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AP/Stanley Troutman

August 6th, 2005

On August 6, 1945, the United States carried out the first attack with nuclear weapons, against the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The new weapon would fundamentally alter the face of conflict and shape strategic thinking for subsequent generations. If strategists couldn’t always agree on what specific nuclear force posture the United States should adopt, there was consistently broad agreement that the spread of nuclear weapons and technology posed a fundamental threat to United States national security.

To address the threat, the United States has historically used its leadership and power to advance a global nuclear nonproliferation regime, founded on the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In that treaty, the five states that had tested nuclear weapons at the time—China, France, the Soviet Union (now Russia), the United Kingdom, and the United States—agreed to share peaceful nuclear technology with non-nuclear weapons states and to gradually eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

In exchange, all other countries foreswore nuclear weapons and subjected all civilian nuclear activities in their country to international safeguards. Only India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan stand outside the treaty’s framework.

By any measure, the regime has been an enormous success. The regime helped limit the number of nuclear weapons states to, as security expert and Harvard professor Graham Allison says in his contribution below, “eight and a half (counting North Korea),” instead of the nearly two dozen that President Kennedy predicted could exist by 1975.

Sixty years after Hiroshima, however, the regime is falling apart and the threat lingers on. Hostile, extreme states such as Iran and North Korea are pressing forward with their nuclear programs. A new potential threat in the form of nuclear terrorism has emerged, while the materials and tools terrorists would need to carry out an attack are vulnerable to diversion. Countering these threats requires a clear, realistic strategy. The Center for American Progress invites the reader to consult the following resources.


by Graham Allison
From Hiroshima to North Korea, nuclear weapons have changed the way America approaches national security. More… (pdf)
by Andy Grotto
Nuclear weapons have fundamentally changed the way we think about conflict. Sixty years after the first use of the atomic bomb, the threat still lingers on. More…
by Jonathan Moreno
In one of his last acts, Albert Einstein signed a manifesto with Bertrand Russell decrying the spread of nuclear weapons. The legacy of that manifesto lives on today. More…

A Bad Deal With India
by Lawrence J. Korb and Peter Ogden, August 3, 2005
President Bush’s decision to supply India with nuclear technology is a nice departure from an ideologically driven foreign policy but a strategic miscalculation.

Progressive Priorities Series – Controlling the Nuclear Threat

The United States must lead and strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime to deal with 21st century threats.

Integrated Power – A National Security Strategy for the 21st Century
June 7, 2005
The United States can best protect the American people and advance its interests by adopting an integrated approach to using American power.

The Road to Nuclear Security, by Lawrence J. Korb and Peter Ogden
December 16, 2004
We are at a critical moment in human history with respect to both offensive and defensive nuclear forces. This report reviews the current U.S. nuclear posture, analyzes crucial problem areas, and proposes concrete solutions to them.

A Nuclear Nonproliferation Strategy for the 21st Century
June 7, 2004
This report is a project of Building Global Alliances for the 21st Century, co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and Robin Cook. It presents a nonproliferation strategy built upon cooperation between the United States, Europe, and others.

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