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To what extent was the nuclear arms race a more stabilising factor in the cold war from 1949 to 1963?
From the period of 1949 up until 1963 saw increasing developments in nuclear technology by both the two superpowers, the USA and USSR. The ‘race ‘meant that both superpowers aimed to match each other and even gain the upper hand in terms of nuclear missile technology. Nuclear arms were seen as a form of scare tactic against the other superpower as both felt threatened by each other’s ideological capability.
It was also used as a form of defence mechanism in case of future attack however, the power and destruction of the weapons in which these countries created would have proved fatal not only for the opposing country but for the world. The nuclear arms race has been argued that it stabilised relations between the countries especially after the Cuban missile crisis although there is much evidence that proves otherwise, in which relations between the soviets and the United States were as tense as ever.
On the 6th of August 1949, the USSR tested the first atomic bomb in the north of what would be now Russia. This was to start a fury of nuclear testing between the nations. However the first ‘testing’ was actually in 1945 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of civilians. This immediately threatened not only Japan, the enemy of the United States during WW2 but also close neighbour, the USSR. Stalin saw the highly powerful bombs as force of power over the world. The United States showed the might and strength of their military weaponry but it made relations between the two superpowers very unsettling.
It could be seen in this period, as a settling factor with the policy of Brinksmanship. The policy was formed by Eisenhower, the President from 1953 to 1961 and John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State. It was a policy of intensely threatening the opposing side with action without delivering the action. In this case the United States were threatening the USSR with Nuclear action. It was a very dangerous policy as the name suggests it would go right to the ‘brink’ of Nuclear War. This was very much true in the Cuban Missile crisis when the Soviets had nuclear weapons based in Cuba ready to target America, while the Americans had missiles based in Turkey, also ready to attack.
Both superpowers were not only within each other’s ‘sphere of influence’, but they were also armed too. If the opposition was not backing down it would lead to two options, to either reveal the false threats or go to war. This policy however was used by both parties which in essence mad the whole of the period of time a very tense time. The false threats could be seen as a stabilising factor as both parties were not going to use the weapons, only as a scare tactic which would lead to an increase in communication between the countries. On the other side, threatening to destroy the opposing superpower could be seen as unsettling the relations even more than it already was.
M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) could also be a Stabilising factor in this period as it caused both sides to rethink their strategies. Both sides had enough nuclear weaponry to annihilate the other and to even counter-strike when hit first. Both sides knew that using this strategy would prove too costly so for their own need they needed another approach. A more flexible approach in which the sides would use smaller, targeted missiles achieving to hit a specific area would be more worthwhile as it would limit the amount of action and devastation that the arms could bring. This agreement to use another approach to Brinksmanship in which it brought threatening words to the negotiations would be another step towards a more steady relationship between the soviets and the U.S.
The Leaders of both sides also played a huge significance in terms of the nuclear arms race. The soviet leader Khrushchev who served from 1953 to 1964 was a very unpredictable character. This had made relations with the United States very unsettling especially when he possessed nuclear arms. America was desperate to initiate some kind of direct contact. This direct contact was made when the ‘hot line’ telephone link was created.
This could be seen as a sign of a more settled relationship during the nuclear arms race. It was a form of direct contact between the President, which at the time was Nixon and the Soviet Leader Brezhnev. Created in 1963, its aim was prevent a misunderstanding between the nations with the topic of nuclear arms. It was successful as it gave a quick response to any threats the Soviets made especially when the Soviets pulled out of Cuba, the United States were unsure of what the soviet would do next.
The Nuclear Test Ban treaty of 1963 was another sign that the nuclear arms race was a stabilising factor as it banned testing of nuclear weapons above water. This was a huge significance as the previous decade consisted of both superpowers testing and improving nuclear weaponry. The main reason for this was the fact that they got too close in the Cuban missile crisis. They were literally hours from nuclear war. However there other factor that played into the formation of the treaty. The Soviet Union were in economic turmoil especially when they were paying almost a third of their GMP on arms. America was also in turmoil especially with the Vietnam War heating up and domestic issue of civil rights.
In conclusion, after looking at the period of 1949-1963, the nuclear arms race was a stabilising factor in the cold war although things could have been the complete opposite. The risk of using Brinksmanship could have ended in war and eventual devastation of the world. Both countries, for their own sake needed to come to some agreement to limit the arms. By using the ‘hot line’ telephone link both superpowers could prevent each other with great speed which helped misunderstanding especially when Khrushchev had a very unpredictable mind. The test ban treaty of 63′ also helped limit the use of unsettling use of the weapons but it dragged other powerful nations such as China and France into the mix when they disagreed against the treaty.