Before ‘Loose Nukes’

‘How much does the average citizen know about nuclear weapons?

‘Not much.’

The three pilots sat in silence for a full 10 minutes. The battle between the Ukraine and Russia made for some strange and uncomfortable conversations in the airport lounge. As I made my way to the correct terminal gate to check in for the flight to Canada, I tried to remember what I had learned about weapons of warfare. Suddenly, the roar of a Jumbo 747 airplane could be heard taking off down the runway. I stooped to retrieve the coins that I dropped when startled by the sound, then continued to my seat. Once seated, I went through some of my earlier downloaded ebooks and started to read.

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The year is 1952. Initially, it appeared to many that the United States was behind Germany and the Soviet Union in theoretical physics and military infrastructure. Not so. Truth be known, most of the early developments in the nuclear weapons program belonged to the innovations of a Los Alamos scientist by the name of Klaus Fuchs. Espionage was all the rage in the years following WW11 and it was widely believed that the progress of the Soviet Union would have stalled indefinitely were it not for stolen secrets.

Ever heard of the Enewetak Islands or a thermonuclear weapon test code-named ‘Mike‘? The islands belonged to the United States in the year 1952. History has it that on November 1st, 1952, the United States detonated a 10.4 megaton nuclear weapon, code named ‘Mike‘ which destroyed one of the islands leaving behind nothing more than a crater in the ocean floor. It was registered as a 1000 times more forceful than its’ predecessor known as ‘Little Boy‘. The first test by the Soviet Union did not take place until August 12th in the year 1953.

It was the strategy of both countries (the United States and the Soviet Union) that winning was dependent on having a large prepared force capable of eliminating the enemy’s entire stockpile of weapons with a single ‘first strike‘ thereby preventing any retaliation. So began the arms race.

Photo by/ History HD

In 1961, during the time President John F. Kennedy sat in the Oval Office, Robert McNamara was named the Secretary of Defense. Never did he hesitate to make known that he supported the doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’ which stated that the best defense was to amass an amount of destructive power exceeding that for an initial strike and secure the extra at readiness in a variety of places allowing for a successful ‘retaliatory second strike‘. Towards this end, the Air Force Strategic Air Command started the Looking Glass Mission; a military fleet of modified, nuclear-armed Boeing EC-135Cs, one of which was in the air round the clock to act as a flying command post in the event of a nuclear war. This fleet remained in operation for 29 years.

Nuclear submarines and other naval vessels were added to the preparations for war until the time arrived when locating the weapons of one’s enemy became extremely difficult. Both countries had managed to station weapons in strategic locations all over the planet. The crunch came in 1962. Headlines around the world carried the alarming news, “Cuban Missile Crisis”.

Photo by/ Jeremy Bezanger

How dangerous did the world become? Besides the monthly fire drill there was the weekly war drill. Everywhere one went, there were discussions about the impending war. Families talked at dinner about building a bomb shelter, living on rations and being prepared for evacuation. Newscasters repeated over and over again that Khrushchev and Kennedy stood on the edges of a major nuclear conflict. Veterans of the World Wars stared into the skies, ears on alert, hearts pounding.

Finally a day dawned with the U.S.S.R. removing their missiles and the U.S. secretly removing their missiles in Turkey. Both countries entered an agreement to gradually limit weapon testing. In 1963, they ended all tests of nuclear weapons above ground and in the air. The years 1969 through to 1972 saw both political powers limit the total number of weapons in each of their complete stockpiles. To oversee all these negotiations, they instituted and signed The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and SALT, which stood for Stragetic Arms Limitation Talks. This was the situation until 1986 at which time President Reagan withdrew the United States from SALT11; a treaty that the president never signed.

By the end of the Cold War the number of weapons prepared for war had decreased from a peak of 70,000 to 40,000. Added to the list of preventive measures were two new initiatives; The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1995 under the leadership of the United Nations and The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996. These two measures were followed by The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty or SORT signed by both the United States and Russia whereby it was agreed upon to lower the number of active warheads to as little as 1,700 or 2,200 at the most, by the year 2012. This positive step was impeded by the rise of weapons stolen and smuggled across Eurasia.

Today, there are ‘loose nukes‘ that darken the global landscape. From where came their resources no-one is sure. Suffice to say they pose a dangerous, and ever-present problem to the established powers, which are: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.

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