How far did nuclear weapons provide international stability during the Cold War?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While hard to imagine, and somewhat of a paradox, nuclear proliferation during the Cold War did bring about stability.  The theory of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, ruled the era in which both the US and Soviet Union built up nuclear stockpiles that could ravage the world.  By the peak of the Cold War the Super Powers' nuclear arsenal reached beyond the capacity of one million Hiroshima style atomic bombs.  In addition, great lengths were taken to ensure a nation's ability to strike back if it were targeted by the other.  Instead of relying only on traditional missile silos, the United States employed nuclear submarines, nuclear equipped bombers, and mobile missile launchers.  If one side were to launch a first strike, it understood that the other had the ability to launch a successful counter attack.  Both sides would lose, ensuring that neither would launch a full scale attack.

This understanding also kept the United States and the Soviet Union from openly engaging in other conflicts, since each side knew that if conventional warfare failed a country, the nuclear alternative was always an option.  Eventually, the enormity of the destructive power each side possessed would force each side to build relationships that might otherwise have been ignored or avoided.  Stalin never met with another US President after the end of World War II; however, each sides ability to destroy the other forced talks and negotiations because the alternative was unthinkable.