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The Nuclear Weapon Conundrum


Nuclear Weapons as a Military Capability and a Political Controversy

The advent of nuclear weapons in World War II changed the course of history and humanity in a complex fashion. The early race between Nazi Germany and the United States to acquire nuclear weapons was marked with secrecy and intrigue. Covert actions against the German program and the scientific challenges to build a nuclear weapon derailed the Nazi program. The U.S. generated a monumental top secret scientific program in partnership with the strategic security industry to build the first nuclear weapon in only three years (1942-1945).1 In spite of being designated a classified project, the program was infiltrated by spies of the Soviet Union, delivering to the USSR a virtually constant stream of engineering and scientific data. The Soviet Union detonated a nuclear device in 1949.1 Since those events, several nations have pursued nuclear weapon development; however, only eight nations are currently known to possess nuclear weapons: United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel.2 North Korea’s status is ambiguous as they are known to have tested nuclear devices, but it is unknown whether or not they completed the development of a nuclear weapon.  Although many nations have a nuclear weapons capability, nuclear weapons have been used only once in warfare: by the U.S. against Japan to end WWII in the Pacific.

The American use of nuclear weapons has been a controversy since 1945.4 Analyses of the war recognize that an invasion of the Japanese mainland, the alternative to the nuclear bombing, would be extremely costly in American and Japanese lives: estimates range from 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 military and civilian lives that would be lost in the conquest of the Japanese homeland islands. 3,4 These security and intelligence studies estimates of potential lives lost during an invasion were based on intelligence about Japanese preparations to confront any invasion; furthermore, the U.S. Pacific campaign against fanatical Japanese resistance offered data that could support the idea that invasion of Japan would result in millions of deaths.3,4 The combined casualties in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb raids amounted to 225,000 people. The shock of the nuclear weapon attack drove the Japanese government to accept the unconditional terms of surrender.

As the world pondered the awesome power of nuclear weapons, the U.S. and the Soviet Union moved forward to develop fission nuclear weapons, hydrogen bombs, which far exceeded the power of atomic devices; each nuclear superpower developed a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons leading to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).5 MAD simply translated to the concept that if the two superpowers engaged in nuclear war against one another, they would each destroy the other – a no-win outcome that only a “mad”-man would attempt.

Public impressions of nuclear weapons include political and emotional components. The technical awareness tends to be more limited. For example, the distinction between nuclear devices and nuclear weapons often is blurred in conversations about “the nuclear weapon problem,” but the distinction is of crucial importance to security policy and planning. A nuclear device is a product to test and demonstrate the technical capability to detonate a nuclear explosion.6 Development of a nuclear device is an essential first step in producing a nuclear weapon. The difference between the nuclear device and the nuclear weapon is one of practical significance. A nuclear weapon consists of a nuclear warhead and a delivery platform to put the warhead on target. The nuclear warhead differs from a test nuclear device in that the warhead is a reengineered version of the device that is designed as a ruggedized unit that has a form factor compatible with the delivery vehicle (aircraft, cruise missile, ballistic missile, artillery).6 The transition from the device to warhead is a complex engineering task that includes rigorous testing of the overall system capable of delivering a warhead on an enemy target. The design, testing, and production of a reliable delivery system is a parallel challenge that an aspiring nuclear capable nation must overcome. The device and delivery system test processes are clear intelligence indicators of an intention to build a nuclear weapon.

Rogue Nations and the Threat of Nuclear Attack

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) include chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. International agreements have established reasonable limits and bans on chemical and biological weapons respectively as the “Chemical Weapons Convention” and the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction”. Despite the specter of nuclear weapons, various attempts made to ban or to control nuclear weapons resulted only in an ineffective agreement to control nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The ineffectiveness of this non-proliferation agreement is manifested prominently in the rogue state, North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). North Korea signed onto the NPT in 1985; this was followed by the 1991 signing of the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which pledges that neither nation would pursue a nuclear weapon capability.7 However, evidence accumulates almost immediately that the DPRK is violating various codicils and safeguards of both agreements.7 As suspicions mounted, based on DPRK missile testing and apparent nuclear device research, the U.S. imposes a range of sanctions on North Korea. In 2002, the DPRK blatantly violates the NPT restrictions and withdraws from the treaty in 2003.7 North Korea then accelerated the research and testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles, bringing the 2017 world to a political crisis and potential military confrontation. During this same period, convincing evidence emerged about a missile technology cooperation between Iran and North Korea.8,9 There are some disagreements regarding the degree of cooperation between Iran and North Korea on nuclear weapon development but the weight of evidence supports a significant relationship between the two countries for nuclear weapon development.8,9,10

As the US Intelligence Community (IC) prepares security and intelligence studies on the North Korea situation, the IC recognizes the grave responsibility to provide policymakers accurate assessments which will be the basis for decisions to go to war or pursue an alternate course.

Jobs in Government and the Strategic Security Industry

Security threats to the U.S. and U.S. interests are an integral aspect of global competition between nations and the actions of non-state terrorist groups. The IC and the strategic security industry will be hiring the best qualified individuals to prepare security and intelligence studies and perform other security tasks.  Online universities now provide a resource to meet these security job opportunities. An online school that specializes in intelligence, counterterrorism, and strategic studies is a key to preparing for jobs in intelligence, law enforcement, and the security industry. These specialized schools hire faculties that have practical real-world experience plus understanding of the academic theory and principles. The result is a resource to prepare individuals with enhanced skills and capabilities to defend the country.


  1. ICAN Staff. (2017). Nuclear Weapons Timeline. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Retrieved from: http://www.icanw.org/the-facts/the-nuclear-age/
  2. Arms Control Association Staff. (2017). Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance. Arms Control Association. Retrieved from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat
  3. Keck, Z. (2014). How Hiroshima and Nagasaki Saved Millions of Lives. The Diplomat. Retrieved from: http://thediplomat.com/2014/08/how-hiroshima-and-nagasaki-saved-millions-of-lives/
  4. Compton, K. (1946). If The Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used. (December 1946 issue). The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1946/12/if-the-atomic-bomb-had-not-been-used/376238/
  5. InternationalRelations.org Staff. (2016). Mutually Assured Destruction. InternationalRelations.org. Retrieved from: http://internationalrelations.org/mutually-assured-destruction/
  6.  Stratfor Staff. (2008). Nuclear Weapons: Devices and Deliverable Warheads. Stratfor.  Retrieved from: https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nuclear-weapons-devices-and-deliverable-warheads
  7. Arms Control Association Staff. (2017). Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy. Arms Control Association. Retrieved from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron
  8. Ramani, S. (2016). The Iran-North Korea Connection. The Diplomat. Retrieved from: http://thediplomat.com/2016/04/the-iran-north-korea-connection/
  9. Kerr. P, Hildreth, S., Nikitin, M. (2016). Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R43480.pdf
  10. Visser, Y. (2017). Israeli Experts Claim Iran and North Korea Working On Nuclear Warheads. Western Journalism. Retrieved from: http://www.westernjournalism.com/israeli-experts-claim-iran-north-korea-working-nuclear-warheads/


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