Science is the instrument of human knowledge that can serve both noble and humane goals, as well as immoral and barbaric ones. The methodology and results of science, the motives of scientists and their personal views, moral rules, and ideas about society largely determine the views of the scientific community. Humanity was forced to face these philosophical questions in the middle of the 20th century when the atomic bomb was created. Some events in history are fateful and epoch-making, one of which was the embodiment of people’s desire to find an almost perfect means of destruction and thus decide the outcome of any war. But the paradox is that it was the use of nuclear weapons that became one of the main nails in the coffin of Nazism during the Second World War, and for several reasons prevented a further escalation of the conflict between the two nuclear states – the USA and the USSR. In this work, I would like to reveal the history of the creation of nuclear weapons, its impact on international relations during the Second World War, and its impact on modern diplomacy. The goal I set to reach is to demonstrate that the atomic weapon affected not only the Japanese who suffered the bombings on August 6 and 9, 1945, but that the weapon of mass destruction changed the entire balance of international relations before and after the World War 2, causing nations to consider the first time in human history the unprecedented proximity of total annihilation.
The Creation of Nuclear Weapons
In 1911, Rutherford “established that the mess of the atom is concentrated in its nucleus.”1 Due to the work of Niels Bohr, which were founded on Rutherfor’s research, in 1913, the world learned about the nuclear model, which today has become a scientific fact. Rutherford, who worked at Cambridge, made several important discoveries. He suggested that the nucleus of an atom should contain not only a proton but also a neutron, which, as Rutherford argued, could penetrate into the nucleus of an atom and, thus, could be used for research purposes. Two decades later, in 1932, the neutron was discovered by James Chadwick, whose teacher was Rutherford. After this significant discovery, the study of the atom intensified, and the natural breakthrough in nuclear physics turned out to be very significant. Therefore, in 1934, all the theoretical ideas on how to provoke the chain fission reaction of the atom were known. Only a few years later, physicists and chemists were able to establish how slow neutrons cause uranium fission. There was a hypothesis given by German scientists that the fission of the uranium atom should release a large amount, primarily of thermal energy with great destructive potential. Beginning in 1939, leading countries of the world such as the USA, France, England, and the USSR began to study a new type of energy. It was experimentally proved that the fission of the atom of uranium and pluton when they reach a critical mass could provoke an explosion of the matter of unprecedented destructive scale.
Since the Second World War had already begun in 1939, the countries of the world were more than ever interested in such a powerful weapon to create a favorable status on the world stage and pushed research to create it as soon as possible. However, the problem was that large reserves of uranium ore were needed to organize large-scale research, which was carried out by scientists from Germany, the USA, England, and Japan. In the United States, similar research was conducted under the title of the Manhattan Project, led by General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer, which “was the Anglo-American effort to build nuclear weapons during World War II.”2 When the world saw the scale of World War II, nuclear physicists realized the colossal consequences of their discovery. Many scientists, such as “Leo Szilard, who bad composed Einstein’s famous letter to Roosevelt warning of the military implications of the discovery of fission,”3 and in this manner appealed to the governments of countries not to use nuclear weapons for military purposes. Unfortunately, they were not heard, and the development of weapons of mass destruction continued. The possession of such a powerful weapon was a tempting idea among the militarist circles. Scientists and the military understood that the creation of the atomic bomb could become a decisive factor in a war that had already begun. Since England was subjected to massive bombing by German aircraft, the developments of British scientists in nuclear energy were voluntarily transferred to the United States, which made it possible for American scientists to become leading specialists in nuclear physics. Similar work was carried out in Germany, but due to failures on the Soviet front, funding for uranium development was suspended because Germany needed a momentary advantage in manpower and equipment and not a long-term investment in a project with an untested result. Enrico Fermi and Bohr, who both “were working toward the realization of a nuclear reactor,”4 finally succeeded in 1942 when the United States launched the first nuclear reactor. The Soviet scientist Ivan Kurchatov also carried out similar studies in the USSR.
In 1944, research into atomic energy led to the creation of the atomic bomb, which it was decided to use in aviation. For this purpose, an air regiment was created from Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which underwent training flights at an altitude of over six thousand miles and which were subsequently used “to drop a plutonium implosion weapon on Nagasaki.”5 It should be noted that in 1944, the war in the Pacific region was fought with a clear preponderance of the United States and its allies. However, despite the successes of the American side, the Japanese were not going to give up. Even after the early spring of 1945, when the Americans carried out regular raids and bombing of the largest Japanese cities, including Tokyo and Kyoto, sometimes destroying more than half of the city’s infrastructure, the Japanese stubbornly continued to defend their metropolis. Moreover, the Potsdam conference, at which Japan was offered surrender in an ultimatum form, had no effect. Therefore, in 1945, the Pentagon decided to launch the first nuclear strikes on Japan in order to demonstrate the most powerful weapon and thus end World War II. When, in June 1945, the Americans tested the world’s first plutonium bomb at the Alamogordo test site, they realized that it was time to test this weapon on the battlefield.
As a result of the bombing of the aforementioned Japanese cities, more than 65 thousand buildings were instantly destroyed with the help of an atomic bomb, and 160 thousand people were killed and wounded. The Japanese term ‘hibakusha’ refers to “those who experienced injuries from the atomic bombing, with a special emphasis on the effects of radiation.”6 The term was coined by the Japanese and American scientists who were researching the long-term biological consequences from radiation on the survivors via research program conducted by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC). Along with the casualties on the mainland and the state of mass fear among the Japanese after the two bombs were thrown upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the rest of the world suffered much less explicit but still significant consequences from the brand new weapon, even though these were the only cases of the use of atomic bombs in the history of mankind. The fact that in 1949 the USSR was able to develop practically a copy of the American atomic bomb, in a sense, led to a balance of power in international relations. However, this balance soon led to an arms race, and people around the world, for the first time, thought that the threat of total annihilation was closer than ever before.
International politics and diplomacy have changed significantly since the advent of a fundamentally new type of weapon. In April 1945, US President Harry Truman was informed by Secretary of War Stimson that General Groves would lead the Manhattan Project. According to him, the creation of atomic weapons should have taken four months. The information that American nuclear physicists were preparing to create the most powerful weapon had a significant impact on the foreign policy of the White House. Although no one rejected the principle of atomic diplomacy, it still looked too naive. Minister of War Stimson believed that in case of a need to find a solution to international disputes with the USSR, intimidation with atomic weapons would not be enough. Moreover, there was no guarantee that the US monopoly on the atomic bomb would last forever even though “for several years the United States had a monopoly in atomic weapons.”7
Nevertheless, a simple and understandable plan was developed – to demonstrate the power of an atomic bomb and via blackmail to force the USSR to submit to American interests. Therefore, American politicians decided to use atomic bombs against the mainland of Japan because they were “persuaded by the argument that many American lives would be saved if the bomb brought a rapid end to the war with Japan.”8 It would also be helpful as a means of pressure and intimidation of the USSR. Thus, the United States intended to acquire a global and decisive influence in the post-war period. Many historians note that the use of atomic weapons against Japan did not have the effect that the militarist circles of the White House hoped for, since even without the bombing of Japanese cities, the Japanese nation and country were almost completely exhausted economically and morally. Moreover, only after the Soviet army destroyed the Kwantung Army, the Emperor of Japan announced on the radio the cessation of all hostilities and, on September 2, signed the act of surrender of Japan, thereby putting an end to the Second World War. Therefore, it is most likely that atomic weapons were intended to be used to create a frightening impression on the Soviet Union. Probably, it was this plan that was the beginning of the arms race and the subsequent Cold War between the two superpowers that “has gone on for nearly 40 years and has reached the point where there are more than 50,000 nuclear weapons.”
The United States was confident that other countries would be able to develop atomic weapons no sooner than in ten years. But until then, the US military doctrine assumed that this weapon was a trump card that should be used in full. First of all, for the American military, the main task was to achieve complete military superiority, including over the USSR. Nevertheless, the belief in complete superiority was a myth since there were only a few bombs since the main barrier in its construction was “difficulty in manufacturing or obtaining weapons-grade fissile material.”
Moreover, their tactical and technical characteristics did not allow them to be used as a mobile tool to reach absolute dominance over the enemy. Psychic intimidation attacks were also overrated and did not have a significant impact on diplomacy. However, the very fact that the two largest countries in the world began to build muscle against each other forced other countries to get involved in an arms race as well. American strategy until the late 1940s focused on superiority in the air and nuclear bombs. Thus, the postwar period in US foreign policy became a period of military doctrine. In the early 1950s, people in the US were sincerely believing that the atomic bombs could be turned against them as well, which served as a highly inductive factor of mass confusion, panic, fear, and uncertainty. Presumably, the nuclear explosions could not only cause millions of deaths in an instance, but also could significantly disrupt the ecosystems and decrease global temperature, consequently becoming the reason of the food shortages and famines. Everybody understood that “a war cannot be fought with nuclear weapons if both sides possess them, and therefore their only purpose is to act as a deterrent against a nuclear attack by an adversary.”11 Negotiations with the Soviet Union became a necessity, and the arms race became a central foreign policy prerogative during the next 40 years of the Cold War, shifting the focus of competition from military pursuit to “economic and social actions and in human affairs.”
Within the framework of international security, nuclear deterrence is still one of the key concepts. It has not lost its relevance to the present, but it is forced to develop along with scientific and technological progress and international relations. The policy of nuclear deterrence began with the Cold War and assumed intimidation of the enemy. In this regard, at different historical times, the USSR and the USA used both open and covert threats when atomic weapons were involved explicitly or implicitly, including “the Korean War (1953), the Berlin blockade (1959), the Cuban missile crisis (1962), and the battle of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War (1968).” Foreign policy and propaganda were meant to defeat the enemy ideologically, demonizing him and presenting him as an aggressor. Therefore, the Cold War is usually associated with the geopolitical and ideological confrontation between the USSR and the United States after the end of World War II and until the early 1990s. But the end of the Cold War did not stop the nuclear arms race, as it would require colossal efforts to reduce and eliminate these weapons and to rebuild the entire security system and associated socio-economic relations. In other words, nuclear weapons have been one of the main instruments of US foreign policy through which the capitalist economic model has tried and successfully established a dominant position in the modern world. Assuming the enormous amount of accumulated nuclear weapons and their destructive potential, there is an opinion that their use would mean the death of many millions of people around the world, which would fundamentally destroy human civilization and culture. Even though nuclear weapon caused immense inconveniences and tragedies for thousands of hibakusha, the rest of the world was inevitably affected by its high potency of mass destruction. Therefore, the arms race followed and provoked the accumulation of nuclear weapons in the leading countries of the world as an adaptive reaction of the nations to overcome the state of uncertainty and fear, which were boiling after the bombings as an extremely vivid sight of violent murder. However, at the same time, it naturally led to the signing of international treaties designed to end nuclear tests and to promote at least partial disarmament.