The Space Race and the Arms Race

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What were the main features of the nuclear arms race?

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I think the above answers cover much of this idea, with a few important nuances and details left out.

The nuclear arms race did include ever advancing, and ever more competitive technologies.  From simple atomic bombs dropped from airplanes, each side quickly progressed to Hydrogen bombs, then to ballistic missiles, then to multiple warheads, then to missiles that were submarine based.  As long as the competition continued, the technology advanced.

Also, the arms race was incredibly expensive, involving literally hundreds of billions of dollars.  In 1960 alone, for example, while our missile fleet was being developed, 60% of all spending for the US budget was for the military.  Just maintaining the nuclear arsenal we currently have costs several billion per year.  The MX missile program under Reagan cost $20 billion to develop.  So this is money in both countries that could not be used for more constructive, positive social good.

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To me, the main features of the nuclear arms race were these:

  • The race to develop delivery systems.  At the start of the arms race, nuclear weapons were meant to be delivered by long-range bomber aircraft.  The two sides raced to develop missiles that could deliver the weapons farther and faster.
  • The race to develop more destructive weapons -- this started with the development of thermonuclear weapons.
  • The race to have so many weapons as to be able to survive a first strike and fight back.  Both sides wanted to be able to destroy the other even if they were surprised by a nuclear attack.

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