Soviet spies done the same to the Manhattan Project and allowed the Soviet Union to build their nuclear weapon in 1949, only 4 years after the Americans built theirs, despite the Americans believing it would take the Soviets more than a decade (Futter, 2015). In fact, the first Soviet bomb, ‘Joe 1’, was very similar to the US’s ‘fat man’ because Soviet spies managed to seize into the Manhattan Project and seized classified documents (Futter, 2015).

The Manhattan Project had 5 divisions: Theory (T), Experimental Physics (P), Chemistry and Metallurgy (CM), Engineering (E) and Administration (A). The head of the P division, Robert Bacher, at first had some disagreements over the average number of neutrons emitted by uranium and plutonium in a nuclear fission. The shortage of fissile material also caused problems for the T division. The CM division also had to find new ways in making, improving and handling materials for means of purification and characterisation of plutonium (Hughes, 1983). Even up to 1944, basic information remained unknown about fissile materials, nuclear chain reactions, and other internal aspects of nuclear weapons. Despite all this, the Manhattan Project grew over the years; in fact, the uranium enrichment facility alone was the size of the western German city of Frankfurt (Wiegrefe, 2005). With so much investment in the project it was no surprise that the US built the bomb first. However, how close was the Nazi’s to the atomic bomb? According to historian Rainer Karlsch, Nazi Germany conducted three nuclear tests before the end of the Second World War, one on the German island of Ruegen in the fall of 1944 and two in the German state of Thuringia in March 1945 (Wiegrefe, 2005). There is little evidence proving this and others argue they were not close to the bomb at all. What we do know is that the German nuclear programme was the first nuclear programme but the Manhattan Project is the one everyone remembers. The Manhattan Project built the first nuclear weapon that changed the world forever (Hughes, 1983).


2.3 – ‘Little boy’ and ‘Fat Man’


The first nuclear weapon that was created was a complex gun-type fission weapon called the ‘thin man’. It was seen impractical and a simpler gun-type weapon called ‘little boy’ was developed that used uranium-235 (Hughes, 1983; Futter, 2015). There were three methods used for uranium enrichment: electromagnetic, gaseous, and thermal (Hughes, 1983). In parallel with the work on uranium, there was also an effort to produce plutonium. The first nuclear reactor was made in Chicago at the metallurgical laboratory but later on also at Oak Ridge and Washington, in which uranium was irradiated and transmuted into plutonium. The plutonium was separated from the uranium and the ‘fat man’ implosion-type nuclear weapon was developed (Hughes, 1983; Futter 2015). Uranium-235 and plutonium-239 are the two fissile materials used in nuclear weapons. When neutrons from uranium and plutonium atoms hit other atoms, it starts a nuclear chain reaction, which releases huge amounts of energy (Futter, 2015). The amount of material needed for an uncontrolled chain reaction is called the critical mass. The critical mass for uranium-235 is 56kg but using a tamper can reduce this critical mass. The critical mass for plutonium-239 is 11kg but this also can be reduced to 4kg (Futter, 2015).

The first nuclear device that was detonated was an implosion-type nuclear bomb at the trinity test (also known as ‘Gadget’) on 16th July 1945. The test was estimated to be equivalent to 20,000 tons of conventional bombs dropped on Tokyo by 334 US heavy bombers in March 1945 (Futter, 2015). The shock waves of the test were felt over 100 miles away and a never seen mushroom cloud rose to the height of 7.5 miles. After the test Oppenheimer said, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”, indicating the birth of a never seen incomparable power (Futter, 2015:19). The first military use of the atomic bomb was one month later, which was the ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Hughes, 1983; Futter, 2015).

The ‘fat man’ was much more complex than the ‘little boy’ and involved producing a ‘super critical’ mass by increasing the density of a plutonium sphere through a perfectly uniform spherical implosion initiated by conventional high explosive design (Futter, 2015). The two bombs were very different. ‘Little boy’ used 64.1kg of 89% enriched uranium-235 whilst ‘fat man’ was a bigger bomb that weighted 4.6 tonnes, 3 meters long and just needed 6.2kg of plutnonum-239 to achieve critical mass (Futter, 2015). ‘Little boy’ generated 16,000 tons of TNT explosive damage, whilst ‘fat man’ generated 20,000 tons – and this was only 17% of its full explosive potential. Below are the photos of the ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ bomb in respective order.


2.4 – Hiroshima and Nagasaki


The ‘little boy’ was developed in 1945 and once it was fully built in early May, the US government planned ways to use it in combat. The Manhattan Project was initially created to combat Nazi Germany and the Second World War, so the plan was to counter the threat of Nazi nuclear weapons (Hughes, 1983). However, with the surrender of Germany, the US shifted their focus on how atomic bombs can win war against Japan. The ‘little boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima but the bomb was never tested. In many ways the bombing of Hiroshima was the test (Futter, 2015). After three days from the dropping of ‘little boy’ on Hiroshima, the US dropped the ‘fat man’ on Nagasaki. The only combat uses of any type of nuclear weapon are the ‘little boy’ on Hiroshima and ‘fat man’ on Nagasaki, they have never been used ever again due to the incomparable and uncontrollable destruction they cause, especially the Hydrogen bombs that were developed later on (see section 2.5)(Futter, 2015).

Scientists from the Manhattan Project and Chicago Group said, “A demonstration of the new weapon might best be made, before the eyes of representatives of all the United Nations, on the desert or a barren island. The best possible atmosphere for achievement of an international agreement could be achieved if America could say to the world, ‘you see what sort of a weapon we had but did not use’. We are ready to renounce its use in the future if other nations join us in this renunciation and agree to the establishment of an efficient international control” (Hughes, 1983:92-93). However, other members on the project such as Groves argued that the bombs should be used on Japanese cities as the test. The actual combat use of the weapons and the demonstration effect added so much greater fear towards the bomb and gave nuclear deterrence a much high degree of credibility too, but we will talk about this later in chapter 4 when looking at nuclear deterrence, which is pretty much the only use nuclear weapons have today since its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 6th August, there was a Whitehouse press release straight after that described the bombing as the “greatest achievement of organised science in history” (Hughes, 1983:93). Secretary of War Henry Stimson called it “the greatest achievement of the combined efforts of science, industry, labour, and the military in all history” (Hughes, 1983:94). Three days later, a second B-29 dropped the ‘fat man’ on Nagasaki. The target was the arsenal at Kokura but due to the clouds and smoke, the pilot dropped it a few miles away from the arsenal.  By the end of 1945, 70,000 people had died; by 1950, 140,000 (Hughes, 1983). The day after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese started surrender negotiations. They surrendered on 15th August 1945. If the Japanese did not surrender, the plan was to drop a third bomb in late August, and several more in September and October (Futter, 2015).

Both bombs were detonated high above each city instead of when they hit the ground because this maximised damage by spreading the blast outwards. 60% of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed. At Los Alamos, there were celebrations and parties due to the success of the project. However, there was also guilt once the details of the bombings became clear and known. However, some scientist believed it was an act of necessary evil, which we will discuss in chapter 3. One of them was scientist Norris Bradbury who argued that the project should continue to develop nuclear weapons. According to Bradbury, another Trinity test “might even be FUN” (Hughes, 1983:96). Whether the use of the bombs were an act of necessary evil or just pure evil will be discussed in the next chapter but I personally disagree with Bradbury for several reasons. These reasons will be clear in chapter 3.


2.5 – The Hydrogen Bomb


Nuclear weapons have changed the course of history. It has ended wars (World War Two), prevented wars (The Cold War), and started wars (Iraq 2003). So it has been a conflict deterrent but also a reason for conflict too, which questions the practicality of nuclear deterrence (LeMouse, 2017); we will look at this in more detail in chapter 4. The country with the most and the biggest nuclear weapons immediately becomes the most fearsome might on the global stage - e.g. North Korea. Atomic bombs were just the first type of nuclear weapon. There is now much more advanced and more powerful nuclear weapons. These are thermonuclear weapons, which is also known as hydrogen bombs (H-bomb). They were first developed in the 1950s but the concept of a ‘super bomb’ based on the fusion of hydrogen atoms can be traced back to Edward Teller’s works in the 1930s – ‘father of the hydrogen bomb’ (Futter, 2015:22). A lot of states seek to develop hydrogen bombs and join the ‘nuclear club’ for international prestige and power. Currently only five states are official nuclear states but there are 9 states in total that hold hydrogen bombs up until today.

Thermonuclear weapons produce their energy through nuclear fusion: the fusing together of atomic nuclei of hydrogen – hence why it’s called a hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen bomb first ignites the thermonuclear fuel to release large amounts of energy in a thermonuclear explosion. You can use as much thermonuclear fuel as possible so the amount of destruction is technically unlimited (Futter, 2015). The fission bomb exploded on Hiroshima had a yield of 16 kilotons (kt) of TNT, equivalent to 16,000 tons of TNT going off all at the same time. The first ever thermonuclear weapon tested was by the US in 1952, the ‘Ivy Mike’, which had an explosive yield of 10 megatons, that is 10 million tons of TNT (Futter, 2015). This shows the enormous differences between an atom bomb and a hydrogen bomb. These new H-bombs increased fear and risk to an entire new level from the previous, which turned the weapon into deterrence instead of a weapon in military use (Glasstone and Dolan, 2006).

The most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested in history was the Soviet ‘Tsar Bomba’ in 1957. This hydrogen bomb produced a yield of 57 megatons. The bombs shockwave went around the earth three times and produced a fireball 5 miles wide that was visible from 630 miles away (Futter, 2015). The mushroom cloud rose up to 40 miles and spread 63 miles wide. The original bomb was twice the size and power but the Soviets were concerned about the possibility of igniting the atmosphere (Hughes, 1983; Futter, 2015). On the next page you can see an image that shows the mushroom cloud caused by the Tsar bomb compared to the previous ones. This image can give us a clear vision on why the bomb was never used for military purpose again and instead as a nuclear deterrence.

North Korea is believed to have carried out its first successful hydrogen bomb test in 2006. Besides North Korea, eight other states have nuclear weapons (Ross, 2017). In total there are around 16,300 nuclear weapons spread between these nine states, all of which are much more powerful than the ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ (Ross, 2017). These nine states are: the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China (these are the five legal nuclear states), India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (Ross, 2017)(Appendix One). The US and Russia share 93% of the nuclear warheads, both currently holding over 7,000 each (Ross 2017)(Appendix One). North Korea is believed to hold less than ten but will most likely increase over the following years (Appendix One). However, only the US, Russia, France, and the UK have deployed warheads. Deployed warheads mean those that are on missiles or located in bases that are operational, giving these four states a secure second strike capability (Appendix Two). In total there are around 3970 ready to deploy nuclear warheads (Ross, 2017)(Appendix Two).

Although the quantities of nuclear weapons are extremely high, the weapon is not offensive. It has never been used in war, besides only twice by the United States in 1945 (Schwarz, 2005). Nuclear weapons have a defensive purpose, which is why states seek to develop them, although we will see later in chapter 4 that nuclear weapons do not spare nuclear states from wars, or for that matter, not even from defeat (Schwarz, 2005). Despite the failures of nuclear deterrence many states still try to obtain them for defensive intentions. Even ‘rogue’ states today try to obtain nuclear weapons, not for aggressive intentions, rather for security issues (Schwarz, 2005). For example, one of the most recent states that tried to develop a hydrogen bomb was Iran. Iran is surrounded by American military power i.e. Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iraq, and Kuwait, thus the weapon can provide Iran with a ‘nuclear shield’ and extra security (Schwarz, 2005; Futter, 2015).

In summery, the Manhattan Project developed the first nuclear weapons for it to be used against the Nazis but it was instead used against Japan to win the war in the pacific. The ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ atom bomb is the only time in history any sort of nuclear weapon has been used. Atom bombs were created for military use but only later on when hydrogen bombs were developed the bombs use shifted from military use to deterrence. In the next chapter we will try to understand whether the use on Japan can be justified – was it an act of necessary evil or just pure evil?



Chapter 3

Hiroshima and Nagasaki


3.1 – Traditionalist and Revisionist Arguments


Szilard and many others believed that with the surrender of Germany the atomic bomb should never be used. However, others like Truman believed that Japan was still a threat and their kamikaze nature would mean only a catastrophic war could get them to surrender (LeMouse 2017). Therefore, to force the ‘stubborn’ Japanese to surrender, the ‘little boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August. It caused 75,000 deaths in the first few hours and over 200,000 in a few months. Three days later, the ‘fat man’ was dropped on the city of Nagasaki killing 140,000 people immediately. Truman swore to destroy each city one by one in a ‘rain of ruin’, but Japan surrendered in 15th August (LeMouse 2017). Today this decision is seen controversial and many say it was ‘pure evil’ (Mesika 2006). However, at the time this decision was far more uncontroversial that it is today. Many argue it was an act of necessary evil for several reasons, which we will discuss in the following sections within this chapter (Futter 2015). However, two very prominent opposing arguments come from the traditionalist and revisionist perspectives.

There are many arguments for why the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. According to the traditionalist view dropping the bombs was a strategic thing to do. John Newhouse said that there was a strong belief in that dropping the bomb meant saving hundreds of thousands of American lives but whether this was true or not we will discuss in this chapter. Also with so much time and money that was invested into the project, traditionalists argue that the bombs were almost “forced to be used” as non-use will make it a waste of investment (Futter 2015:21). So an argument from the traditionalist perspective is that dropping the bomb was an act of necessary evil because it saved thousands of American lives and it was essentially created for it to be used in war (Futter 2015).

Revisionist accounts, on the other hand, points towards three main arguments against the use of the bomb. They argue that if the US guaranteed the future of the emperor, the Japanese would have surrendered and a diplomatic resolution could have been achieved. Secondly, the use of the bomb was for future geopolitical purposes – mostly for showing the Soviet Union this new destructive power the US now possesses (Futter 2015). Finally, J. Samuel Walker claims that the proposed invasion would not have been as costly as the Truman Administrations claims it would have been. The historical evidence makes it clear that there was “other options available for ending the war within a reasonable time-frame without the bomb and without an invasion”, but even if a invasion was required, the number of lives projected to be lost was far fewer than hundreds of thousands (Futter 2015:22).

It is unlikely to ever reach a definitive answer to this question of whether the bombing of Japan is justified or not but within the next three sections in this chapter I will evaluate the different arguments and give my own perceptive on this question. I hope to outline the main arguments in the following sections and assist the reader to form his/her own argument on this debate. What can definitely be agreed upon is that the first use of nuclear weapon was a game-changing moment in global politics (Zeiler 2003; Futter 2015).


3.2 – An Act of ‘Necessary Evil’/Justified Evil


It is difficult to argue the justification of dropping a nuclear bomb that took the lives of many innocent civilians. However, some historians have argued in this direction for several reasons. One justification for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it ended the war with Japan. After the Postdam Declaration the Japanese war council could not reach a consensus on whether to surrender or not. The dropping of the bombs broke this deadlock in the council (Mesika 2009). One account comes from Henry Stimson who was the secretary of war and military adviser for president Roosevelt and Truman. Stimson wrote a memorandum to Truman on 25th April 1945 that informed the president about the development of the atom bomb. After reading this Truman created the Interim Committee and appointed Stimson as the chairman of this committee. The committee was in charge for recommending actions for the use of the bomb. The decision to drop the bomb on Japan was mainly in the hands of Stimson and he was very supportive of dropping the atomic bomb (Stimson 1947).

On July 1st 1945 Stimson advised Truman to drop the bombs on Japan and justified this in many reasons. One of the arguments from Stimson on why it was an act of necessary evil was because if the US went with the original plan, which was an invasion, the war would have ended by late 1946, projected to cost over one million American casualties and even more Japanese (Stimson 1947). Stimson’s second memorandum went into more detail on why the bombing of Japan can be justified. The ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ helped end the war so much earlier than a invasion, which led to saving of time, cost, and lives to both sides. Japan was also very stubborn in surrendering so dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, which was the headquarters of the Japanese army, and Nagasaki, which contained important wartime industrial importance, forced the Japanese the surrender (Stimson 1947).

In March 1945 the US air force launched a raid on Tokyo and the raid had more casualties than Hiroshima; just one raid alone had over 125,000 casualties (Mesika 2009). The raid caused more casualties than Hiroshima and did not end the war. An invasion was estimated to have over one million casualties both sides and also did not guarantee victory (Giangreco 2017). In the Postdam Declaration, the US stated that if Japan wont surrender it will face “prompt and utter destruction” (Mesika 2009). Under this light one can argue that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing was an act of necessary evil in ending the war and saving lives in the long term (Stimson 1947). Dr Karl Compton said “it was not the atomic bomb that brought surrender; it was the experience of what it can do to the community, plus the fear of many more, that was needed to end the war” (Stimson 1947:105). What really couldn’t have been justified was having a bomb that could end the war in a few days and save lives but not using this bomb. Using the bomb in that moment was a rational decision to make and for this reason it can be argued it was an act of necessary evil (Stimson 1947).

Truman made a tactical decision to end the war as soon as possible for political incentives too. Truman wanted to prove his masculinity, strength and competency to the American public; therefore, dropping the bomb was necessary for his political incentives (Takaki 1996). Some scholars even argue that the dropping of the two bombs was due to psychological motivations, especially due to doubts of Truman’s ‘own strength, courage, and decisiveness as president and commander in chief’ (Lifton and Mitchell 1995:335). In addition, there was strong public support for ending the war as soon as possible and returning the soldiers back home. This means Truman faced a lot of public demand that led to him to order the launch (Walker 2005). Therefore, some argue that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be an act of necessary evil. However, personally, arguing the justification of dropping an atom bomb that killed thousands due to political incentivise is a weak and inhuman statement to make. But it still is one of the arguments and I wanted to briefly state it in this section for the arguments sake.

Samuel Walker (2005) argues that the bomb was necessary to end the war at the earliest possible date but unnecessary in saving lives because any other alternative would have saved lives too. The bomb was the option that offered victory on American terms with low costs. Historian Richard Frank (2001) looked into important Japanese documents opened after the death of the Emperor Hirohito in 1989, and found out that Hiroshima was not going to accept surrender before the bombing of Hiroshima. They were only prepared to accept surrender on conditional terms, meaning utter destruction was the only option Truman had at the time. The use of the bomb definitely ended the war with Japan earlier than any other alternative but only on American terms (Frank 2001). Frank (2001) also argues that an invasion would have resulted in casualties between 156,000 – 175,000, so not too different from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bombing ended the war much sooner. The bomb ended World War Two and was the decider in Japan’s surrender (Zeiler 2003). For this reason many scholars who are often identified as a traditionalist argue it was an act of necessary evil.


3.3 – Demonstration Affect


The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the first and last time nuclear weapons were put into use in actual combat. It demonstrated to the world just how devastating they are. This demonstration affects can be argued to be necessary in one sense because it forced the creation of many nuclear disarmament councils with the purpose of controlling these weapons of mass destruction (Mesika 2009). Gar Alperovitz’s ‘Atomic Diplomacy’ goes into more detail on how the atomic bombs were used for diplomatic purposes instead of military. The bombs were to impress the Soviet Union and evidence in the 1970s proved this too (Alperovitz 1994). The bombs use was based on anti-Soviet objectives rather than military purposes (Bird and Lifschultz 1998). Military demand, political expenditure and radical apathy were only secondary factors behind the decision (Alperovitz and Tree 1995). For this reason a demonstration was required to create a unipolar system with Atomic US as the sole superpower (Ehrlich 1985).

The dropping of the atomic bomb was not an act of necessary evil in order to end the war with Japan and conclude World War Two but it was necessary in order to intimidate the Soviets (Bernstein 1995; Walker 2005). Without the bomb the war would have most likely ended by 31st December 1945 so the bomb only helped end the war a few months earlier. Bernstein argues that the bomb was not in proportion to the war and was unnecessary but did have a demonstration affect (Bernstein 1995). However, traditionalists heavily critiqued Bernstein for being a revisionist and a ‘charlatan’ (Walker 2005:105). They added that ‘he is really just a misguided scholar completely out of his element when discussing things related to the military’ (Walker 2005:106). Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny the demonstration affect the bomb has had in creating fear of future use, which was one of the main factors that stopped the Cold War from escalating to an all out war (Gerdes 2009). However, we will discuss nuclear deterrence in chapter four and so there will be more detail on the demonstration affect in the following chapter (see section 4.1-4.3).


3.4 – An Act of ‘Pure Evil’


Revisionists heavily critique traditionalist arguments that seek to justify the bombing of the two Japanese cities. Revisionist accounts in the 1990s argued that Truman could have ended the war late 1945 with other alternatives. A Soviet shock invasion on Manchuria also meant that Japan lost all its hope of a Soviet mediator. This further strengthens the argument in section 3.3 for the bomb being dropped for demonstration towards the Soviets; Japan was only the ‘theatre’ for the demonstration (Walker 2005). Japan was actually negotiating surrender even before the ‘little boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima. So the argument that it was an act of necessary evil to force to Japanese to surrender, and to save American and Japanese soldiers is not historically valid. Japan was on the verge of surrender and they only wanted their emperor to remain on throne (Walker 2005). The true reason why the bombs were dropped was to demonstrate to the whole world the power the US now possesses and that they are not afraid from using it (LeMouse 2017). Many argued that this demonstration affect was beneficial (see section 4.1) but in reality all it led to was the increase in tension between the USA and the Soviet Union. This created an arms race in which the Soviets were able to build a bomb of their own by 1949 (Ehrlich 1985).

From a humanist side the military use of any nuclear bomb is always pure evil because the bombs have an uncontrollable destructive impact. The ‘little boy’ destroyed nearly 92% of the structures in Hiroshima. The death toll was enormous too, with numbers above 250,000 casualties; the Truman administration knew this (Mesika 2009). The bomb’s radiation caused more deaths and illnesses to the survivors. War should be thought between armies, not civilians, but the bombing of Hiroshima tells a different tale. The bombing of Hiroshima caused 80,000 instant civilians deaths, in addition to 20,000 soldiers. The civilian to soldier casualty ratio for the bombing of Nagasaki was 6 to 1. In both bombings the number of civilians killed was unreasonable in relation to the number of soldiers and for this reason it cannot be justified as an act of necessary evil, which I strongly agree with (Walker 2005).

Furthermore, an essay by Barton Bernstein in 1996 argues that an invasion on Japan would have caused less than 46,000 casualties based on open documentary evidence, indicating that the hundreds of thousands or even a million casualties predicted by the Truman administration was only a cover up (Bernstein 1996). The ‘lives saved’ argument only seeks to put the dropping the bomb event into a realm of moral virtue, which is not necessarily true or correct. Even an invasion was not needed if the US modified the offer of surrender, as Japan only wanted to keep its emperor on throne (Walker 2005). Therefore, there are almost no arguments strong enough to justify it as an act of necessary evil because there were so many other options on the table to save lives and end the war.

Traditionalists look at the argument as an invasion v atomic bomb dilemma, as if these were the only two options available for ending the war. However, revisionists argue that the bombing cannot be justified in any way because neither the dropping of the atomic bombs or an alternative invasion that would have taken more lives was necessary. Soviet participation, shortage of food, low morale and many more factors was involved that hinted the fact that the war could have been won in other military methods (Walker 2005). The peace faction in the Japanese government was growing and even the Emperors closest adviser, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido, said the emperor realized his domestic support was declining due to the war. Therefore, there were many other options on the table besides the atomic bomb or an invasion and Truman knew this. Truman’s personal diary indicted this too (Bernstein 1996; Walker 2005).

Any other alternative option to end the war, including an invasion, would have most likely resulted in less than 50,000 American casualties and 170,000 wounded, far less than Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Bernstein 1995). In fact, some scholars argue that the Soviet entry to the war would have had more contribution to the surrender of Japan than the dropping of the atomic bomb as Japan would have lost their only hope for a conditional offer. Truman did not invite Stalin to the Postdam Proclamation. If he did so then the war with Japan might have ended even before August because the Japanese War Council would have not waited for a Soviet mediator (Walker 2005). Overall, revisionists argue that the dropping of ‘little boy’ and ‘fat man’ was pure evil because the same outcome could have been achieved via other routes. Even if these other options were not available, an invasion would not have been any more costly than the atomic bomb (Walker 2005).

Finally, I want to mention that there were two nuclear bombings, not just one. Most traditionalist arguments that try to justify the bombing only ever seek to justify Hiroshima (Psaltis 2015). A lot of people know about Hiroshima and the ‘little boy’ but not a lot of people know about Nagasaki. If we want to argue whether the dropping of the atomic bomb is justified or not we need to look at both bombings because this is a tale of two cities. Even if traditionalist can justify the bombing of Hiroshima the same arguments cannot be applied to Nagasaki. The first bomb dropped might have led Japan to surrender, might have ended the war very quickly and might even be justified due to saving lives in the long-term. However, these do not apply to the second bomb on Nagasaki. The dropping of the second bomb was just ‘pure evil’ and served as nothing but taking more innocent lives (Psaltis 2015). I do not think neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki can be justified, but even if traditionalists argue otherwise on Hiroshima, the second bombing has no justifications whatsoever.

Zeiler (2003) argues that is difficult to have a definite answer on whether it was an act of necessary evil or not because it all boils down to a guessing game and interpretation of the past evidence. I personally cannot justify the dropping of a nuclear weapon in any scenario whatsoever because I find it extremely inhuman and unethical but there will always be a conflict of scholarship within this topic. I am hoping this section will just make this huge divide clearer and help the reader shape his or her own perspective on it.


3.5 – The Theory and Birth of Nuclear Deterrence


Many argue that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pure evil and inhuman, but then again war itself is inhuman, and the bombings ended it. In fact, the bombings ended more than the war with Japan, it also avoided other wars that could have turned into an even more catastrophic war i.e. the ‘Cold’ War could have been a ‘Hot’ War (Mesika 2009). With the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the testing and developing of nuclear weapons continued, as we saw in section 2.5 with the creation of hydrogen bombs. The USSR and US continued to compete for nuclear supremacy. This led to terror from both sides where each side feared the other using the weapon. With the creation of hydrogen bombs, a nuclear war would be total animation. Just by ‘pushing the button’ both states would collapse – ‘MAD’ (Mutually Assured Destruction). So the use of the bomb on Japan did have a demonstration affects that created fear, which then lead the US and USSR to develop more advanced nuclear weapons for this deterring purpose (LeMouse 2017). Nuclear weapons were not created for deterrence. It was only later on after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki effect that the hydrogen bombs were developed and created the concept we know as today – nuclear deterrence.

Nuclear deterrence is an old practice in international politics. The Cold War provoked enormous interest in the need for deterrence because its role in international politics, particularly at the global level, promised to be critical (Morgan 2003). Deterrence is “the prevention from action by fear of the consequences. Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteractions” (Department of Defence Dictionary 2010:67; Morgan 2003:8). Nuclear weapons were the ultimate weapon in threatening incomparable destruction, which was used to prevent conflict and create peace post WW2. However, it was not just the destruction that made nuclear deterrence so effective; it was the fact that this destruction seemed virtually unavoidable under any plausible strategy (Morgan 2003). This was the crux of the “nuclear revolution” (Morgan 2003:8).

Robert Jervis said nuclear deterrence consists of manipulating other actors’ assessment of their interest and seeks to prevent a specified action by convincing the actor that the costs exceed the rewards (Jervis 1976). Deterrence theory is based on the consensus that policy makers are rational beings that behave using a calculus that maximises payoffs and minimised costs (Morgan 2003). Nuclear adversaries are so horrified by the consequences of a nuclear war that they behave carefully towards one another (Morgan 2003). The key elements of nuclear deterrence theory is the assumption of a severe conflict, the assumption of rationality, the concept of a retaliatory threat, the concept of unacceptable damage, the notion of credibility and the notion of deterrence stability (Morgan 2003). There are some arguments suggesting that nuclear deterrence no longer works because these key elements have changed since the Cold War but we will analyse and look into the validity of these claims in chapter 4.

Nuclear weapons forced those who possessed them, mainly the superpowers, to turn deterrence into a new and comprehensive strategy, shaping and coordinating a lot of policies (Morgan 2003). Nuclear deterrence by the superpowers and their blocs gradually developed into cooperative security management, later on becoming a cornerstone of international politics, on which virtually everything else depended upon (Morgan 2003). Thus, deterrence came to operate on three levels: as a tactic, as a national security strategy, and as a critical component of security. Kaufmann (1954) says that in order to have an affective and credible deterrence policy you need to:

  1. Persuade your opponent you have an effective military capability;
  2. Persuade your opponent that you can impose unacceptable damage on him; and
  3. Persuade your opponent that you are willing to use all of your weapons if attacked.

There are two types of deterrence, which is known as general deterrence and immediate deterrence. Nuclear deterrence is a form of general deterrence because the nuclear state maintains its weapons actively ready to deploy, which avoids any possible future conflict. Immediate deterrence is aimed at a specific actor who is already contemplating to attack. Therefore, immediate deterrence is more like a crisis, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (Jervis 1976). In general deterrence the attack or war is hypothetical, whilst in immediate deterrence the war is a very close reality that could escalate at any moment (Morgan 2003). History shows us that general deterrence has and can work but immediate deterrence is much more prone to failure (Morgan 1983). Nuclear deterrence is very delicate and could easily be disturbed by any new developments that surpass it. For nuclear deterrence to work nuclear weapons must be the most destructive weapon out there (Morgan 2003).

This policy of nuclear deterrence was created to assist governments to survive in the nuclear age, which started with the nuclear dropping of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It helped keep the Cold War from turning into hot catastrophic conflict (Kaufmann 1954; Zinn 1980; Morgan 2003). Deterrence was in the interest of all states after World War Two because a third world war would have been extremely destructive. Artillery became extremely accurate, even in long distances, rifles replaced muskets, and machine guns were invented. A third world war between the US and USSR would have been devastating (Morgan 1983). Superpowers became capable of huge wars – in size of forces, number of kills, destruction, duration, and distance (Morgan 2003). Although the Nazis were defeated and Japan surrendered, in reality, no state actually won World War Two, casualties were high and the damage was incomparable, even for the winners (Morgan 1983). As Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling and many other scholars argued, with nuclear weapons it is not about “overkill” but “mutual kill” because no country can avoid the devastation of a nuclear war (Jervis 1988:83). A thermonuclear war in the 21st century would be total annihilation – a delicate balance of terror (Wohlstetter 1959). Thus, Reagan and Gorbachev said in their joint statement after the November 1985 summit, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” (Jervis 1988:83).

Nuclear deterrence leads to nuclear peace and a nuclear order. Some scholars argue that the theory of nuclear deterrence evidently works in practice because we have had more peace since 1945 than we ever had in modern history (Sagan and Waltz 2003), whilst others argue that it merely creates minimum deterrence if anything. Most of the time nuclear deterrence does not deter anything besides the possibility of a nuclear war and even then the existence of nuclear deterrence itself actually creates more risk than it deters (Kugler 1984; Morgan 2003). We will look into these in the next chapter and assess whether nuclear deterrence does work or not - can it ever be justified? Are there any alternatives? Or is non-proliferation and abolishment of nuclear weapons the way forward? Even if there is no consensus on whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be justified from this chapter, we can at least agree that the dropping of the two atomic bombs contributed to the emergence of nuclear deterrence as it demonstrated the possible destruction and annihilation if a new war emerged between the US – and later on the other nuclear states (Futter 2015).



Chapter 4

Nuclear Deterrence


4.1 – Deterrence In Practice - has it ever worked and will it continue to work against North Korea?


Robert Jervis said nuclear deterrence, as a tactic may not always work. Nuclear deterrence as a tactic is just one policy, which sometimes works and sometimes does not. Nuclear deterrence as a strategy works much more effectively. Nuclear deterrence is mostly used as a strategy and because the major superpowers have not fought each other since 1945 we can easily say that this strategy of nuclear deterrence has worked to its purpose (Jervis 1988; Sagan and Waltz 2003). Crises have occurred but none of them escalated into an all-out war. Even the Cuban Missile Crisis has shown us how two superpowers chose to compromise instead of a war. This is largely due to nuclear weapons because neither side could be victorious in a nuclear war as no one could win - nor, as John Muller said, can profit from it (Jervis 1988).

Several wars have occurred after 1945 but this does not mean nuclear deterrence does not work. Wars can occur if the costs of not going to war are higher. Wars also start due to a loss of control and irrationality but this does not mean nuclear deterrence does not work because the theory of nuclear deterrence says leaders must be rational for it to work. If leaders are not rational, it is not a failure of nuclear deterrence itself but a failure of the leaders incorrectly implementing the strategy (Jervis 1988). A failure in practice does not mean a failure in the theory of nuclear deterrence. Wars that have occurred have not been between two nuclear superpowers; it is often with non-nuclear states. A non-nuclear state does not have a deterrence affect so nuclear deterrence cannot deter the conflicts between them.

In addition, many other scholars such as Fred Ikle and Robert McNamara argue that nuclear deterrence, at best, keeps the nuclear peace; it will not prevent lower forms of violence. Nuclear weapons can even be used to start conflict. For example, many argue that Soviet adventurism in Africa is due to the Russians using nuclear stalemate as a shield to deploy military troops (Jervis 1988). So one argument is that nuclear deterrence works between superpowers, as it did between the US and USSR during the Cold War, but conflict between other states will still exist. The reason for this is because a war between the superpowers would be a nuclear war, which is what deters them, but a war with non-nuclear state is just a conventional war where the gains are higher than the consequences (Morgan 1983; Powell 1991).

Even allies of nuclear-armed state have been attacked, for example, Vietnam conquered Cambodia and China attacked Vietnam. Even non-nuclear states, such as Syria, threatened nuclear states like Israel in 1973 (Jervis 1988). Nuclear deterrence requires both actors to have nuclear weapons, like during the Cold War, for it to work. Both actors having nuclear weapons mean the war between them would lead to mutual destruction, meaning both actors would then need to act rationally to avoid this; this is the assumption of a severe conflict and the assumption of rationality (Morgan 2003).

The third element that made nuclear deterrence work is the concept of a retaliatory threat. Deterrence worked throughout the Cold War because with nuclear weapons a state was now able to say “if attacked, whether we are able to fight or not, and whether win or not, we will do terrible things to you” (Morgan 2003:13-14). Nuclear weapons made pure retaliation under a secure second-strike capability plausible; this is the concept of mutually assured destruction (see section 4.2). The fourth element was the concept of unacceptable damage. This is already briefly covered in chapter 3 when we looked at the damage caused by just two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The main question is, how much threat of harm is acceptable? This could be one of the reasons why nuclear deterrence could fail because the theory of nuclear deterrence does not give an actual degree of the threat of damage that can be used on the opposition (Morgan 2003).  If states miscalculate this tensions could increase and a war could escalate. Nevertheless, nuclear deterrence has worked because it promised mutually assured destruction to both sides under a secure second-strike capability; this destruction is unavoidable and unrecoverable.

The two central problems in the practice of nuclear deterrence are the concept of credibility and the problem of stability. Credibility is the quality of being believed and this is important in nuclear deterrence because it is all about others’ belief that you would do them harm that makes nuclear deterrence work (Morgan 2003). It is the belief that deters, not the weapon itself. You may not have the capabilities but you can still bluff, as the Russians did several times in the 1950s and 1960s and the US in the 1980s (Morgan 2003). It is important that all actors get the ‘message’ because bad communication of threats could mean the failure of nuclear deterrence. Unfortunately, nuclear deterrence does have this credibility problem (Morgan 2003). There is a concern about credibility, particularly in the United States, that the other actor might be primitive, imperfect, or irrational in assessing the intent of the US and the West. What is credible to a rational actor might not be for the irrational ones. This was illustrated by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit at Vienna in 1961 (Morgan 2003). This problem remains until today and can be illustrated when we look at the relationship between the United States with North Korea and other ‘rogue states’ (Nichols 2015).

However, there are also scholars who argue that nuclear deterrence will continue to work as it always has and will deter North Korea just like it deterred the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 2017 a panel convened at Stanford, including political scientist Scott Sagan and Mira Rapp-Hooper, said that a similar deterrence strategy to the Cold War nuclear deterrence strategy could also work on North Korea (Parker 2017). Mutually assured destruction still works and will deter North Korea from any unwanted behaviour. Former US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, said that the United States could tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea the same way it tolerated those in the Soviet Union because nuclear deterrence works the same way in the 21st century as it did during the Cold War (Parker 2017). CISAC assistant professor Narang once said ‘deterrence is your friend’ in explaining why it can work with North Korea (Parker 2017).

In 2017 Scott Sagan wrote an essay in the Foreign Affairs Magazine on the North Korea nuclear crisis, saying deterrence still works and it is the best approach to the issue. For Sagan, nuclear proliferation is good because no military alternatives exist to solve the problems that nuclear deterrence solves (Sagan 2017). He argues deterrence worked against the Soviet Union in the 1950s, then against China in the 1960s, and so it will still work against North Korea today. Sagan says that the risk of an accident, a false alarm, or a misperceived military exercise that could lead to a nuclear war is high, but nevertheless, he still argues that the same approach that prevented nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War can deter Pyongyang too (Sagan 2017). The arguments here is that nuclear deterrence works because we know the severe destruction a nuclear weapon can cause. We know this from the 1945 nuclear bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and so in this sense, if the nuclear bombs were never dropped, nuclear deterrence would not have had the impact it had during the Cold War. Hiroshima and Nagasaki kept the Cold War remain cold and in this ground some argue it was an act of necessary evil too.

North Korea wants to preserve its regime just like the former Soviet Union and so deterrence works very much the same with them as it did with the Soviets. Narang said, “the good news is that deterrence can work, coupled with coercive diplomacy” and “we know how to play this game” (Parker 2017). In summery, nuclear deterrence has worked during the Cold War and many argue it will continue to work today with North Korea. Some argue that the nuclear bombing of Japan in 1945 was an act of necessary evil because the destruction caused by the bomb was a demonstration to the whole world – showing the possible damage nuclear weapons can cause – which deters nuclear states from using the bomb again today. If the bomb was never used on Japan in 1945 we would have never known the true power and fear of the bomb and so we would have never feared a nuclear war without knowing what it looks like. Some even argue that the bomb might have been used today on North Korea if not used on Japan in 1945 (Morgan 2003).

Overall, the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence is evident by three reasons:

  1. The absence of nuclear war;
  2. Absence of any major war between superpowers; and
  3. Absence of any other form of military engagement between the superpowers.

(Morgan 2003)


4.2 – Mutually Assured Destruction (MADness)


Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed the entire world that no one can avoid or recover from a nuclear attack. There is a mutual vulnerability to a nuclear attack and states will automatically deter each other under nuclear weapons (Futter 2015). Mutually assured destruction due to a secure second-strike capability, often in submarines, deters any nuclear state from doing a surprise nuclear attack. When two or more states have nuclear weapons they will be more reluctant to use them due to the consequences it will have on everyone (Waltz, 1990). Today the US has around 41 Polaris submarines carrying 656 missile launchers, all are hidden beneath seas safe and ready to be deployed as a secure second-strike (Cantelon, Hewlett and Williams 1992).

Charles De Gaulle said, “after a nuclear war the two sides would have neither powers, nor laws, nor cities, nor cultures, nor cradles, nor tombs”, and no other weapon could have this much destructive effects, making nuclear deterrence much more stronger than any other form of deterrence because no other weapon can cause this kinds of damage (Jervis 1988:84). Societies cannot reconstruct after a nuclear war, nor can it sustain life ever again for a very long time. It is this that makes nuclear deterrence so effective and it is exactly this that made it work during the Cold War. In fact, Harold Brown said, “if the Soviets thought they may be able to recover in some period of time while the US would take three or four times as long, or would never recover, then the Soviets might not be deterred” (Jervis 1988:85). Nuclear deterrence works because nuclear weapons are the only weapon you cannot recover from. The destruction is unavoidable and this made nuclear deterrence sustain peace post WW2 (Jervis 1976). It is not about the usefulness or practicality of the weapon; it is the ‘what if’ of nuclear weapons that deters and justifies its existence (Krieger and Roth 2007). Below is a cartoon image illustrating the US and Soviet nuclear weapons deterring each other.

Leaders of nuclear states act ‘mad’ to make other states believe that the use of nuclear weapons is actually a possibility. Although nuclear deterrence does have a credibility problem and this does not always work, leaders still do purposely act irrational to create fear to the opposition. For example, president Truman tried acting ‘mad’ during the Vietnam War to convince the Soviets that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons (Sagan and Suri 2003). Many structural realists, Waltz for example, argues that this does work and nuclear deterrence has created maximum deterrence, which avoids conflict; history supports this (Waltz 2012). However, others argue that nuclear deterrence is limited only to the superpowers. Nuclear deterrence is a game played by nuclear states only and thus only deters nuclear states from going to war. Nevertheless, there is definitely compelling evidences that nuclear deterrence works because it helped keep the Cold War remain cold due to the concept of mutually assured destruction (Zinn 1980). Central deterrence will continue to work without limitations as long as states cannot threaten the North American continent with missiles of strategic range. Many believe that nuclear deterrence will play part in creating mutual deterrence between states in the future, most likely with North Korea, and that a nuclear North Korea is not a catastrophe (Schwarz, 2005).


4.3 – The Cold War


Without nuclear weapons the Cold War deterrence would have remained as an “occasional stratagem” (Freedman 2000:1). With nuclear weapons in play during the Cold War the future of the world was at stake. All states looked at its neighbours, as an enemy because they believed war was a constant possibility; the enemy would not hesitate to attack if there was a clear chance (Morgan 2003). If the opportunity to attack was there and attacking had no consequences all states will attack (Burchill and Linklater 2013). Nuclear deterrence was the only way to keep peace because the consequences were never this high. Throughout the Cold War the attack-warning systems were operating continuously and the military was always on high alert. In fact, one Strategic Air Command (SAC) commander in 1960 said: “…we must get on with this airborne alert to carry us over this period. We must impress Mr Khrushchev that we have it and that he cannot strike this country with impunity. I think the minute he thinks he can strike this country with impunity, we will ‘get it’ in the next 60 seconds” (Sagan 1993:167). Thus, there was a negative perception on other states, believing that they are just looking to attack, as “opportunity driven”, trying to maximise its relative gains (Morgan 2003; Powell 1991; Burchill and Linklater 2013). Due to nuclear weapons, the gains from war are relatively low and the losses are extremely high, thus producing, as Mueller refers to as, general stability (Jervis 1988). The concept of credibility was very strong during this period too and this was partly due to the fact that the United States had already dropped the bomb twice before, showing that they were not afraid from doing so again. Dropping nuclear bombs on Japan was unnecessary to end the war but it was necessary in giving the United States credibility, which was an important factor that made the Cold War nuclear deterrence work.

The School of Realism argues that we live in an anarchic international system and the only way to create peace and survive in this system is my increasing our offensive capabilities, which acts as a defence (Burchill and Linklater 2013). Structural realists truly believe in the practicality and use of nuclear deterrence as a means of creating security. They argue that nuclear weapons produce strategy effects. Their presence “compels statesmen to behave cautiously in the face of grave danger. This cautiousness produced restraint, which shines up international stability. In short, nuclear weapons deter” (Forsyth, Saltzman and Schaub, 2010:67). Some structural realists like Waltz argue that nuclear weapons will never be used in reality because according to Waltz, “one of the main engines of war is uncertainty regarding outcomes and because the immense destruction that can come as a result of nuclear exchange can be fully anticipated, it is never rational to engage in a war where nuclear exchange exists”, and for his reason Waltz argues, “the probability of major war among states having nuclear weapons approaches zero” (Krieger and Roth 2007:372). Therefore, structural realists are in favour of nuclear proliferation. For realists, nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence any state can have from external threats. Nuclear deterrence is the major reason why the Cold War never escalated into a heated battle between the two superpowers (Krieger and Roth 2007). Structural realists believe in the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence because they argue it creates maximum deterrence that leads to nuclear peace and order.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki allowed the entire world to see the destruction caused by nuclear weapons and this did create more fear because the power of the bomb was now evident from the use on Japan. Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki necessary in order to make Cold War nuclear deterrence work? And if nuclear weapons were never used would the Cold War remain as cold as it did? Personally, I think the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima did demonstrate to the world the now possible destruction the United States can cause with its new nuclear technology, and the fact that it was used then showed that the United States was not afraid from using it again. This definitely did make nuclear deterrence work during the Cold War because it added more credibility to the game. However, I personally think the second bomb, on Nagasaki, did not add anything more to the Cold War deterrence and so dropping the second bomb was just ‘pure evil’.

However, many argue that the Cold War deterrence will not replicate with states like Iran and other ‘rogue’ states’. These states are often aggressive and believed to have links with terrorist organizations. Nuclear deterrence only works between western superpowers because there is a general consensus that it would not be used since these states are rational status quo states (Waltz 1990). There is no guarantee that nuclear deterrence will work in the Middle East. In fact, Israel has made it clear that it views a significant Iranian enrichment capacity as an unacceptable threat (Waltz 2012). The US officials have also declared that a nuclear Iran is a terrifying prospect because ‘rogue’ states are irrational and they challenge the status quo (Morgan 2003; Waltz 2012). There is a very serious belief that Iranian policy is made by “mad mullahs” who really are irrational in reality and so the theory of nuclear deterrence does not apply to the Islamic Republic (Waltz 2012:4).

Nuclear deterrence works when it deters conflict but if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon it would not hesitate to use it in a first strike against Israel, even if doing so would invite retaliation and mutually assured destruction (Waltz 2012). These states have an incentive to change the status quo even if destruction is considerable (Jervis 1988). Even those who argue that the Iranian regime is rational still worry that nuclear weapons would embolden it; giving Tehran a shield that would allow it to act aggressive, maybe even directly provide terrorists with nuclear arms (Waltz 2012). The Iranian leaders can also feel strong psychological pressures due to nuclear weapons, meaning nuclear weapons by themselves – and even second strike capabilities – is not sufficient to produce peace and security (Jervis 1988). Contrary to Waltz’s argument, proliferation among dissatisfied countries like Iran would not replicate the Soviet-American pattern of stability (Jervis 1988).


4.4 – When Deterrence Goes Wrong (Cuban Missile Crisis)


It is true that we have had more peace since 1945 than all of modern history but this does not mean it is due to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence, nor does it mean we have never had a period where no conflict has occurred (Kugler 1984). The world has come very close to a nuclear Armageddon several times. The Cuban Missile Crisis is one of these events that indicate the danger of nuclear weapons. In 1962 the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to panic in the United States and sent warnings to Moscow. Although Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin gave every indication that the bombs were not placed in Cuba to create any trouble and instead the bombs where placed in a defensive nature that did not threaten the security of the United States, it still caused a lot of worry in the US that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis (Lebow 1983). On September 11 1962, President Khrushchev wrote a letter to President Kennedy saying, “no missile capable of reaching the United States would be placed in Cuba”, indicating that the Soviets recognised the nature and gravity of the American warnings (Lebow 1983:433). Nevertheless, Khrushchev still knew the missiles in Cuba would provoke a crisis with the United States but he accepted this risk due to the expected political and strategic gains it provided. Khrushchev had information that the United States was preparing for another assault on Cuba and so the Soviets shipped nuclear missiles in order to protect her. The Soviets also used the missiles to negotiate on the conditions of the German Peace Treaty, demanded a nuclear free zone in the Pacific and a pledge from China not to manufacture atomic weapons (Lebow 1983).

The most prominent and main reason for why the Soviets placed their nuclear missiles in Cuba was due to the 1958 US installation of missiles in Italy and Turkey. The US missiles in Turkey threatened the USSR’s existence. The Cuban revolution in 1959 provided the Soviets with the opportunity for a similar missile site that can threaten the United States. The Soviet missiles in Cuba were capable of destroying the majority of the United States, including Washington (Lebow 1983). The missiles were median range R-12 (SS-4) and the intermediate range R-14 (SS-5) nuclear missiles. These missiles have a range of 1,770 km and a 4,500 km respectively (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2017). This meant that each missile was enough to level the entire city of Washington DC and produce enough fallout to irradiate the nearby city of Baltimore (Appendix Three). In fact, the Soviet missiles in Cuba were capable of ending human life in the United States within 20 minutes (Trachtenberg 1985).

The US placed their PGM-19 Jupiter missiles in Turkey that was capable of destroying up to 1,490 miles of the Warsaw Pact, including Moscow (Appendix Four). The Italian-Turkish Missile Crisis was the mirror image of the Cuban Missile Crisis. For both the United States and the Soviet Union, nuclear war was now a possible reality, not just a myth (Lebow 1983). In 1956 John Foster Dulles created a policy called brinkmanship, arguing that US nuclear weapons should be used when judged appropriate. In October 1962, Kennedy was not even debating brinkmanship; he was seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons. The end of civilisation was in the hands of Kennedy and Khrushchev and both these leaders by 1962 rationalised their use of nuclear weapons even though both leaders understood the concept of mutually assured destruction. At the end Armageddon was avoided and peace was sustained, but nevertheless, the Cuban Missile Crises showed us how likely a nuclear war that can potentially end humanity could breakout with a world full of nuclear weapons trying to deter each other. Nuclear deterrence can easily go wrong if a similar crisis occurs in the future (Lebow 1983; Trachtenberg 1985; Morgan 2003).

There is no doubt that the Soviet missiles in Cuba definitely gave the USSR a lot of advantages, which is probably why they took such action because “no other explanation…accounts for the risks undertook by the Soviets at that precise moment” (Lebow 1983:436). The Cuban Missile Crisis shows us that nuclear weapons itself can work for political gains but as a form of deterrence it can go wrong and may not be as effective. During this crisis the world was at the brink of nuclear war (Fidgen 2012). In fact, during the crisis Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Khrushchev advising him to launch a first/surprise nuclear strike on the United States. When Khrushchev received the message he told his senior leadership that this is insane and Castro wants to drag the Soviets into the grave with him (Sagan 2017). The Soviets maintained control over its nuclear weapons but if only Castro had possessed them and controlled them, the world might not have been the same today (Sagan 2017). This shows that it is only a matter of time when we get a ‘mad’ and irrational leader in possession of nuclear weapons who will actually use it as a surprise first strike (Sagan and Suri 2003). Nuclear deterrence does not work because it can and will create more chaos than it deters. In fact, in the 1950s and the 1960s nuclear deterrence had a big stability problem because during this period the arms control branch of the theory looked at pre-emptive attack and loss of control as likely route to deterrence failure (Morgan 2003).

Deterrence is a limited recourse, used only in particular circumstances and rarely expected to actually deter any unwanted behaviour (Kugler 1984; Morgan 2003). This led to many scholars, like John Mueller, arguing nuclear deterrence does not work, in fact, he says we never needed nuclear weapons for peace and stability. Mueller argues nuclear weapons are “essentially irrelevant” because deterrence does not have to be ‘nuclear’ (Mueller 1998:103). Highly destructive non-nuclear weapons would have brought us the same, if not more, peace and stability had it not been possible to split the atom (Mueller 1988). Mueller says nuclear weapons only deter nuclear wars but this does not mean convention wars are cheap. Therefore, nuclear deterrence does not work because conflict still does exist. In fact, wars have broken out between countries whose primary goal was to preserve the status quo (Kugler 1984). Just because nuclear weapons mean mutual destruction does not mean states shy away from conventional wars. States mainly use their nuclear weapons to avoid a nuclear war; they still enter into conflict in other forms (Kugler 1984; Jervis 1988). Other highly destructive non-nuclear technology can also create equally effective deterrence and not carry the potential risks of nuclear weapons, such as the risk of an accidental nuclear war (Mueller 1988). In this context, nuclear deterrence is not the best form of deterrence, nor does it really deter anything in practice.


4.5 – Risks of Nuclear Deterrence (Able Archer 83)


Kennedy’s worry during the Cuban Missile Crisis was “based on fear, not just of Khrushchev’s intention, but of human error, of something going terribly wrong down the line” (Jervis 1988:88). Kennedy said, “there is always some so-and-so who doesn’t get the word” (Jervis 1988:88). We spoke a bit about this in section 4.1 and 4.3 when talking about the concept of credibility – nuclear deterrence fails when communication is not clear (Morgan 2003). This is because there was real fear in the nuclear age that a nuclear war due to a risk of accident, or even due to a loss of control, can happen.

Nuclear weapon systems are complex and tightly coupled. Nuclear decision-making is in the hands of the leader alone, and he alone, can order the Strategic Air Command to launch nuclear weapons. This is problematic because if only this one individual loses control everything will be destroyed (Sagan 2017). Sagan says, “we need more checks on how we decide to use nuclear weapons” because this is one of the biggest problems in nuclear deterrence today (Sagan 2017:5). Nuclear weapons take only a few moments to arrive so governments and officials have to be on high alert primed to act within moments (Morgan 2003). A malfunction within the warning systems or weapon system could lead to a launch when it was unauthorized. It all depends on who is on charge that day (Sagan 1993; Morgan 2003). Waltz is wrong to argue more nuclear weapons is better because the more nuclear weapons we have the greater the chance that one would be fired accidentally (Morgan 2003). Nuclear deterrence does not work because nuclear proliferation is inevitable, which could disturb deterrence stability (Morgan 2003).

In fact, some states have liquidated their nuclear weapons in order to escape such consequences of accidental nuclear catastrophes. These states are South Africa, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus (Sagan and Waltz 2003). The Cuban Missile Crisis is not the only time we came to the brink of a nuclear war. Another notable time in history was Able Archer 83. In 1983 the Soviet Union was very close to launching nuclear missiles to the US due to errors in nuclear alarms. This could have started a nuclear war. However, Stanislav Petrov, a soviet scientist, was on duty that night. He thought of the possibility that the alarms may be false and decided to not authorize a secure second-strike launch. Petrov said, “they were lucky it was me on shift that night” (Myre 2017:2). Nuclear weapons and technology is very complex, meaning faults can occur, and therefore the more nuclear weapons we have the chance of these risks also increases (Weber 1990). There are so many other examples in history where the existence and practice of nuclear deterrence could have gone wrong – for example, Goldsboro 1961, the NORAD false alarms in 1980, and the Black Brant Rocket 1995. Therefore, even if nuclear deterrence has worked and could still continue to work today the breakdown of this deterrence can mean Armageddon (Waltz 1990).

Even very recently on September 27 2017, US service members and their families received a fraudulent non-combatant evacuation operation order through text and social media. The United States chain of command quickly announced that these were fake. This shows how easy it is for states to be tricked into thinking a US invasion or attack is imminent due to an online malfunction or cyber attack, which can then easily result in a surprise nuclear first strike on the United States (Sagan 1993; Parker 2017; Sagan 2017). This combined with the differences in culture and identities of states can be dangerous. Nuclear deterrence does not work because there is no objective deterrence culture (Jervis et al 1991). The theory of nuclear deterrence is different to all states due to the differences in culture and experiences (Thompson 1985; Jervis et al 1991). Nuclear deterrence is much more workable in the West. For example, General Lee Butler, Former Head of Strategic Command said, “while we clung to the notion that nuclear war could be reliably deterred, Soviet leaders derived from their historical experience the conviction that such a war might be thrust upon them and if so, must not be lost. Driven by that fear, they took Herculean measures to fight and survive no matter the odds or the costs. Deterrence was a dialogue of the blind with the deaf” (Futter 2016:159). Not all states act based on the nuclear deterrence theory or the rational actor model. Nuclear deterrence is a game mostly applicable to the West, so nuclear deterrence might not work everywhere equally (Thompson 1985; Jervis et al 1991). Below is an image of Petrov – the man who saved the world.


4.6 – The Future of Nuclear Deterrence


There are other alternatives to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. For example, Waltz argues that Iran and most other non-nuclear states could instead develop a breakout capability – the capacity to build and test a nuclear weapon in a short period of time. Many countries, take Japan for instance, has a sophisticated nuclear programme without building an actual bomb (Waltz 2012). Having nuclear infrastructures that could build the bomb in short notice is a much better strategy as it satisfies the political needs whilst also eliminating the possible risks and consequences of having the physical bomb, such as international isolation and condemnation (Waltz 2012). This may be a better version of nuclear deterrence.

The only problem in a breakout capability is that it lacks a secure second-strike capability, which is an important factor in the theory of nuclear deterrence. Only weaponization can provide total elimination of external threats (Waltz 2012; Burchill and Linklater 2013). Nevertheless, even some realists, such as Mearshiemer and Waltz, to some extent agree that this may be a better option as it still creates fear to the opposition, which avoids conflict, and not having the bomb physically puts any chances of an accidental nuclear war down to zero. This can be the best new form of nuclear deterrence for the future (Futter 2015). Not having a secure second-strike capability is the price that must be paid.

The end of the Cold War also brought the end to the need for nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons worked during World War Two and the Cold War because it was created to tackle the problems of that period of time (Schwarz 2005). After the Cold War new problems such as terrorism emerged and nuclear weapons do not deter these new problems. So it is not just that nuclear deterrence no longer works, it is also that nuclear deterrence is now irrelevant and unnecessary today (Schwarz 2005). Creating ‘mutual understandings’ instead of ‘mutual destruction’ is a better alternative today. Thus, nuclear free-zones where established e.g. Latin America, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty, as well as so many more, were introduced to put an end to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence (Schwarz 2005). The United States and Russia has agreed under the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty 2002 (SORT) to reduce their nuclear stockpiles drastically, indicating the uselessness of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear weapons only give states some sort of status and prestige but the usefulness of the weapon has declined in relative terms. Even the need for extended deterrence in Europe has noticeably receded (Schwarz 2005). Therefore, many argue nuclear weapons have no future.

We looked at the risks of nuclear deterrence in section 4.4 and 4.5, such as accidents, false alarms and unauthorized use. Now that nuclear deterrence has no use, nor does it actually work as discussed previously too, why keep such weapons in our possession? Nuclear deterrence did not deter terrorist attacks such as 9/11, nor did it deter the several bombings and shootings in the West. New options and deterrents must be used against new threats. For example, more conventional options and missile defences can be used (Schwarz 2005). Nuclear weapons can still be used but it does not work as it did before with Japan and the Cold War. Some argue nuclear weapons can be changed – “more useable nuclear weapons” with less than 5 kilotons yield i.e. mini-nukes, robust nuclear earth-penetrator – can be used as a new form of nuclear deterrence (Schwarz 2005:16). In theory, this will make nuclear deterrence much more credible too, thus eliminating the credibility problem.

However, a lot of scholars disagree with the above alternatives and argue that nuclear weapons have no future. Key aspects of the Cold War are lacking in the 21st century and so nuclear deterrence no longer works the same as it did during the Cold War. The US will not accept a deterrence relationship with ‘rogue states’ as it did with the former Soviet Union because the United States believed nuclear deterrence would not work against these states. For example, Saddam Hussein was incapable of being deterred due to being too dangerous and ‘mentally evil’ (Schwarz 2005:20). The theory of nuclear deterrence requires the actors to be rational for it to work and so if one actor is evil and irrational it will not work (Zagare and Kilgour 2000). Thus, most states believe that the proliferation of WMD would create instability and chaos worldwide, especially in the hands of irrational leaders (Schwarz 2005). Proliferation is even more dangerous when there are internal turmoil, civil wars and military coups. The theft, self-construction or purchase of nuclear weapons could also lead to nuclear terrorism. Therefore, the only alternative may just be non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. The US National Strategy of December 2002 gives top priority to combating proliferation of MWD. The strategy talks about the need for “new methods of deterrence”, which include new nuclear weapons for attacking (as discussed previously in this section), and conducting preventive attacks (Schwarz 2005:21). Besides this, the measures include the prevention of illegal transfer of nuclear technology such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and the graduate steps to disbarment (Schwarz, 2005).

In addition, empirical analysis of crises and wars since 1945 fails to detect much change in the interaction between states. There is also no evidence that nuclear weapons have added any stability to the relationship between the three nuclear giants (Kugler 1984). The terror created by nuclear deterrence indicates its ineffectiveness. This is a direct critique to those who claim that the need for an effective nuclear deterrence strategy post WW2 was a justification for the nuclear bombing of Japan; because in reality nuclear weapons, the use on Japan, and nuclear deterrence, has not created any change post WW2.

Nuclear blackmail is no longer an effective strategy either (Morgan 2003). Nuclear deterrence makes things worse and has no use in the current climate. Some structural realists, such as Mearshiemer, agrees with Waltz that nuclear weapons can create security but at the same time undermines it as the stakes increase drastically between nuclear actors (Krieger and Roth 2007). Mearshiemer said, “achieving security, thus understood, requires that major states aspire, at a maximum, the global hegemony, or at a minimum, to regional hegemony” (Krieger and Roth 2007:371). He argues that security does not come from nuclear deterrence where all states deter each other with their nuclear arsenals but instead a single global hegemon holding nuclear weapons and acting as a global policemen (Krieger and Roth 2007). Nuclear weapons do not really deter any unwanted behaviour and so many argue it does not work. Some argued that the US use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did increase credibility at the time and did make nuclear deterrence function better during the Cold War but using this as a justification can be argued otherwise.

Either nuclear weapons must be more useable and decreased in power because hydrogen bombs are too destructive to be used, or nuclear weapons must be abolished all together. Therefore, there are two possible futures for nuclear weapons:

  1. Creating smaller sized nuclear weapons with less than 5 kilotons yield to be used in combat; or
  2. Disarm and abolish all nuclear weapons.



Chapter 5



5.1 – Conclusion


Within this paper we looked into many different aspects of nuclear weapons. We looked at the origins of the weapon – why it was made? How was it made? Did it serve a purpose? The weapon was created the end World War Two, which it actually did by forcing Japan to surrender. However, nuclear weapons played a larger role during the Cold War than it did with the Second World War. The weapons main purpose was to avoid any war from escalating between the superpowers, which it also achieved. The two main questions I tried answering within this paper was whether the use on Japan is justified in any sort of way and has nuclear deterrence worked as a form of conflict deterrent?

In chapter 4 we looked into nuclear deterrence. After the use of the weapon on Japan nuclear weapons was never used in practice ever again, it was only used as a form of deterrence from then onwards. We saw that nuclear deterrence does make mutual security more feasible and it does lead to the superpowers to adopt military doctrines and bargaining tactics, which is the first step to global peace, as Churchill once said “safety be the sturdy child of terror” (Jervis 1988:90). However, does nuclear deterrence really work anymore? There is evidence that it did work during the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States but the current climate is much more dangerous. The current Korean Missile Crisis is even more dangerous than the Cuban one (Sagan 2017). The age of nuclear weapons is too short to be able to convert and work in other regions and between other rivalries (Schwarz 2005).

Is it even safe to have nuclear weapons when the likelihood of an accidental nuclear war is very high with so much at risk? Within this paper we also saw that nuclear deterrence has worked but it has also failed in several instances. It all depends on the time and region it takes place. Nuclear deterrence can work but the success is not guaranteed. There are factors and dependents that play a role, for example the location, the period, the time and the problem it tries to deter. Nuclear deterrence may not work in the Middle East in the same way it worked between the Soviets and the United States. It may not work against terrorists’ post 9/11 as it did against China. So does nuclear deterrence work? In theory, yes it does work. In the 21st century? It needs revision for it to work against new problems we face today. Is it safe? Nuclear deterrence is not a safe game to play.

In conclusion, I believe the use of the bombs on Japan was not an act of necessary evil and it was mainly used for demonstration purposes, which added credibility to the nuclear deterrence strategy. I strongly agree with the revisionist accounts we looked at within chapter 3 because there is compelling evidence that Japan would have surrendered without the use of nuclear weapons anyway. I do agree that the use of the weapon did have a demonstration affect that made the Cold War deterrence strategy work and avoided any possible wars between the Soviets and US, but I do not think this alone can justify the bombing of Japan and the killing of innocent civilians. Without nuclear weapons another war after the Second World War could have broken out between the two superpowers, and nuclear deterrence did work in avoiding this during the Cold War. However, nuclear deterrence is less effective today than it was decades ago (Sagan 1993).

Regardless of its ineffectiveness many states still try obtain them for security – Iran is one of these states. However, the future of the world is much safer without nuclear weapons. I believe non-proliferation is the way forward and nuclear disarmament is the only act of necessity when it comes to nuclear weapons. Therefore, in conclusion, the use of nuclear weapons on Japan was not an act of necessary evil because ending the war could have been achieved in other less costly alternatives. It did have a demonstration affect that added onto the credibility of nuclear deterrence. Has this worked? It has worked during the Cold War but it does not tackle problems of the 21st century, therefore it is no longer an effective form of conflict deterrent. Nuclear weapons should be disarmed and abolished!





(Appensice not available in Booksie)




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Dictionaries & Encyclopaedias

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Videos & Audios

  • BBC Studios (2007). Atomic bombing of Nagasaki – BBC. [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 27 January 2018].

  • BBC Studios (2017). Hiroshima: Dropping The Bomb - Hiroshima – BBC, [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 14 January 2018].

  • Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (2013). Are Nuclear Weapons Useful? [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 30 January 2018].

  • NBC News (2017). Donald Trump: North Korea ‘Will Be Met With Fire And Fury’, [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 12 January 2018].

  • NowThisWorld (2015). Iran’s Fight for Nuclear Power. [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 15 January 2018].

  • RT (2010). 'I'd drop atomic bomb on Hiroshima again if needed' - Enola Gay last living member, [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 14 January 2018].

  • Stanford CISAC – Security Matters (2015). Why Do States Want Nuclear Weapons? Evidence on Iran’s Bomb Program, [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 8 January 2018].

  • TakePart (2010). Oppenheimer: The Man Behind the Bomb. A “Countdown to Zero Exclusive. [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 12 January 2018].

  • The Daily Conversation (2015). Iran’s Nuclear History Explained, [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed: 16 January 2018].

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