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The Aims of Nuclear Weapons in Britain & Other States

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the Non-Proliferation Treaty as it is more commonly known, is an international treaty to halt more nations possessing nuclear weapons and weapons technology and use existing nuclear energy sources in a cooperative manner for peaceful purposes. The treaty also entails obtaining nuclear disarmament for other nations. Five states have been granted the status of “nuclear-weapon states”, also known as the elite “nuclear club”, under the treaty: United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China.


Being the first country to develop nuclear weapons during World War II, it has also amicably agreed to submit its nuclear forces to independent verification under several treaties, alongside Russia. Till date it is the only country to have deployed the weapons in warfare in two separate bombings on two Japanese islands, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, and during the Cold War especially, it has conducted many nuclear tests and built plenty of long-range weapon delivery systems.

The period of 1940-1996 saw the US spend approximately $8.52 trillion on nuclear weapons. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 ordered the developing of nuclear weapons during World War II, after being terrified by Nazi Germany. The Manhattan Project, as it was titled, successfully produced three usable weapons by mid-1945. President Harry S. Truman on 6th August 1945, ordered the use of a uranium-gun design bomb “Little Boy” against Hiroshima, and a plutonium-implosion design bomb “Fat Man” on 9th August,  against Nagasaki. The two weapons have killed around 120,000 – 140,000 Japanese civilians outright and since the bombings, thousands more have died from radiation sickness and cancers.

Declassified secret documents also showcased the US Air Force had plans to drop nuclear bombs on China in 1958, during a confrontation over Taiwan, but the plan wasn’t carried through later on. The plan involved dropping 10-15 kiloton bombs on airfield in Amoy (presently Xiamen) if the US faced a Chinese blockade against Taiwan’s Offshore Islands.

With Bill Clinton  in power in the 1990s, the American nuclear program witnessed many cuts from halting its program of nuclear testing and production of new nuclear weapons to halving the existing stockpile by the mid-1990s. This Democratic Party legacy continued with Barack Obama in power. In a 2009 speech, President Obama declared an ambition of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, even going on to sign the START treaty on April 8, 2010, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, to reduce the presence of the number of active nuclear weapons. However, the plan hasn’t gained much momentum and although since the early 1990s the US has predominantly been involved in a program of stockpile stewardship, the Obama Administration’s 2012 budget included plans to modernize and maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been acting as the successor to the communist state’s nuclear weapons. The project to develop an atomic bomb for the Soviet Union began during and after World War II, when the state discovered the Manhattan Project. Profiting from highly successful espionage efforts by the Soviet military intelligence, GRU, Joseph Stalin started the state’s nuclear program in the midst of World War II.

Owing to the intensified war with Germany, large scale efforts could not be established at the time, but after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Stalin accelerated research and development into the Soviet Union’s nuclear program. The state tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949,  making it the second nation to have developed and tested a nuclear weapon. Its predominant aim for nuclear armament was to accomplish a balance of power during the Cold War. The end of the Korean War saw the Soviet Union transfer nuclear technology and weapons to the People’s Republic of China, acting as an adversary of the US and NATO.

Present-day Russia has exhibited a lessening of tensions with NATO and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. However, Russia continues to manufacture nuclear weapons, and since 1997 it has been building the SS-27 “Sickle B”, an intercontinental ballistic missile. The country has also openly declared a desire to participate in a rather restricted-form of nuclear war, with the intention of deploying nuclear weapons to avert political pressures from Russia and her allies.


The United Kingdom was the third nation to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, Hurricane, in October 1952, with the aim of maintaining its status as a great global power. Up until the 1990s, UK deployed plenty of nuclear weapons in other nations, from Singapore in the 1960s to Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1998, however, the Trident programme is the only operational nuclear weapons system in British service.

Although a strategic partnership initially existed between the US and UK over nuclear weapons, this came to an end following the atomic bombing incident over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee published a detailed account charted up by his Tory predecessor Winston Churchill, of the UK’s involvement in the Manhattan Project.

Attlee continued to pursue Truman in 1946 for permitting access to information the British government had rightful access to because of their involvement in the project. However, the head of the project, Leslie Groves, had excluded British scientists from participating in the manufacturing of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, for security reasons. Truman was interested in achieving international control over atomic weapons which sharing of information with an ally would not have allowed. This disagreement marked UK’s efforts to independently develop nuclear weapons once more. Although by 1949 several attempts were made to renew the partnership with America once more, it proved to be unfruitful because of  a strong British opposition to the pact.

There was widespread belief in the UK during the 1950s that the country needed to advocate a nuclear deterrence to protect herself from nuclear attacks. Different Prime Ministers held different point of views about what nuclear weapons could primarily be utilised to achieve. Churchill intended the deterrence to mainly act as a defence mechanism, whereas Harold Macmillan was more interested in gaining influence over American policy and strategic decisions in the Middle East and Far East. The Suez Crisis of 1956 also pressed the need for Britain to have a nuclear deterrent, to achieve more influence in the US and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Britain needed to persuade the Soviet Union in the late 1950s that attacking Europe would prove too be too costly, despite American participation. Debate raged on for decades over the role a nuclear deterrent would play, from specifically targeting aggressive Soviet cities to reducing involvement with the American nuclear programme.

The British government has rolled out plans for a successor to the UK Trident programme of submarine-launched nuclear missiles, to take place between 2007-2024. The newly designed class is to continue the country’s nuclear deterrent programme after the the current boats reach the end of their service lives. Prime Minister Tony Blair outlined plans to spend £20bn on the successor nuclear weapons, with the Coalition government reaffirming its support for the presence of nuclear weapons in the UK, highlighting the need to provide value for money.


France’s first nuclear weapon, Gerboise Bleue, was tested in 1960, with the aim of becoming a great power alongside the United Kingdom. It was the fourth country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, and it did so with Charles de Gaulle in power. In 1956 after the creation of the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), plans were in motion, aided by the West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, for Germany and Italy, to begin developing their own nuclear weapons, but the plan fell through after de Gaulle got re-elected in 1958. Nuclear weapons act as a means to protect France from any country carrying out terrorist attacks on national grounds.


China tested its first nuclear weapon, 596, in 1964, which intended to act as a deterrent against the United States and the Soviet Union. China has always employed a nuclear policy of a “no-first-use” pledge, which means that the country is not going to use nuclear weapons as a part of warfare, except for when attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons. Since October 2008, North Korea also publicly declared their commitment to a “no-first-use” pledge.

Mao Zedong started the Chinese nuclear weapons program during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1944-1955), with help from the Soviet Union. Support from the Soviet Union however, fell through after political and idealogical relations deteriorated during the Sino-Soviet Split (1960-1989). The main roots of the crisis was the two country’s inability to agree on their individual perceptions of Marxism: Maoism and Marxism-Leninism, and national interests. Both the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson governments attempted to attack China’s nuclear program after the split, with the help of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, but it did not work out due to Khruschev not providing any support for the warfare.

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