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Nuclear Weapons: The Critical Decisions

Science M139B, Environment M165, and Physics M199

University of California at Los Angeles, Spring 2002, Michael D. Intriligator


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  • The course will focus on ten critical decisions regarding nuclear weapons, with students challenged to understand and to appraise these decisions. The course will include several guest lectures with experts from various departments at UCLA. The topics listed in each section below involve background to the decision and its consequences. They will be a guide to the readings and to the preparation of papers.

Main text:

  • McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival, New York: Random House, 1988. Supplementary readings are shown in each section of the course.

Web sites and their links also provide information that would be useful for the course. These include:

Requirements for the course will be both a paper and a final exam, each counting equally toward the final grade. The paper will be on one of the topics listed below, involving a more in-depth analysis of the decisions that were being made. It could be done individually or, preferably, by a group of three or four students working as a team. An outline of the paper is due on Tuesday, May 21, and the final paper is due on Tuesday, June 4. The final exam will be a regularly scheduled one covering the entire course, to be held Tuesday, June 11, 8:00 am-11:00 am (final exam code 14).

  • 0. Introduction and Overview of Course (April 2) Structure of course; focus on decision making Chains of nuclear proliferation Historical and current issues involving nuclear weapons Bundy Text: Foreword
  • 1. President Roosevelt's 1941 Decision to Build the Atomic Bomb (April 4, 9)
    Hahn-Strassman 1938 experiments in Berlin and Meitner 1939 experiments in Copenhagen on radioactivity Einstein (Szilard) 1939 letter to President Roosevelt Frisch-Peierls 1940 Memorandum on critical mass MAUD Committee 1941 report in Britain U.S. fear of a Nazi atomic weapon (Heisenberg headed program); Japanese atomic program First sustained nuclear chain reaction by Fermi in Chicago, 1942 Manhattan Project of 1942; Oppenheimer and Groves Uranium and plutonium bombs: the technology of fission weapons Trinity test of plutonium bomb, July 16, 1945 Bundy Text: Chapters I, III Guest Lecturer, April 4: Professor Nina Byers, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "The Physics of Nuclear Weapons." Supplementary Reading: Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. Richard L. Garwin and Georges Charpak, Megawatts and Megatons, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2001
  • 2. President Truman's 1945 Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Against Japan (April 11, 16) Death of President Roosevelt, April 1945 End of the war in Europe, May 1945 Carpet bombing raids in Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo Enola Gay flight from Tinian Island to Hiroshima, August 6, 1945 Nagasaki, August 9, 1945 Medical effects of the atomic bombings Debate over President Truman's decision: ethical/moral considerations Bundy Text: Chapter II Guest Lecturer, April 16: Professor James Yamazaki, M.D., Pediatrics Department, UCLA School of Medicine, "Consequences of Nuclear Weapons to Man and the Environment at Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands" Supplementary Reading: James N. Yamazaki, M.D., Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician's Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands, Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. Steven L. Simon, Ed., "Consequences of Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands," National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Health Physics: The Radiation Protection Journal, Vol. 73, No. 1, 1987.
  • 3. Stalin's Decision to Build a Soviet Atomic Bomb (April 18) The Cold War and its origins Igor Kurchatov's work, starting in 1940, and his student's May 1942 letter The role of espionage vs. science Alliance formation: NATO, 1949 and Warsaw Pact, 1950 Bundy Text: Chapter IV Supplementary Reading: David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
  • 4. U.S. and Soviet Leader's Decisions to Engage in a Soviet-U.S. Nuclear Arms Race (April 23, 25, 30) U.S. and Soviet decision making, military doctrine, and arms production National security President Truman's 1950 decision to build the Hydrogen bomb; the Soviet H- bomb; the technology of fusion weapons "New look" in national defense, military spending under President Eisenhower, 1953 Massive retaliation Bipolar world and the U.S. - U.S.S.R. arms race Containment doctrine Strategic choices First strike/preemptive strike advantage Counterforce vs. countervalue targeting of weapons The dynamics of nuclear war: targets and rates of fire Deterrence, mutual deterrence, mutual assured destruction (MAD) Security dilemma Strategic stability Limited retaliation Flexible response doctrine Evolution of nuclear forces and strategy Conflict Escalation Signaling, linkage Collective security Civil defense Stability of superpower competition Pax Russo-Americana Military-industrial complex Bundy Text: Chapters V, VI, VII Guest Lecturer, April 25: Professor James DeNardo, Department of Political Science, "Strategic Concepts of Deterrence and Arms Control" Supplementary Readings: Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966. Daniel Ellsberg, "The Crude Analysis of Strategic Choices," American Economic Review, 1961. Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. James DeNardo, The Amateur Strategist: Intuitive Deterrence Theories and the Politics of the Nuclear Arms Race, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • 5. President Kennedy's and Khrushchev's Decisions to Confront Each Other with Nuclear Weapons in the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (May 2) Background, course, and outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis How close the world came to nuclear war Other crises that could have led to nuclear war; crisis decision making Bundy Text: Chapters VIII, IX, XI Guest Lecturer, May 2: Marc Trachtenberg, Professor of Political Science, "The Cuban Missile Crisis" Supplementary Readings: Alexander George, Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980. Alexander George and Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.
  • 6. President Johnson's and Later President's and Soviet Leader's Decisions to Engage in Strategic Arms Control via SALT (and later START) (May 7, 9) Ballistic missiles: IRBMs, ICBMs, SLBMs Cruise missiles: GLCMs, ALCMs, SLCMs MIRV: multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles Mobile missiles Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1963 Canonical goals of arms control (Schelling) Means of arms control: bilateral, unilateral, multilateral Negotiated arms reductions, disarmament Graduated Reciprocation in Tension reduction (GRIT) International regime SALT I, 1972, SALT II, 1979 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, 1987 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) START I, II Plans for START III Bundy Text: Chapter XII Guest Lecturer, May 9: Ian Wiinikka, Graduate Student in Political Science and T.A. for course, "SALT, Detente and the Institutionalization of Parity" Supplementary Reading: Hans A. Bethe, The Road from Los Alamos, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Ted Greenwood, Making the MIRV: A Study of Defense Decision Making, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Pub. Co., 1975. Albert Carnesale and Charles Glaser, "ICBM Vulnerability: The Cures are Worse than the Disease," International Security, 7 (1982), pp. 70-85.
  • 7. President Reagan's 1983 Decision to Propose the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and President Bush's Current Missile Defense Proposal (May 14, 16, 21) REMINDER: An outline of the paper is due on May 21. Damage Limitation Goal Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, 1972 Concept of strategic defenses Technology of strategic defense, of defeating such defense Kinetic energy weapons, directed energy weapons Current proposals for Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and National Missile Defense (NMD) Guest Lecturer, May 14: Professor John M. Cornwall, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "The Technology of SDI, TMD, and NMD" Supplementary Readings: Sanford A. Lakoff and Herbert F. York, A Shield in Space? Technology, Politics, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. John M. Cornwall, "Antiballistic Missile Defense Systems," in Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology, New York: Academic Press, 1987. William J. Broad, Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Albert Carnesale, "The Strategic Defense Initiative," in American Defense Annual, 1985-86, edited by G. E. Hudson and J. J. Kruzel, Lexington: Lexington Books, 1985.
  • 8. Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (May 23, 28, 30) Review of past entries into the nuclear club: UK, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, ... Proliferation incentives, disincentives: military, political, diplomatic, economic, ... Chains of nuclear proliferation Limiting nuclear proliferation Destabilizing and stabilizing effects of proliferation Multilateral cooperation Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), 1968 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), 1987 Export controls How states escape restrictions of the nonproliferation regime Threshold countries: Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina,... Overt vs. covert (opaque) proliferation Technological developments affecting nuclear proliferation Political and legal developments affecting proliferation Specific cases: UK, France, China, Israel, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, ... Current cases: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Libya, ... Future prospects for nuclear proliferation Bundy Text: Chapter X Guest Lecturer, May 28: Professor C. Kumar N. Patel, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism - India- Pakistan Perspective" Guest Lecturer, May 30: Chancellor Albert Carnesale, "Containing Nuclear Proliferation" Supplementary Readings: Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain their Nuclear Capabilities, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Mitchell Reiss, Without the Bomb: The Politics of Nuclear Nonproliferation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Robert D. Blackwill and Albert Carnesale, Editors, New Nuclear Nations: Consequences for U.S. Policy, New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1993, especially Chapter 8, "Defenses Against New Nuclear Threats" by Albert Carnesale.
  • 9. Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons (June 4) REMINDER: Paper is due on June 4, and the final exam will be held Tuesday, June 11 from 8:00 am-11:00 am (final exam code 14). Nuclear weapons environmental effects The early years of nuclear weaponry: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thermonuclear weapons increase potential collateral impacts, including fallout. Climate effects and ozone depletion associated with nuclear bursts are postulated. Global threats arise, including doomsday fallout scenarios. Fire and smoke: Nuclear Winter provides a new twist on Armageddon. Implications of potential side-effects in building nuclear deterrence. Guest Lecturer, June 4: Professor Richard P. Turco, Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Director, The Institute of the Environment, "Nuclear Weapons and the Environment" Supplementary Readings: "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Detonations," R. P. Turco, O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack and C. Sagan, Science, 222, 1283-1292, 1983. "Global Effects of Nuclear War," R. P. Turco and G. S. Golitsyn, Environment, 30, 8-15, 1988. C. Sagan and R. P. Turco, A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race, Random House, New York, 1990, Chapters 2, 9 and 10.
  • 10. Decisions Involving Living with Nuclear Weapons, Avoiding Nuclear War, and Avoiding Nuclear Catastrophe (June 6) Nuclear weapons free areas: Austria, 1955; Antarctica, 1959; Outer Space,1967; Seabed, 1970 Communications between nuclear adversaries Hot Line Agreement, 1963 Command, control, communications, intelligence (C3I) Accidental/inadvertent nuclear war Agreements on Avoiding Accidental Nuclear War, 1971, 1973 Permissive action links (PALs) Relations between nuclear weapons and nuclear power Nuclear theft, international terrorism International cooperation Hawks, Doves, and Owls Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) Crisis bargaining, crisis management Other weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological The end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union Global security Prospects for the future: Challenges and opportunities Bundy Text: Chapter XIII Guest Lecturer, June 6: Chancellor Albert Carnesale, "Nuclear Weapons in a Changing World" Supplementary Readings: Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Graham T. Allison, and Albert Carnesale, Editors, Fateful Visions: Avoiding Nuclear Catastrophe, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Pub. Co., 1988. McGeorge Bundy, William J. Crowe, and Sidney D. Drell, Reducing Nuclear Danger: The Road Away from the Brink, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993.

Note: This course syllabus was last updated 2002