Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s the United States and Russia were in a constant battle to outpace each other in the development of military armaments. With the ever-present tension, both nations felt that war could be looming on the horizon and in order to ensure the safety of their respective countries both Russia and the United States resorted to the development of weapons of mass destruction. This was a huge scientific undertaking that brought with it uncertainty, espionage, and fear.
As it became evident that the United States were outpacing the Soviets in bomb development early on, Stalin realized that Russian efforts must be amped up to keep from falling behind in this seemingly life or death race. Under the direction of the Minister of State Security, Levrentii Beria, the Soviet Union’s nuclear project was set up in 1943 and headed by the physicist Igor Kurchatov. Kurchatov, with the blank check given to him by Stalin, built off of the scientific research done by Heisenberg and others in the field of nuclear physics, as well as off of the work of the competition, namely the United States and Japan, often through espionage. He and the other physicists working on weapons of mass destruction were able to develop and test a multitude of atomic and hydrogen bombs within just 10 years. Even more impressive was the fact that the hydrogen bomb created by the Russians was an original design rather than a copy of other countries successful models. The power that was generated by these bombs is truly astounding but the groundbreaking research is overshadowed by the dangerous implications of the end product. Despite the destructive goals of the project, the scientific discoveries that came from this research in terms of the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles were revolutionary and opened a great deal of doors in many other fields with less malevolent goals.
These bombs were not only of scientific importance however. The political and social effects of such a weapon were also of the utmost importance. With great power comes great responsibility and there were concerns that the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union would call this responsibility into question. People at all levels of society feared the devastation that would result from the use of the bombs in an act of aggression and upper level political figures struggled to console the worried public. In an article from the Current Digest of the Russian Press, the Soviet government announced the successful test of a hydrogen bomb. It was not this piece of the announcement itself that was the most important piece of this article however, it was the implications that arose from such a statement. With both the US and the Soviets in possession of atomic and hydrogen bombs, what is to stop these countries from destroying each other? It was paramount that these weapons were heavily restricted and regulated for the safety of the entire world but neither the US nor the Soviets were willing to give up any ground. Despite this, at the end of this article, the Soviets talk about establishing controls and measures to keep the peace. It says, “In accordance with the Soviet Union’s unchanging policy, aimed at strengthening peace and the security of nations, the Soviet government has repeatedly proposed to the governments of other countries a substantial reduction in armaments and prohibition of the use of atomic and other weapons of mass destructiveness, establishing strict international control, within the framework of the United Nations, over this prohibition.” It seems clear that after testing the bomb and seeing the devastation it caused, the Soviets took a step back and realized that if these developments were not regulated soon the consequences could be dire for them as well as the rest of the world. The public outcry coupled with the sensible arguments of individuals like Georogii Malenkov, who voiced his fears of a “new world war”, seem to be the driving forces behind the eventual slow in production and control of the weapons of mass destruction.
Overall, the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs showed the astounding powers of scientific research and the driving force that tension between two world powers can be. It was a development of such great proportion that the Soviets and the US were able to put aside their fears of each other due to a greater fear of the implications surrounding a bomb of this magnitude. It is scary to imagine how the world would be today if the world powers did not have the sense to establish regulations and controls of these weapons.
Here is a link to a video of the test of the Soviets Hydrogen bomb.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, “Hydrogen Bomb.” Last modified 2013. Accessed November 3, 2013. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954bomb&Year=1954.
Current Digest of the Russian Press, The (formerly The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press), No. 30, Vol.5, September 05, 1953, page(s): 3-3
Siegelbaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, “The Peace Movement in Soviet Russia.” Last modified 2013. Accessed November 3, 2013. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=essay&SubjectID=1954bomb&Year=1954&navi=byYear.
A detailed and informative post! The race for atomic supremacy was just the start of the superpowers competing with one another for supremacy. The lust for dominance in this field arguably inspired a space race, to prove their capability in more respectable technology. These two then added to an oil race which emerged between the two as they contested for this resource later in the Cold War in the 3rd world. Oil facilitated their ability to continue dominating the world.
This post was extremely detailed and very impressive. The atomic bomb race, I believe surpassed the space race in every way, due to the fact the world was not going to end based upon who would get to space first. However, it can not be denied that the race for atomic dominance led to the space race. With the incorporation of the oil race that you detailed I found this post to be extremely interesting. Good Job.