Arms Race

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Arms race is back, led by the United States, whose military build-up far exceeds that of all other nations combined. According to a Merrill Lynch report, world military spending consumes 2.5 percent of the world's gross domestic product. And costs $173 per person. With 18 percent increase in 2007, China’s military budget has touched $45.3 billion and it now sees itself as a major power. The risk of such build-up is that some nation may suddenly decide to use the weapons.


The New Arms Race

  • Russia and US: Russia tested a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and a new cruise missile in May 2007 which were said to be a direct response to US plans to build a missile defense system and new military bases in Europe. Russia rejected the US contention that the missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic were aimed at countering a potential threat from nations such as Iran and posed no danger to Russia.
  • China and India: the two emergent superpowers of the Asia-Pacific region - are planning a new generation of nuclear-powered boats that, in China's case, could fire nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US mainland.
  • China and US: China's naval build-up has alerted American military officials to the possibility of competition in the Pacific Ocean, where the US has enjoyed naval dominance since World War II.
  • India and Pakistan: It is feared that the civil nuclear co-operation agreement between the US and India risked triggering an arms race in south Asia. Pakistan feels that India will be free to allocate more of its scarce indigenous fissile fuel to its strategic weapons program once the majority of its civilian or electricity producing nuclear reactors can import uranium from overseas.
  • Middle East: Iran's nuclear ambitions are seen as the build-up of an atomic arms race in the Middle East. To counter this threat the US plans to sell US$60bn worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Middle East. This could trigger an arms race and worsen the instability in the region

How the Arms Race Started

The nuclear arms race began during World War II when the United States came to know of a Nazi plan to build the atom bomb which could possibly make them unstoppable. This prompted the US to start its own nuclear weapons program called the Manhattan Project. The U.S. won the first nuclear arms race when they tested the first nuclear weapon on the Alamogordo Bombing Range in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.

In 1952 the US exploded the H-bomb which, though smaller in size than the Hiroshima atomic bomb, was 2500 times more powerful. With the Russians producing an H-bomb in 1953 the world became a much more dangerous place.

However, it is possible that the sheer power of these weapons and the fear that they evoked, may have stopped a nuclear war.

Sputnik launch

In October 1957, the world was introduced to the fear of a missile attack when Sputnik was launched. This was to lead to ICBMs: Inter-continental ballistic missiles. As a result, the US built the DEW line around the Arctic - Defense and Early Warning system.

At the end of the 1950s, US Intelligence estimated that in a possible Russian missile attack, 20 million Americans would die and 22 million would be injured.

During the 1960s, the Russians put their money into producing more missiles regardless of quality while America built fewer but better quality missiles. By 1961, there were enough bombs to destroy the world.

New Weapon Systems

Despite this, great emphasis was put on new weapon systems - mobile missile launchers were built, missiles were housed underground in silos and in 1960 the first Polaris submarine was launched carrying 16 nuclear missiles. Each missile carried four warheads which could be targeted on different cities; hence one submarine effectively carried 64 nuclear warheads.

It is estimated that by 1986 throughout the world there were 40,000 nuclear warheads - the equivalent of one million Hiroshima bombs. British Intelligence estimated that just one medium sized H-bomb on London would essentially destroy anything living up to 30 miles away.

Confronted by such awesome statistics, world leaders had no alternative but to build mutual trust. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s "detente" had been used to ease bad relations between the Super Powers. This was to culminate in the Reykjavik meeting between presidents Reagan and Gorbachev that started real progress in reducing nuclear weaponry in future meetings.

Atomic Energy Commission

The UN created the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946 which in 1952 was renamed the UN Disarmament Committee, and later called the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in 1969. It was the first committee to look into issues concerning nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and the first productive treaty was signed in 1957 when the US and Russia agreed to demilitarize Antarctica and ban testing of nuclear devices there.

In 1963, there was the first major attempt at limiting nuclear weapons testing - the signing of a treaty banning all but underground testing. A “hotline" was also set up that year between the US and Russian leaders following the Cuban Missile Crisis. This "hotline" was a direct link between the leaders to enable instant contact in the event of a nuclear accident.

UN Disarmament Committee

UN Disarmament Committee, set up on a joint proposal by the US and Russia in 1967, aimed to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Major limitations were put on testing, development, and deployment of nuclear weapons. This treaty was signed in 1968 by the five declared nuclear nations, as well as by 59 non-nuclear states. Some potential nuclear nations at that time, such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, and Pakistan, did not agree to these terms as it meant giving up an opportunity to become nuclear powers. This treaty eventually went into effect in 1970.

The Outer Space Treaty was also signed in 1967 as a result of which military installations were banned on celestial bodies as well as in orbit. Nuclear weapons were also banned from space. Another small yet important treaty, called the Seabed Arms Control Treaty, was signed in 1971 banning nuclear weapons from being placed on the ocean floor outside the 12 mile zone of any nation.

Nuclear Arms Race

The nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union when the two nations went on to build up large stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The Cold War came to an end in 1991, and with it, the immediate threat of nuclear war. The arms race, however, was far from over and continues even to this day.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

In the mid 1970s, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was presented to the world's nuclear powers in an attempt to completely stop the testing of nuclear weapons. This plan was canceled by the then US president, Ronald Reagan, because of increased tensions with Russia. In 1996, however, the plan was once again revived and 44 nuclear and non-nuclear nations were called to sign and ratify the treaty. The ultimate goal of this treaty was the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

There has been little in the way of reducing nuclear weapons or stopping weapons testing since the end of the Cold War. Nuclear stockpiles remain in many Russian satellites. Many nations are still trying to build nuclear weapons, and those possessing them are refusing to disarm. The world is far from safe, but with every new treaty, the arms race is one step closer to completion.


  • Arms Race - Wikipedia
  • The Nuclear Arms Race
  • Pakistan warns US of Asia arms race
  • Rogue Nuclear Programs Threaten New Arms Race