What role did nuclear weapons play in the Cold War?
Nuclear weapons played a pivotal role during the Cold War both as a deterrent and as a factor influencing policy and relationships between nations. The idea of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) guided much of the strategic thinking. Under MAD, the idea was that if any nuclear nation launched a strike, a counter-strike would ensure, resulting in total devastation for both parties. This concept thus served as a deterrent, preventing any one armed nation from initiating a nuclear strike out of fear of total annihilation. Nations therefore had to strategise negotiations, treaties and diplomatic relations in this nuclear shadow. The nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the USSR significantly influenced international politics. They accumulated arsenals far beyond what would be necessary for 'deterrence,' causing widespread fear and economic strain both domestically and internationally. Moreover, nuclear weapon technology had an effect on developing nations, a few of which sought to harness nuclear power either for energy or weapon purposes, leading to further power dynamics and concerns about proliferation. The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was an attempt to manage these fears. In a broad sense, the existence of nuclear weapons created a geostrategic landscape governed by fear, suspense, and potential catastrophe, shaping overall Cold War dynamics. They served simultaneously as the ultimate threat and the ultimate deterrent.