As of today it is reported that nine countries possess nuclear weapons and it is speculated that many other countries are in the process of creating their own nuclear arsenals. The history of the said type of weapon is a relatively recent one if compared to other kinds of weapons used in warfare. The race for the nuclear armament is one born out of pure mistrust in a time of great turmoil in the world. In this essay I will explore the historical timeline of the nuclear weapons programs of the five countries officially recognized as Nuclear Weapons States (hereinafter NWS) in the Nonproliferation Treaty that entered into force in 1970, those are The United States of America, The Peoples Republic of China, The Russian Federation, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and The French Republic. And before concluding I will briefly touch upon the contemporary issues involving Nuclear Weapons Programs.
The United States of America:
Scientific discoveries in the thirties culminated in the The Manhattan Project in 1942, a project that marks the birth of the Nuclear Weapon, the pioneer project in of the United States government involved more than a hundred thousand people and it costed billions to the American Government. Three years later the first test of a working weapon was conducted and not even a month after that the United States carried out what would be the only two nuclear attacks in the history of war till this day, they dropped the bombs called Little Boy and Fat Man in the Japanese cities, the attacks immediately devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the effects of the radiation released by the bombs kept the raising the damage count for many years after. With new countries developing nuclear weapons in the coming years, The United States of America, in order to retain its supremacy in the nuclear realm, kept developing its nuclear weapons capabilities, being the first at developing then a Hydrogen Nuclear Bomb, which was approximately 500 times more powerful than the bombs detonated in Japan. The United States has used their nuclear arsenal and alliances as a way of asserting superiority against Russia, one could argue that now the western alliances have much more power than the Russian threat, however states seem to be reluctant when it comes to getting rid of their nuclear arsenal.
The United States is estimated to have approximately 6800 nuclear weapons as of today.
The Russian Federation ( formerly knows as The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ):
The Soviet Nuclear program was initiated by data reports collected by Soviet intelligence in the Manhattan Project. Supposedly having “Fat Man” as a design inspiration, the Soviet program became in August of 1949, the second nation to successfully develop and test a nuclear weapon. They managed to catch up or even pass all the scientific findings of the United States in the realm of nuclear knowledge.
The Russian Federation doctrine when it comes to nuclear weapons usage is that “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”
The Russian federation is estimated to have a total of approximately 7000 nuclear weapons as of today.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland:
On October 1952 Britain tested its first atomic bomb, making them the third country to have nuclear weapon capabilities and five years later they tested their first hydrogen bomb. Although the British Nuclear Program was an independent one, many of its scientists had worked in the Manhattan Project, so they came back with to The United Kingdom with the necessary knowledge to create their own weapons. in 1958 the UK and the US signed a Mutual Defense agreement, in the US side was a way to gain leverage against the USSR but for the UK it meant that they now had access to American nuclear research and also to weapons design and so on.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is estimated to have approximately 200 nuclear weapons.
The French Republic:
In February 1960 France became the fourth country to possess nuclear weapons. However the french nuclear program began as much more of an effort to get the energy they needed to fuel their efforts during the second world war. They were of course aware of the fact that they could build a bomb out of those scientific efforts, however that was not their primary concern at the time. A little before 1960 De Gaulle wanted to make France a more independent nation when it comes to its defense capabilities and they started working towards developing the nuclear science for military purposes. In 1960 they tested their first nuclear weapon and a few years later they had atomic bombs ready for military use.
The French Republic is estimated to have approximately 300 nuclear weapons as of today.
The Peoples Republic of China:
In the 1950s, the Chinese gained the support of the USSR to develop their nuclear program. Despite the ideological Sino-Soviet at the end of that same decade, the Chinese managed to test their first nuclear bomb on October of 1964.
The Peoples Republic of China is estimated to have approximately 270 nuclear weapons as of today and a No First Use Doctrine.
Contemporary controversies around Nuclear Weapons:
By the end of the twentieth century, the five countries detailed above no longer held the monopoly of nuclear arsenals. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are also reported to have nuclear arsenals, with some countries being more resistant than others to confirm those facts or do “exhibitions” of nuclear force. However with the development of such weapons we also saw the birth of the resistance against them. For very obvious reasons, nuclear disarmament is of interest of many countries, in Latin America there was little to no resistance when it comes to deactivating such programs. However countries like Iran caused a good deal of “headache” to the disarmament cause. Barack Obama alongside with 5 other world leaders and the United Nations managed a deal to halt the creation of weapons by the country, however it seems like the deal might be in danger now since President Trump claimed the deal was too weak and that Iran was not keeping itself on the tracks of its part of the deal. More recently too, President Trump and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un have exchanged hostile words and intentions in the public media, if North Korea decides, in fact, to be irresponsible enough to practice hostile moves, the consequences of a possible American retaliation would be a danger for the stability of world peace.
To conclude my essay I would like to point out to the fact that the possession of nuclear weapons has made the states that retain them very powerful ones. The United Nations Security Council leadership for example lay in their hands because they possessed these very powerful weapons when the structure of the council was defined in the early days of the United Nations. In my personal opinion I also think that the very dangerous existence of such weapons ironically became a mechanism for peace, as state leaders have now to be much more careful when it comes to pursuing their interests, as the general outcome of a nuclear war would not be a victory to any possible side. The latest achievement towards a world free of nuclear weapons was the Ban Treaty adopted in July 2017 by two thirds of the United Nations states. While there have been many efforts on banning nuclear weapons, countries are often better at promises than at actions towards actual disarmament, and complicated issues like this one tend to take a long time to reach good resolutions.