UN Chronicle Vol. XLVI Nos.1-2 2009
  • E-ISSN: 15643913


It is almost 65 years since the development of the first nuclear bomb, and yet we have had only two cases of use of nuclear weapons in war, namely Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So we have been spared the horror of a large nuclear war during this period when more than 130,000 nuclear weapons were built. This is a very unusual event in the history of mankind: so many weapons built, never to be used. Why has this happened? First, the leadership of the two nuclear superpowers and of the smaller nuclear States behaved as rational decision makers, as far as the control of nuclear weapons and the decision not to initiate their use were concerned. In others words, deterrence worked, but we have to recall that the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and other lesser crises pushed the risk of a nuclear confrontation very close to the abyss. Moreover, the system of nuclear deterrence worked and still works now on the basis of the capability of each nuclear superpower to react promptly if they receive information that they are under nuclear missile attack from their opponent. The idea is that each nuclear superpower should react against the opponent before its own nuclear missiles are destroyed while still on the ground or in their silos. With this system, known as nuclear reaction alert or “launch on warning”, we have had numerous incidents of false attack that risked accidental nuclear war. Among the factors that spared mankind from the horror of a nuclear war, one was good luck, in not taking wrong decisions at critical moments, and in keeping technical mistakes and failures ultimately under control.

Sustainable Development Goals:
Related Subject(s): Disarmament; United Nations

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