Nuclear Balance of Terror: 25 Years After Alamogordo

July 1, 1970

Report Outline
Nuclear Arms Race and Strategic Policy
Quarter-Century of Atomic Development
Effort to Restrain Nuclear Arms Race
Special Focus

Nuclear Arms Race and Strategic Policy

The age of nuclear weapons will soon be 25 years old. It was on July 16, 1945, that the first atomic bomb—a pygmy compared with its descendants—was successfully tested on a remote stretch of desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The first fire-blast to be caused by the splitting of atoms marked far more than the birth of a superior weapon. So much was changed in that instant of atomic energy release that the years immediately preceding it seem to belong to a totally different era. A few weeks after the triumph at Alamogordo, the bomb proved, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, its unique power to terrorize a powerful enemy into surrender. But though the bomb ended the war, the euphoria of peace was tempered, for victor and vanquished alike, by the existence of so destructive a weapon and the fear that it would someday bring about the doom of man.

Changes wrought by the bomb soon became apparent: It forced an overhaul of strategic planning for national defense, injected a radically new factor into the old game of power politics between nations, initiated an era of “grand alliance” between the scientific community and the military establishment, and inaugurated a new kind of open-end arms race of astronomic cost to the taxpayer. The bomb had other pervasive effects: it created a new stimulus for pacifism, thrust a number of once politically indifferent scientists into the unaccustomed role of political activists, and contributed markedly to an element of nervous distemper in the psychological climate that infected an entire generation of youth the world over. Ultimately it brought the two leading military powers of the world—the United States and the Soviet Union—into a shaky state of equilibrium popularly known as the “balance of terror,” a state in which each has more than enough arms on the ready to demolish the other within a few hours.

Over the quarter-century since Alamogordo, both nations have pressed forward in a competitive arms race. They have not only increased their stockpiles of deadly weapons, but have engaged in a continuing effort to improve their firepower and to refine their delivery systems. So today we have not simply a supply of bombs to be airlifted to drop points, but elaborate systems of nuclear defense and offense of a complexity and sophistication beyond the dreams of 25 years ago.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jul. 29, 2016  Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal
Mar. 08, 2002  Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jan. 31, 1997  Chemical and Biological Weapons
Jun. 24, 1994  Nuclear Arms Cleanup
Jun. 05, 1992  Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 29, 1990  Obstacles to Bio-Chemical Disarmament
Apr. 22, 1988  The Military Build-Down in the 1990s
May 24, 1987  Euromissile Negotiations
Jul. 11, 1986  Chemical Weapons
Apr. 27, 1984  Reagan's Defense Buildup
Jun. 04, 1982  Civil Defense
Jul. 17, 1981  Controlling Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 05, 1981  MX Missile Decision
Aug. 15, 1980  The Neutron Bomb and European Defense
Sep. 07, 1979  Atomic Secrecy
Mar. 17, 1978  Nuclear Proliferation
May 27, 1977  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1977  Politics of Strategic Arms Negotiations
Nov. 15, 1974  Nuclear Safeguards
Jul. 01, 1970  Nuclear Balance of Terror: 25 Years After Alamogordo
Jun. 18, 1969  Chemical–Biological Weaponry
Jun. 30, 1965  Atomic Proliferation
Mar. 21, 1962  Nuclear Testing Dilemmas
Aug. 16, 1961  Shelters and Survival
Oct. 12, 1959  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1959  Nuclear Test Ban
Dec. 04, 1957  Scientific Cooperation and Atlantic Security
May 15, 1957  Changing Defense Concepts
Jul. 03, 1956  Civil Defense, 1956
Nov. 16, 1955  International Arms Deals
Oct. 04, 1954  Industrial Defense
Apr. 15, 1954  National Defense Strategy
Feb. 10, 1954  New Aproaches to Atomic Control
Oct. 10, 1953  Atomic Information
Apr. 11, 1952  Biological Warfare
Oct. 03, 1951  World Arms Race
Feb. 04, 1948  International Control of Atomic Energy
Dec. 06, 1946  International Inspection
Aug. 27, 1943  Gas Warfare
Jul. 24, 1937  The New Race in Armaments
May 05, 1932  Abolition of Aggressive Weapons
Arms Control and Disarmament
U.S. at War: Cold War