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Manhattan Project that developed the nuclear bomb. Amendments to the law lifting the barriers to U.S. nuclear cooperation with its NATO allies were made only in the mid-1950s.332

When the Soviet Union carried out its first nuclear test on August 29, 1949, ending the U.S. nuclear monopoly, the focus of U.S. nuclear policy shifted to maintaining supremacy over the Soviet Union. The confrontation between the two systems had an impact on nuclear non-proliferation policy, as reflected in double standards on both sides and an indulgent attitude toward other countries’ nuclear ambitions when it suited the goals of nuclear rivalry.

Overall, however, the nuclear non-proliferation regime that took shape during this period was relatively effective. China, France, and the United Kingdom all developed their own nuclear deterrent during this period, but none of them could or tried to match the United States and the Soviet Union in numbers and variety of nuclear arms, limiting themselves to ensuring relative autonomy for themselves within a bipolar system of international relations. Other countries found a sense of relative security under the protection of either the Soviet or U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The end of the Cold War has not made the task of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation any simpler. Indeed, new problems have arisen. Part of the Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal ended up on the territories of newly independent states (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine), and not all of these countries were willing to renounce the possibility of obtaining nuclear power status. At the same time, some countries decided to use nuclear weapons as a means of establishing themselves as regional leaders, becoming nuclear powers in fact, although not officially recognised as such (India and Pakistan). Prompted by the sole remaining superpower’s use of brute military force, some countries began to consider the expediency of developing nuclear weapons as a means of guaranteeing their security. Iraq had nuclear ambitions, and a complex situation has now arisen regarding the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.

Through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program,333 the United States has made an important contribution to ensuring safe and reliable transport, storage, and destruction of Soviet nuclear weapons in the interests of non-proliferation of these weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union. U.S. aid has stopped these weapons from proliferating, maintained them in safe storage, and has ensured the safe destruction of surplus nuclear arsenals. In the end, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons they inherited from the Soviet Union and joined the NPT as non-nuclear states.

Efforts to resolve the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues have seen new approaches emerge. In each case, a group of countries, including Russia and the United States, regional nuclear powers (France and the United Kingdom are in one group and China is in the other) and influential regional powers (Germany is in one group and Japan is in the other) have formed. But this format has proven productive only when the United States stopped letting ideological aims (regime change) guide it and concentrated specifically on nuclear non-proliferation objectives.

Although the nuclear arms control system has undergone a certain amount of adaptation to the new situation in the world, not only does nuclear proliferation remain a real threat but there is also real potential for a new nuclear arms race.


The U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954 can be found at; accessed April 8, 2008.


For further information regarding the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, see; accessed April 8, 2008.

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