In foreign policy and international relations, nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear weapons—and the means to deliver them. Nonproliferation, or the tools and policies used to diminish or eliminate this spread, is critical to the safeguarding of life as we know it.

An Overview of Proliferation
VIDEO 6:31
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Simply put, a nuclear war could end life on Earth.

That’s why preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is a critical investment in the future of humanity and a long-time priority of the United States and other countries.

This goal is complicated by the fact that the processes and materials used to make nuclear weapons are the same as those used for peaceful purposes. Discouraging countries from developing nuclear programs while promoting the use of nuclear technology has been the main challenge world leaders have grappled with since the first nuclear weapons were detonated more than 70 years ago.

In this course, we’ll:

  • Walk through the basics of nuclear reactions, allowing us to compare the processes and materials needed to manufacture nuclear weapons and non-violent nuclear products.
  • Discover the importance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international agreements, which have limited the spread of nuclear weapons.
  • Learn about the major actions and decisions that shape today’s nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
  • Analyze the diplomatic tools world leaders have at their disposal to stem to spread of nuclear weapons and discuss how effective each is.
  • Look at the nuclear status quo to see where nuclear stockpiles exist and which countries pose the largest threats.
  • And finally, study the case of South Africa, which provides unique insight into the motivations for countries to both develop and abandon nuclear weapons programs.
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