Global Nuclear Proliferation: A Time Ticking Threat to Existence


The powerful desire more power while the weak long for protection from the powerful. Nuclear technology is something which fulfills the needs of the both. International politics revolves around one thing, utmost power and with power comes the feeling of security. To achieve this power and security, world’s most ferocious weapon; atom bomb was invented. It revolutionized warfare. The massive destructive power of this weapon lured many counties into its acquisition.

According to a report by Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, after the outbreak of World War II when USA feared that Hitler might be working on making an atomic bomb, USA with the help of United Kingdom launched a secret nuclear program called “Manhattan Project“. For this project, almost 200,000 workers were employed along with thousands of engineers, mostly belonging to European background.

Finally on 16th July 1945, the first atom bomb was tested in the midst of the Alamogordo desert in New Mexico. By that time, Nazis had already surrendered which meant they did not possess an atomic bomb. But the war in the Pacific region was still raging, so Truman, the American President decided to use that bomb in order to force the Japanese to surrender as soon as possible. Thus, on August 6, an atomic bomb name “little boy” with an explosive yield equivalent to 12.5 kilotons of the explosives TNT (trinitrotoluene) was dropped on Hiroshima, instantly killing some 70,000 of its inhabitants, with another 70,000 deaths by the end of 1945. Meanwhile, on August 9, a second bomb “Fat Man” was used against the city of Nagasaki. This explosion had a higher yield (equivalent to 22 kilotons of TNT) but caused fewer instant deaths. By the end of the year more than 70,000 of Nagasaki’s citizens had lost their lives. Till 1950, 54 percent of the original population had died from the two explosions.

Following the bombardment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government registered a protest against the United States, claiming that the use of the atomic bomb was illegal because of the massive damage it caused. As the war was ending, the Allies were creating a new code for international law. According to this code, aggressor (Japan) was guilty of crime against the world. Since there was no law built regarding the use of nuclear weapons, USA was considered innocent of the Japanese claims. With international support the America was able to continue to develop nuclear weapons and test them. Shortly after the launch of America’s nuclear ambitions, Soviet Union also obtained this technology. As World War II ended, Cold War began. During this era, both the rivals started to stock-up their nuclear arsenals. In these last70 years, USA, a ratifier of the Non-Proliferation Treaty built a total of 7200 weapons, out of which 1900 are strategically deployed, 180 are non-strategically deployed, 2620 are not deployed but are in the reserve and 4700 are in the military stock pile.

Russia’s nuclear program was launched in 1942 under the leadership of physicist Igor Vasilievich Kurchatov. USSR’s intelligence agency gathered significant data on Manhattan Project and that information was used for Soviet’s nuclear program. In 1946, Igor made his first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Two years later, a device (100 MW reactor) for the production of plutonium was invented. On 29th August 1949, Soviet carried out its first nuclear test, code name “First Lightning” detonated a plutonium bomb, the “RDS-1” at Semipalatinsk. This weapon was made on USA’s design of “Fat Man”. After that Soviet tested its first “H-Bomb” in 1955. This struggle of nuclear power began during World War II, intensified during Cold War and is still growing. Though Russia has signed the NPT but it still has the highest number of nuclear weapons in the world. She has 1780 strategically deployed weapons, 2720 weapons are in its reserve (non-deployed) and 4500 are in its military stockpile, with a total of 7500. Recently as the Russia-Ukraine conflict is gaining momentum, NATO’s concern over Russia’s nuclear strategy is growing. It is indicated that Russia might use its nuclear weapons in future in this conflict.

The UK nuclear program was initiated by the “Maud Committee” in 1940 in a project called “Tube Alloys”.  This committee was set up to consider how to harness nuclear energy for making weapons and how to separate uranium 235 from naturally occurring uranium. United Kingdom cooperated with America’s Manhattan Project for nuclear advancement which led to the bombing of two Japanese cities. The UK began to manufacture its first bomb in 1947 at Fort Halstead and later at “Aldermaston”, and finally tested its first nuclear bomb “Blue Danube” in 1952. The test was conducted at the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. Today, UK is a signatory to the NPT and has a total of 215 nuclear weapons.

France started working in the field of nuclear science before World War II but due to certain financial restrictions and other hurdles could not vigorously work on its research. In 1950, France launched its nuclear weapon program properly. Its first successful nuclear test was carried out in “Sahara Desert” in 1960. And in 1963 France opened its first nuclear power plant. Up till now France has 300 nuclear weapons in its inventory. France has also ratified the NPT. Moreover, UK and France were the first ones to ratify Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

China was the fourth nation to become nuclear. According to a report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), in 1951 China signed a secret agreement with the Soviet Union. As per the report, China provided uranium ores to Soviet and in return Soviet delivered nuclear assistance to China. The Soviet Union gave China an experimental nuclear reactor, gas diffusion equipment, a cyclotron and many advisors to aid Chinese establish their own nuclear weapon program. When later Soviet withdrew its advisors from China, China continued to work on its nuclear program. Chinese conducted their first nuclear test at Lop Nur on October 16, 1964. It was a tower shot involving a fission device with a yield of 25 kilotons. China is also a signatory to NPT. China has approximately 250 nuclear weapons.

If we move towards South Asia, India was the first one to get this technology. India had embarked on this journey right after its independence from UK. Its need became more severe after Indian-Sino war of 1962. Finally on 18th May 1974, India tested its first nuclear bomb at Pokhran.  This test was described as a “peaceful explosion” by India. Afterwards, two rounds of nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998, after which it formally declared India to be a nuclear-weapon state.

Pakistan, its rival on the other hand became a nuclear power in 1998. Pakistan and its neighbor had already fought three wars in the past. Indo-Pak tension was growing and a strong defense system was really needed. Since India had already become an atomic state, so Pakistan directed its energies in possessing this remarkable technology. As mentioned in an article by Jawad Iqbal, an analyst and insight editor at BBC News, in order to have the best defense system, both countries are in a race to own the best nuclear arsenal. No other nation in the world is stocking up their nuclear inventory like India and Pakistan. Both the nations are following the policy of deterrence. Both the opponents have not signed NPT.

Atomic arms race in the world’s most volatile region; Middle East has also started. If we look at Israel, it became nuclear because it wanted to protect itself from its Arab neighbours. Arab countries allegedly possessed biological and chemical weapons and Israel’s interests seemed in danger so they became nuclear. Israel is the only undeclared nuclear nation in the world and the only nuclear nation in Middle East. It has also not signed NPT. Since 1950s, Israel has been stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making atom bombs. Western counties have always supported Israel, supplied resources and have shared the technologies. Israel has an underground nuclear arsenal which is believed to have 80 warheads. A lot of shady deals were made which are off the books but they all have played a significant role in the nuclear prosperity of Israel.

Iran’s interest was developed in nuclear program during 1950s. But advancement in this area got suspended during Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq war. On and off and most of the time secretly, Iran has worked on its nuclear project. Over these years Iran slowly but steadily kept progressing in this area. In order to prevent Iran from nuclear furtherance, USA imposed a lot of economical restrictions on Iran. As reported by The Washington Post, to curb Iran’s nuclear advancement recently all major powers of the world have signed an agreement with Iran which prevents Iran to make nuclear weapons but meanwhile economic constraints will be lifted from Iran. If it somehow succeeds in making nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia might also want to acquire this science. Saudi Princes have indicated this intention a couple of times at different occasions. As reported by Newsweek in April 2015, Abdulaziz al-Sager, head of the Gulf Research Center based in Jeddah and Geneva said “If Iran possessed a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia would have to think very seriously about offsetting that. Saudi Arabia would not sit idly by.” After its rival, the kingdom would also want to enjoy the status of a nuclear nation. Since Saudi Arabia has quarter of the world’s oil resources, economic restrictions are very less likely to be imposed on KSA as they were on Iran.

The need for North Korea to become a nuclear power ascended when United States, after the Korean War threatened to use nuclear weapons against it. In 1952, Korean government established the Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Academy of Sciences, but nuclear work only began to progress when North Korea signed cooperative agreements with the Soviet Union. With time, Korea expanded its program and more developments were made. On 9th October 2006, despite countless rounds of sanctions and UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon underground. Up till now Korea has conducted three underground tests. Recently it has indicated that it might withdraw from the Non-Proliferation treaty. According to an article published in New York Times, North Korea has threatened to attack United States and South Korea because US pushed United Nations to sanction and punish North Korea on its third test.

From the invention of the first atom bomb to the latest, it is clearly visible that all countries acquired this science either to secure their personal interests or to enjoy the benefits which came with its possession; extreme power. Only 9 countries in the world have this science, but that day is not far away when more names will be added to the list. A lot of countries are striving to attain this science and some even possess this technology but have not made nuclear weapons yet. The countries in possession of nuclear weapons pose great threat to its enemies, especially who do not have them. The treaties and agreements signed are helping to curb this growing nuclear chaos at some level but on a larger scale they seem ineffective. Some justify its acquisition by claiming it as a tool of deterrence. After the test of  first atomic bomb in New Mexico, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of  Manhattan Project quoted from Bhagavad Gita ” Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.


Zahabia is an aspiring journalist pursuing a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi. She tweets @zkmotorwala and can be reached at

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