Policing the World
American Power with Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Mushroom Cloud2
"This basic force of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world. We scientists recognize our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of atomic energy and its implication for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope - we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death."
--A. Einstein, Jan 22, 19471
America has taken its place as a world super power through economic and military policies. Its dominance and cultural hegemony has spread over a variety of areas, everything from music and fashion to capitalism and war strategies. America is known for its military strength, and some of the most well known weapons of the US are its nuclear weapons. As the text below explores, America has created a military dominance over the rest of the world with its nuclear policies and limited war methods.
History and Development
Nuclear Weapons have long been a controversial addition to the modern world; a heated subject so hated yet argued necessary at the same time. America’s personal history with the war titan has been perhaps the most controversial of them all, it being the only country to have ever dropped a nuclear bomb on an enemy country in combat. In addition, despite the fact that a nuclear bomb hasn’t been dropped since WWII—by any country—the role of the nuclear weapon in American foreign policy is so large, it is under a general political belief that it just propagates the even more controversial view of America as the world’s police.
America’s affair with the nuclear technology first developed as the Manhattan Project. It all started with a letter written by Albert Einstein, a noted German scientist, to President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1939, which hinted at the possibility of new nuclear technology. He warned of its potential, and by 1941 scientists from both the United State and England discovered the fission of plutonium, and its uses as a bomb. It wasn’t until the United States entered the war late in 1941, however, that the Manhattan Project was formed. This committee of scientists was dedicated to research nuclear fission and the construction of a new weapon.3 In 1942 Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer was selected to head the research at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Here the research from several different research facilities was joined to create the first nuclear weapon. After many years of experimentation, in early 1945 the “Gadget” was built, the first nuclear bomb in history. That year President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson had been busy, holding meetings already to decide the fate of these bombs, narrowing down the cities in Japan to attack. On July 16, 1945 5:29am the first nuclear bomb was dropped, a test in New Mexico. On August 6 “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima and on August 9 “Fat Man” exploded on Nagaski. These two bombs brought a swift end to the war against Japan. This was the birth of an entirely new form of warfare.3
President Harry S. Truman9
After the initial tests of the weapons, scientists were well assured of the power of the new bomb and tried to let the public know of it.5 This new weapon was recognized by generals and admirals as something revolutionary. Never before had a weapon promised an end to a war by annihilation of both victor and vanquished.5 They concluded that the only way to properly use this weapon in warfare was through limited means because no state could use this weapon without risking complete destruction of their own country.
This development of a new type of weapon placed the United States in a unique position concerning its placement in the world order. These weapons were powerful and could be used easily to create devastating, catastrophic events. Thus, the United States found itself in a powerful position, reigning over other military powers because of this pocket ace. This event sparked two significant changes: the need for treaties and the need for more bombs.6 Because of the mutual destruction by any parties engaged in nuclear warfare, treaties now were created through appeasement, trust, and fear. Countries with nuclear capabilities entered these treaties based primarily on trust because force could not be used to defend them. Even then, the country with the upper-hand is the one which violates the treaty in that they could strike first and limit the capabilities of counterstrike from the enemy.
It was in this light that nuclear war diplomacy took a new path. Historically, treaties and peace talks were concerned with who would win a proposed war, now they had become centered simply on averting war.7
The United States created special nonproliferation pacts with certain countries, while others began their own nuclear weapon development.
The first case of the United States entering a nonproliferation agreement was the Quebec Agreement, made between the US, Britain, and Canada. The United States first entered this treaty not only because Britain helped in the original development of the bomb by handing over its information, but also because the US wanted to place strategic missiles in those countries. This agreement made in 1943, well before the first bomb was created, outlined the strategy for using the weapons. The countries agreed to:
1. Not use the weapons against each other
2. Not use the weapons against a 3rd Party without the each others’ consent
3. Will share information with each other but no one else, with each others’ consent8
This document was the start of many more to come, concerning agreements and treaties to hold power with the nuclear weapon. This became the new role of the weapon, after the first—and only—two were dropped: leverage. Nuclear weapons were used through treaties and threats to back the military power of a country, and because the US had the most technology, it became the country with the most power backing it.
Cold War and Nuclear Weapons
Advertisement for life after MAD13
But it wouldn’t remain the only country with this type of technology. The Soviet Union, as well, began the chase for the research of nuclear weapons, and after developing their own, launched America and Russia deeper into the bitter Cold War which lasted from the mid 1940s to the early 1990s.10 The countries were already at odds with each other over communism and the spreading of power into Eastern Europe and Asia, and the added pressure of being the only two countries with nuclear weapons created much hostility. Recognizing the delicacy of their situation, and the fact that either country could easily spark a World War III, new policies were created between the countries to cap this incredible threat.
The first of the institutions made was the military strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine. This was more an idea than an actual doctrine, but MAD proclaimed that if either country chose to drop a nuclear bomb on the opposing country, the opposing would also drop a bomb in retaliation and this reaction would continue until both countries were destroyed.11 This idea was haunting and ominous, hinting at the possibility of complete annihilation. Thus the power of the nuclear weapon was not as an actual weapon of destruction, but as a bargaining tool in diplomatic, peaceful negotiations. Because of the MAD, the Soviet Union and the United States fell into the other policy mentioned earlier: strategic warhead placement.
The photo to the right was an example of US propaganda to assuage the fears of US citizens. Because of the intense fear of nuclear destruction, advertisements like this were distributed to give people a sense of hope that there could be survival of a nuclear holocaust.
The most widely known example of strategic warhead placement is the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which could be the considered the closest moment to a complete nuclear war that the world has ever seen. In response to the United States continuing to show interest in the Soviet Union-influenced Cuba, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev placed nuclear warheads in Cuba, 90 miles off the shores of Florida. These warheads were a great threat to the US because they had the range to destroy many cities in the United States. The Soviet Union defended their placement of nuclear weapons in Cuba by pointing out that the US themselves had placed deployable weapons in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Turkey. In fact, US weapons in Turkey proved to be quite the threat to the Soviets, because during this 12 day crisis, Khrushchev offered to remove the weapons from Cuba in exchange for a removal of weapons from Turkey. Here the bark of the nuclear weapons proved to be much more affective than its bite; the detonation of a bomb would only have lead to a war, whereas a threat of a bomb lead to peaceful agreement concerning Cuba. In the end, warheads were removed from both countries, although the removal of the US’s weapons from Turkey was secretive, aiding the powerful view of America at the time.12
Current Nuclear Policy
President George W. Bush19
This history with the nuclear bomb is only the beginning of the United State’s rise of using the technology as a tool of coercion. Currently, due to our position in the Middle East, the United States is perpetually on the verge of nuclear warfare. In 2003, Congress claimed the US was in a high alert status, allowing the President to use any force of warfare in any corner of the world within a few hours. This gives President Bush the power to start nuclear warfare at a moment's notice.14 This is an act of dominance, stating the United States will again go to any length to protect itself, even the brink of annihilation.
Currently the United States is in a limited war in the Middle East, but the option of nuclear warfare is still available. The situation is similar to how it was in the Cold War. Nuclear Weapons are again being used as a method of diplomacy and power, stating to any dissenting countries that the United States has the power to punish them severely for insubordination.15 It is unlikely that the President will use the full force of this new power given to him and create nuclear warfare because again, the bombs bark is more tactically useful than its bite.
Also similar to the Cold War, the US is still in an arms race. Rather than just building a large collection of bombs, however, now the US is trying to develop a new “bunker-buster” bomb.16 This bomb will have the capabilities to penetrate the ground and explode underneath the earth, possibly destroying any storage of nuclear weapons or arms. A bunker buster bomb already exists and there is a bill to use $15 million to fund a creation of a nuclear form of it.17 It is speculated that these bombs will be created to use in future wars in the Middle East.18
Poster for The Sum of All Fears21
Cultural Presence of Nuclear Weapons
American dominance through Nuclear Weapons is not shown only through diplomatic policies, but also in the media and films. Hollywood has produced several films which depict nuclear war or annihilation through nuclear weapons. One film, The Sum of All Fears, depicts America in a MAD-situation with Russia. The film’s premise is that a new leader takes power in Russia, whom the US is very unsure about. The CIA even begins to suspect he wants to create more nuclear weapons to strengthen Russia, and when a nuclear weapon is planted in a suitcase and detonated at the Super Bowl as a terrorist attempt, tension mounts.20 Based on a novel by Tom Clancy, this story speaks of old Cold War scares. The United States is placed on the brink of WWIII with Russia, almost detonating a nuclear weapon while Russia is poised to do the same. Finally, with some smooth talking, both sides back down.
This is a prime example of the power of nuclear weapons, not through their use, but through the threat of them. Under any other circumstances, the US could have gone to war with Russia. Yet, because of the idea of mutual assured destruction, any war was settled peacefully. Other films and television shows have also shown this same situation. American cinema and mass culture extends over to its prominent policing weapon, nuclear power, and exports this idea to other countries.
As the modern world begins to develop and new countries are rising in power, we see a shift in the way these new countries interact. Nuclear weapons have put an interesting new spin on diplomatic relations, leading to new pressures and definitions of military stability. The United States with it's policies and treaties concerning the weapons has risen a leader in the nuclear sphere, gaining military dominance in the world. This new power, however, is hardly something to be flexed. In fact, as more and more countries strive for nuclear capabilities, the future will perhaps hold a world in which every country has the weapon and no country is free from the delicate nuclear position.
Bernard, Chester I., J R. Oppenheimer, Charles A. Thomas, Harry A. Winne, and David E. Lilienthal. United States of America. Board of Consultants. Secretary of State. A Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy. Washington DC: Department of State, 1946.
Dunn, Frederick S., Bernard Brodie, Arnold Wolfers, Percy E. Corbett, and William T. Fox. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946.
Hambling, David. “Bunker-Busters Set to Go Nuclear.” The New Scientist. 7 Nov. 2002.
Internet Movie Database. “The Sum of All Fears.” 18 April 2007. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Powers, Francis G. The Cold War Museum. 1996. 4 Apr. 2007 <http://www.coldwar.org/>.
Quester, George H. Nuclear Diplomacy: the First Twenty-Five Years. New York: Dunellen Company, 1970.
Rosecrance, Richard N. Problems of Nuclear Proliferation: Technology and Politics. Los Angeles: Securities Studies Papers, 1966.
Schell, Jonathan. “A Revolution in American Nuclear Policy.” 26 May 2005. 10 Mar. 2007 <http://tomdispatch.com/>
Sublette, Carey. "Nuclear Weapon Archive." The Manhattan Project. 13 Jan. 2007. 17 Mar. 2007 <http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Med/Med.html>.
United States of America. The White House. The City of Washington. Declaration on Atomic Bomb by President Truman and Prime Ministers Attlee and King. 15 Nov. 1945. 17 Apr. 2007 <http://www.nuclearfiles.org/>.