What Is Nuclear Proliferation?
Why do countries develop nuclear weapons—and what is being done to stop the spread of these weapons?
Simply put, a nuclear war could end most life on Earth. That’s why a top priority for the United States and other countries is nuclear nonproliferation, or stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Nonproliferation—using tools and policies to diminish or eliminate this spread—is critical to safeguarding life as we know it.
Discouraging countries from developing nuclear weapons while promoting the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes—such as energy generation and medical research—has been the main challenge world leaders have grappled with since the United States detonated the first nuclear weapons more than seventy years ago. With growing security threats from nuclear-capable countries, nuclear nonproliferation remains a critical issue today.
In this module, we will
- walk through the basics of nuclear reactions, and compare the processes and materials used in military and nonmilitary nuclear technologies;
- discover the importance of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other international agreements that have tried to limit the spread of nuclear weapons;
- learn about the major actions and decisions—starting with the first use of nuclear weapons—that have shaped today’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts;
- analyze the tools world leaders have at their disposal to stem the spread of nuclear weapons—and how effective each is;
- see where nuclear stockpiles exist today, and which countries pose the largest threats; and
- take a deeper look at South Africa, which provides unique insight into the motivations for countries to both develop and abandon nuclear weapons programs.