There are 5 Drivers or incentives to why the 9 nuclear states want nuclear weapons, those drivers are Security, Prestige, Domestic Politics, Technology and Economics. International relation theorists have built models around each driver. Nation-States want nuclear weapons to defend their sovereignty, gain international prestige or an acknowledgement of national power, and in some cases simply because they have the technology and economy to do so. The remaining reasons why nation-states reach for nuclear weapon is domestic policy where the bureaucratic and military leaders convince a leader to approve the development of nuclear weapons (Cirincione, 2007).
The same five drivers can become barriers in the form of nation-states forgoing nuclear weapons when they can gain nuclear protection from an allied nation, or because there is an international norm for not possessing nuclear weapons, and in most cases because they do not have the technology or economy to support a nuclear program. Lastly, domestic politics becomes a barrier when the people within a nation-state have fears against possession of nuclear weapons that are expressed through their voice in government.
Prior to the official establishment of the Manhattan Project in 1942, the “Rad Lab” or radiation laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley under the leadership of Ernest Lawrence had a major breakthrough with Lawrence’s invention of the Cyclotron, or Atom Smasher. The Cyclotron could accelerate atoms through a vacuum and induce collisions exceeding 25,000 miles per second via the use of electromagnets. Speeds as stated above were capable of splitting Uranium 235.
Along with the Cyclotron, University of California professors Emilio Segrè and Glenn Seaborg proved that element 94 or Plutonium could be used in nuclear reactions (The Manhattan Project, 2017).
With the official formation of the Manhattan Project on August 13, 1942, the headquarters were located at 270 Broadway in Manhattan thus the name Manhattan Project came from. The research and testing laboratories were located in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Over the next 3 years scientist worked around the clock for the breakthrough they needed to end the war in Europe against the Nazis (The Manhattan Project, 2017). The final result two Atomic bombs that worked by splitting atoms in a chain reaction, the first releasing an explosion estimated to be equal to the detonation of 27 million pounds of TNT, the second equating to the detonation of 44 million pounds of TNT (History.com, 2009). Such destructive forces led to a quote by Robert Oppenhiemer describing what he thought of himself after seeing the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his quote is as follows: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds (Robert Oppenhiemer, 1945).” Kenneth Bainbridge, the Physicist who directed Trinity whispered to Oppenhiemer upon the explosion of the Trinity test on July 16, 1945 “now were all sons-of-bitches” and years later summed up the explosion by saying “No one who saw it could forget it – a foul and awesome display.”
At this point America and the Empire of Japan were at war with each other and had been for three almost four years, by which point the American and Japanese troops had well learned how to fight each other, each side had learned the other’s strengths and weaknesses which led to battles with unforeseen loss of life on both sides. Take Okinawa, the most recent battle, for example, in which over 12,000 American and 100,000 Japanese troops were killed over a period of 3 months, verses Guadalcanal, an earlier battle, where 7,100 American and 31,000 Japanese troops were killed over a period of 7 months (Britannica, 2018).
Due to the high rate of casualties on both sides, the American brass were seeking alternatives to an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Out of this search came the idea to use the Atom Bombs produced by the Manhattan Project since they had not been developed in time for the war in Europe.
An era of atomic development, spies, and nuclear fears, the 1950’s were the dawn of a new world, where there was little trust between most nations and no trust between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. After the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan which ended World War II, there began a new fight, between democracy and communism starting with the January 31st Truman decision to proceed with development of a hydrogen bomb and the Korean War in 1950. The first major cases of spies in the American nuclear program came in June 1951 with the arrest, conviction, and death sentence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for passing information to the U.S.S.R about American nuclear development. On October 3, 1952 the first British atomic bomb, ‘Hurricane,’ was tested at Monte Bello Islands, Australia, with a yield of 25 kilotons. Then on October 31st of the same year the U.S. test exploded the first ever thermonuclear or fusion device “Mike” at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Island chain. There are many more major nuclear events within the 1950’s, too many to hit on all of them. As far as Nuclear weapons policy the American government and none of the other governments with nuclear programs had any real policy, the closest they got was the idea that they must develop and improve upon nuclear weapons faster than the enemy nations hence the name “The Arms Race”.
The 1960’s were by some arguments the most testing and trying times of the cold war in which it began the Space Race running between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. along with the Cold War, due to this increase in competition between superpower nations there was, naturally, an increase in spying on both sides.
Along with the extra competitions the major nuclear states signed many treaties to help protect non-nuclear states and limit where you detonate an atomic bomb to avoid hurting innocent civilians. Naturally all the treaties left an opening where if war was declared the warring nations no longer had to comply with the treaties when considering actions against an enemy nation. Some of the treaties signed in the 1960’s included the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 which stated that there should be no detonation of atomic devices in the atmosphere and underwater, and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which stated that should be no nuclear weapons placed on any celestial body, or in orbit around the Earth.