Why did the US and USSR use nuclear war threats for military, diplomatic, and moral decisions?

Quick answer:

The United States and the USSR used the threat of nuclear war in order to give themselves leverage over each other. The threat that nuclear weapons could be used at any moment hung over the globe right throughout the Cold War and ensured that neither side engaged in direct military conflict with the other.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Right throughout the Cold War, the very real threat of nuclear war hung over the world like a dark, brooding cloud. Both sides in this epic ideological conflict, the United States and the Soviet Union, had each amassed a formidable arsenal of nuclear weaponry, able to destroy the planet several times over.

Thankfully, nuclear war was avoided, but at any given time, the world was always potentially minutes away from World War III, with all the catastrophic consequences that would bring.

Although both sides in the Cold War were prepared to use nuclear weapons, leaders in Washington and Moscow recognized that the mere threat of nuclear war was often enough for them to achieve specific policy goals.

Nuclear weapons gave both sides considerable leverage, militarily and diplomatically. At any given conference or set of formal negotiations, nuclear weapons could be used as a bargaining chip to secure concessions out of the other side.

Of course, there were limitations as to how much leverage could be gained from holding nuclear weapons. Having nuclear weapons didn't prevent the United States from losing in Vietnam or the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But for the most part, having them enabled the United States and the USSR to back up their strategic objectives with the credible threat of force. So long as both sides had a considerable stock of nuclear weapons on hand, they could maintain their positions as the world's only superpowers.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial