What Is Nuclear Proliferation?
In this video on nuclear proliferation, learn why countries develop nuclear weapons—and what is being done to prevent the spread of these weapons and the possibility of nuclear war.
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 preventing the production and spread of nuclear weapons. Nonproliferation is critical to safeguarding life as we know it.
What is nuclear proliferation? What is nonproliferation?
In foreign policy, “proliferation” most commonly refers to the spread or increase of nuclear weapons, and, sometimes, other destructive military technologies and systems. “Nonproliferation refers to the tools and policies used to mitigate that spread.
Discouraging countries from developing nuclear weapons while promoting nuclear technology use for peaceful purposes—such as energy generation and medical research—has been the main challenge of world leaders since the United States detonated the first nuclear weapons more than seventy years ago. Today, with growing security threats from nuclear-capable countries, nuclear nonproliferation remains a critical issue.
This module on nuclear proliferation 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 closer look at South Africa, which provides unique insight into countries' motivations to both develop and abandon nuclear weapons programs.