Skip Navigation
Nuclear Weapons: The Critical Decisions
Michael Intriligator, Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies

Nuclear Weapons: The Critical Decisions

Undergraduate Course taught by Professor Michael Intriligator, Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies. Open only to seniors at UCLA.

Leah Halvorson Email LeahHalvorson


Offered as Policy Studies M116, Honors Collegium M119, Political Science M139B, Environment M165, and Physics M199

This upper division interdisciplinary course is being offered again in the Spring 2002 Quarter. It will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:45 in Dodd 121. The course is sponsored by the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. Enrollment is limited to students with senior standing in one of the five sponsoring departments.

Instructor: Michael D. Intriligator, Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies 825-4144, 825-0604,>

The course will focus on ten critical decisions regarding nuclear weapons, with students challenged to understand and to appraise these decisions. The course will include several guest lectures with experts from various departments at UCLA. The topics listed in each section below involve background to the decision and its consequences. They will be a guide to the readings and to the preparation of papers.

Main text: McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival, New York: Random House, 1988. Supplementary readings are shown in each section of the course.

Web sites and their links also provide information that would be useful for the course.

These include: - Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, with many links to other nuclear sites - Federation of American Scientists, with many links
http://netwinsite,com/top_mail.htm - Nuclear arms and power - To search military pages - Historical information and scientific explanations - "Big List of Nuclear Related Sites" - Nuclear weapons research on the Internet - Nuclear history on National Security Archive - Historical documents - Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Requirements for the course will be both a paper and a final exam, each counting equally toward the final grade. The paper will be on one of the topics listed below, involving a more in-depth analysis of the decisions that were being made. It could be done individually or, preferably, by a group of three or four students working as a team.

An outline of the paper is due on Tuesday, May 21, and the final paper is due on Tuesday, June 4. The final exam will be a regularly scheduled one covering the entire course, to be held Tuesday, June 11, 8:00 am-11:00 am (final exam code 14).


0. Introduction and Overview of Course (April 2)
Structure of course; focus on decision making
Chains of nuclear proliferation
Historical and current issues involving nuclear weapons
Bundy Text: Foreword

1. President Roosevelt's 1941 Decision to Build the Atomic Bomb (April 4, 9)
Hahn-Strassman 1938 experiments in Berlin and Meitner 1939
experiments in Copenhagen on radioactivity
Einstein (Szilard) 1939 letter to President Roosevelt
Frisch-Peierls 1940 Memorandum on critical mass
MAUD Committee 1941 report in Britain
U.S. fear of a Nazi atomic weapon (Heisenberg headed program);
Japanese atomic program
First sustained nuclear chain reaction by Fermi in Chicago, 1942
Manhattan Project of 1942; Oppenheimer and Groves
Uranium and plutonium bombs: the technology of fission weapons
Trinity test of plutonium bomb, July 16, 1945
Bundy Text: Chapters I, III
Guest Lecturer, April 4: Professor Nina Byers, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "The Physics of Nuclear Weapons."
Supplementary Reading: Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Richard L. Garwin and Georges Charpak, Megawatts and Megatons, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2001

2. President Truman's 1945 Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Against Japan (April 11, 16)
Death of President Roosevelt, April 1945
End of the war in Europe, May 1945
Carpet bombing raids in Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo
Enola Gay flight from Tinian Island to Hiroshima, August 6, 1945
Nagasaki, August 9, 1945
Medical effects of the atomic bombings
Debate over President Truman's decision: ethical/moral considerations
Bundy Text: Chapter II
Guest Lecturer, April 16: Professor James Yamazaki, M.D., Pediatrics Department, UCLA School of Medicine, "Consequences of Nuclear Weapons to Man and the Environment at Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands"
Supplementary Reading: James N. Yamazaki, M.D., Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician's Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands, Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.
Steven L. Simon, Ed., "Consequences of Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands," National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Health Physics: The Radiation Protection Journal, Vol. 73,
No. 1, 1987.

3. Stalin's Decision to Build a Soviet Atomic Bomb (April 18)
The Cold War and its origins
Igor Kurchatov's work, starting in 1940, and his student's May 1942 letter
The role of espionage vs. science
Alliance formation: NATO, 1949 and Warsaw Pact, 1950
Bundy Text: Chapter IV
Supplementary Reading: David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

4. U.S. and Soviet Leader's Decisions to Engage in a Soviet-U.S. Nuclear Arms Race (April 23, 25, 30)
U.S. and Soviet decision making, military doctrine, and arms production
National security
President Truman's 1950 decision to build the Hydrogen bomb; the Soviet H-
bomb; the technology of fusion weapons
"New look" in national defense, military spending under President
Eisenhower, 1953
Massive retaliation
Bipolar world and the U.S. - U.S.S.R. arms race
Containment doctrine
Strategic choices
First strike/preemptive strike advantage
Counterforce vs. countervalue targeting of weapons
The dynamics of nuclear war: targets and rates of fire
Deterrence, mutual deterrence, mutual assured destruction (MAD)
Security dilemma
Strategic stability
Limited retaliation
Flexible response doctrine
Evolution of nuclear forces and strategy
Conflict Escalation
Signaling, linkage
Collective security
Civil defense
Stability of superpower competition
Pax Russo-Americana
Military-industrial complex
Bundy Text: Chapters V, VI, VII
Guest Lecturer, April 25: Professor James DeNardo, Department of Political
Science, "Strategic Concepts of Deterrence and Arms Control"
Supplementary Readings: Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.
Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.
Daniel Ellsberg, "The Crude Analysis of Strategic Choices," American Economic Review, 1961.
Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.
James DeNardo, The Amateur Strategist: Intuitive Deterrence Theories and the Politics of the Nuclear Arms Race, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

5. President Kennedy's and Khrushchev's Decisions to Confront Each Other with Nuclear Weapons in the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (May 2)
Background, course, and outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis
How close the world came to nuclear war
Other crises that could have led to nuclear war; crisis decision making
Bundy Text: Chapters VIII, IX, XI
Guest Lecturer, May 2: Marc Trachtenberg, Professor of Political Science, "The Cuban Missile Crisis"
Supplementary Readings: Alexander George, Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980.
Alexander George and Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

6. President Johnson's and Later President's and Soviet Leader's Decisions to Engage in Strategic Arms Control via SALT (and later START) (May 7, 9)
Ballistic missiles: IRBMs, ICBMs, SLBMs
Cruise missiles: GLCMs, ALCMs, SLCMs
MIRV: multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles
Mobile missiles
Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1963
Canonical goals of arms control (Schelling)
Means of arms control: bilateral, unilateral, multilateral
Negotiated arms reductions, disarmament
Graduated Reciprocation in Tension reduction (GRIT)
International regime
SALT I, 1972, SALT II, 1979
Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, 1987
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
Plans for START III
Bundy Text: Chapter XII
Guest Lecturer, May 9: Ian Wiinikka, Graduate Student in Political Science and T.A. for course, "SALT, Detente and the Institutionalization of Parity"
Supplementary Reading: Hans A. Bethe, The Road from Los Alamos, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Ted Greenwood, Making the MIRV: A Study of Defense Decision Making, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Pub. Co., 1975.
Albert Carnesale and Charles Glaser, "ICBM Vulnerability: The Cures are Worse than the Disease," International Security, 7 (1982), pp. 70-85.

7. President Reagan's 1983 Decision to Propose the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and President Bush's Current Missile Defense Proposal (May 14, 16, 21)
REMINDER: An outline of the paper is due on May 21.
Damage Limitation Goal
Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, 1972
Concept of strategic defenses
Technology of strategic defense, of defeating such defense
Kinetic energy weapons, directed energy weapons
Current proposals for Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and National
Missile Defense (NMD)
Guest Lecturer, May 14: Professor John M. Cornwall, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "The Technology of SDI, TMD, and NMD"
Supplementary Readings: Sanford A. Lakoff and Herbert F. York, A Shield in Space? Technology, Politics, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
John M. Cornwall, "Antiballistic Missile Defense Systems," in Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology, New York: Academic Press, 1987.
William J. Broad, Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Albert Carnesale, "The Strategic Defense Initiative," in American Defense Annual, 1985-86, edited by G. E. Hudson and J. J. Kruzel, Lexington: Lexington Books, 1985.

8. Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (May 23, 28, 30)
Review of past entries into the nuclear club: UK, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, ...
Proliferation incentives, disincentives: military, political, diplomatic, economic, ...
Chains of nuclear proliferation
Limiting nuclear proliferation
Destabilizing and stabilizing effects of proliferation
Multilateral cooperation
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), 1968
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), 1987
Export controls
How states escape restrictions of the nonproliferation regime
Threshold countries: Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil,
Overt vs. covert (opaque) proliferation
Technological developments affecting nuclear proliferation
Political and legal developments affecting proliferation
Specific cases: UK, France, China, Israel, South Africa, South Korea,
Taiwan, India, Pakistan, ...
Current cases: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Libya, ...
Future prospects for nuclear proliferation
Bundy Text: Chapter X
Guest Lecturer, May 28: Professor C. Kumar N. Patel, Department of Physics and Astronomy, "Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism - India- Pakistan Perspective"
Guest Lecturer, May 30: Chancellor Albert Carnesale, "Containing Nuclear Proliferation"
Supplementary Readings: Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain their Nuclear Capabilities, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
Mitchell Reiss, Without the Bomb: The Politics of Nuclear Nonproliferation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Robert D. Blackwill and Albert Carnesale, Editors, New Nuclear Nations: Consequences for U.S. Policy, New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1993, especially Chapter 8, "Defenses Against New Nuclear Threats" by Albert Carnesale.

9. Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons (June 4)
REMINDER: Paper is due on June 4, and the final exam will be held Tuesday, June 11 from 8:00 am-11:00 am (final exam code 14).
Nuclear weapons environmental effects
The early years of nuclear weaponry: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Thermonuclear weapons increase potential collateral impacts, including fallout.
Climate effects and ozone depletion associated with nuclear bursts are postulated.
Global threats arise, including doomsday fallout scenarios.
Fire and smoke: Nuclear Winter provides a new twist on Armageddon.
Implications of potential side-effects in building nuclear deterrence.
Guest Lecturer, June 4: Professor Richard P. Turco, Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Director, The Institute of the Environment, "Nuclear Weapons and the Environment"
Supplementary Readings: "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Detonations," R. P. Turco, O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack and C. Sagan, Science, 222, 1283-1292, 1983.
"Global Effects of Nuclear War," R. P. Turco and G. S. Golitsyn, Environment, 30, 8-15, 1988.
C. Sagan and R. P. Turco, A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race, Random House, New York, 1990, Chapters 2, 9 and 10.

10. Decisions Involving Living with Nuclear Weapons, Avoiding Nuclear War, and Avoiding Nuclear Catastrophe (June 6)
Nuclear weapons free areas: Austria, 1955; Antarctica, 1959; Outer Space,1967; Seabed, 1970
Communications between nuclear adversaries
Hot Line Agreement, 1963
Command, control, communications, intelligence (C3I)
Accidental/inadvertent nuclear war
Agreements on Avoiding Accidental Nuclear War, 1971, 1973
Permissive action links (PALs)
Relations between nuclear weapons and nuclear power
Nuclear theft, international terrorism
International cooperation
Hawks, Doves, and Owls
Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
Crisis bargaining, crisis management
Other weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological
The end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union
Global security
Prospects for the future: Challenges and opportunities
Bundy Text: Chapter XIII
Guest Lecturer, June 6: Chancellor Albert Carnesale, "Nuclear Weapons in a Changing World"
Supplementary Readings: Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Graham T. Allison, and Albert Carnesale, Editors, Fateful Visions: Avoiding Nuclear Catastrophe, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Pub. Co., 1988.
McGeorge Bundy, William J. Crowe, and Sidney D. Drell, Reducing Nuclear Danger: The Road Away from the Brink, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993.

To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.