Nuclear as a Deterrence Or Unjustified Power?

The Nuclear Bomb Peace Sign

Deterrence for war?

The application of nuclear armaments is a strongly contested topic in foreign and domestic affairs. There are many arguments challenging the utilization and proliferation of atomic weapons. In contemporary times there have been broad shades of support and protest against certain powers possessing atomic weapons. Historically, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been only used once and despite the global propagation of atomic weapons there have been no world wars since the 1940s. Some have arrived at the conclusion that the initial use of WMDs by the United States against the belligerent state of Japan was the best possible option for national defense.

There are many factors that promote stable democracies in their military industrial stride towards self-aggrandizement. There are currently five states that are recognized as ‘nuclear weapon states’; the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China. There also exist states that are members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These include India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (Kristensen, para. 1). It is estimated that today there are over 20,500 WMDs stockpiled by these states, from a height of 65,000 in 1985. Unfortunately, these figures would be enough to eradicate the human population many times over.

Proponents in the West see the status of WMDs within their domestic borders as means of national security and a peaceful deterrence against foreign aggression. The rationale for the possession of nuclear weapons, as used by the prominent nuclear weapon states, has become a strong justification for smaller and lesser developed states. Because of NPT and non-NPT members secretly seeking WMD armament, other states have become weary for fear of pre-emptive nuclear strikes similar to the devastation in Hiroshima.

In the age of globalization, many developed and developing states have moved towards treaties that reduced large stockpiles of WMDs. The United States and Russia have entered several ‘Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties’ with moderate success. In relation, North Korea (and possibly Iran) has gained more prominent access to nuclear technology. In order to understand this universal drive for peace, we must examine the short history of nuclear weapons.

Towards the end of World War II, the lesser taxed Allied Powers were able to focus on Japan after the defeat of Germany in the spring of 1945. It was evidently clear that the United States faced an uphill battle on the Pacific front (Magstadt, pg. 558):

The United States had three possible ways to proceed. The military favored a full-scale invasion,… hundreds of thousands of casualties were expected. Diplomats, in contrast, urged the United States to modify the unconditional surrender formula to permit Japan to retain its emperor. The third option involved the Manhattan Project… -(Brands, pg. 697-699 )

The Manhattan Project was a governmental, scientific, and engineering feet of epic proportions. The main goal was to create a tool that would ultimately bring peace against fascist and aggressive states. The project siphoned over one tenth of the resources in the United States (Rubinow, 1:45) and was covered in secrecy until the finalized use of the WMD.

Many of the best scientists that worked on the project were researchers and professors that had fled Europe for fear of persecution by the fascist regimes. This generated more credibility to the use of WMDs as a possible measure towards peace. In correlation to the efforts of the scientist, roughly 83% of the scientists and researchers signed a petition limiting the usage of the atomic bomb to a global demonstration on uninhabited land as opposed to the military’s proposal to bombard civilians in Japan (Rubinow, 33:45).

Understanding this, General Leslie Groves saw to it that the petition was hidden until after the surrender of Japan (Rubinow, 35:26). The General made the decision to focus on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima due to their high populations. He, as well as the President and other military leaders, did not see a full scale invasion as the best possible option on the table. They believed that the wartime measure would prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and Japanese (Brands, pg. 698). Some conspiracy theorists also believe that Germany or Japan were on the verge of creating other unconventional WMDs around the time of the initiation of the Manhattan Project. One may reason that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was for the ‘greater good’.

However, other scholars argue that President Truman may have had other options outside of using weapons of mass destruction. It is reasonable to envision a low-cost allied alternative strategy given the hypothetical scenario in which the United States utilized a more tactical allied offensive against Japan:

Citing air force and naval officers who claimed a blockade or conventional air attacks could defeat Japan, these revisionists suggested the bomb was really dropped to impress the Soviet Union with the United States’ exclusive possession of the ultimate weapon. – (Brands, pg. 698)

There was unmistakable success on the part of the United States given the unconditional surrender of Japan after the desecration of its two major cities. Despite this, we must face three undeniable facts. The cost of innocent life (collateral damage) was extremely high, the cost of production was phenomenal – even by today’s standards, and allied espionage soon handed the technology to initiate an even more costly and unstable Cold War with the Soviet Union (Morgan, para. 3). In fact, if one were to view these historical events from a utilitarianistic worldview, it would be extremely hypocritical for the United States to preclude other nations from nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear arms have a strong rationalization for multilateral armistice amongst nations during the age of globalization. There are many contested arguments promoting and disavowing the proliferation and application of weapons of mass destruction. The United States is the only nation to have ever used an atomic weapon on another nation. This may or may not have enlightened the world on the use of WMDs on civilian populations even during a time war. Even though the moralistic viewpoint may frown on the justification of collateral damage for the greater good, it is undeniable that there has been no war involving atomic weapons since World War II.

In the modern global-political scene, this rationalization may be counterproductive when used by foreign entities against our very own foreign policy. Subversive decision making during World War II may have reasoned that the use of the atomic bomb was the best possible option. We can only hope that this same conclusion never comes to fruition again. The future may be the only answer in which we may decide whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified.


  • Magstadt, Thomas M. “Part V: Politics without Government.” Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions, and Issues. 8th ed. California: Wadsworth: Cengage Learning, 2009. 558-92. Print.
  • Morgan, Barrington A. “Demöso » Globalization and Weapons Trade.” Demöso – Path to Global Democracy. Silvres Media Group, 28 June 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <>.
  • Kristensen, Hans M. “Status of World Nuclear Forces.” Federation of American Scientists. FAS Website, Spring 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <>.
  • Brands, H. W. “Victory: Triumph and Destruction in the Pacific.” American Stories: A History of the United States. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2011. 697-99. Print.
  • Modern Marvels: The Manhattan Project. Dir. Bruce Nash. Perf. Alexander B. Rubinow. The History Channel, 2002. Netflix.
    • Picture Courtesy of Education Essays


  1. Mike Piano says:

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  2. Jason A says:

    I undoubtedly didn’t recognize that. Learnt some thing new nowadays! Thanks for that.

  3. Mary Warren says:

    I truly believe that the WMD’s that are present across the globe are used as scare tactics against other countries. We have the history books and current side effects still prevalent in Japan that teach us to never use WMD’s. However, knowing that we still have the capability is the true reason for wasting money and creating them.