Arms Race

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The Arms Race

Why did the arms race develop?

  • It was driven by the national vulnerabilities of the superpowers and the political and personal insecurities.

  • In order to keep ahead of the opposition, each side decided to apply the possibilities of science to weaponry that would bolster their own prestige and reputation.

  • Where reality of weapon development lagged behind expectation the difference could be made up by public boasting of supposed capability.

  • Such boasting fed the insecurities of the other side to the point where a response that required an additional increase in arms became unavoidable.

  • The purpose of a nuclear arms race was to make the prospect of was so horrifying that war would be un-avoided.

  • Therefore it was an insurance against the enemy.

  • Clausewitz said ‘War is a continuation of political activity by other means’


  • The growth of international tension: Arms were viewed as necessary to safeguard the interest of the East and West. The Nuclear age increased greatly the destructive power of the weapons available and therefore an increased feeling of vulnerability of the side that failed to keep pace with the new technology. Soviet secrecy and Khrushchev’s boasting helped fuel the USs concerns they needed to keep ahead. The decision for the US to develop a hydrogen bomb in 45 was prompted by the Berlin blockade, china and the outbreak of the korean war, this in turn led to the creation of a Soviet atomic bomb. Each superpower was convinced nuclear superiority was the only way of securing their defensive needs.

  • National and personal considerations: keeping ahead of the arms race became a matter of national pride. It became a competition to raise national prestige and secure their reputation in world affairs – was needed in 1950 when the superpowers were trying to impress the 3rd world. Both superpowers had pressure from the congress and public to keep up with the arms race even when one side was lagging.

  • Domestic factors: Very good military economy, especially the military industrial complex, which had a lot of control. The arms race also provided lots of jobs. Any cuts in the MIC were resisted.

    The atomic bomb

  • 1945, the US had the first atomic bomb. In 1949 the USSR got their first atomic bomb which ended the US's nuclear monopoly.

    The hydrogen bomb

  • Based on nuclear fission. Known as thermo nuclear devices. The USs first H-bomb was a megaton, Russia developed one a year later at 400 kilotons.

    Increase in warheads

  • In ten years the warheads increased from 1000 to 18000.

  • The first battlefield tactical nuclear weapons were stationed in West Germany.

  • Eisenhower developed the idea of massive retailiation. Massive Retaliation was an all-or-nothing strategy. It was the threat to turn the Soviet Union into a smoking, radiating ruin at the end of


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