Cold War Arms Race Flashcards | KS3 & GCSE History | History Bombs

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7.5 The Arms Race

Manhattan Project

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Lesson description

This explosive lesson looks at another vital angle of the Cold War: the Arms Race. From the end of World War Two, the US and the USSR were wrapped in a decades-long competition to be the leaders in developing nuclear weaponry, but it all came to a head in 1962 Cuba.

This lesson contains:

  • The chronology of the Arms Race and the development of rising tensions and rivalry between the US and USSR from the end of World War Two to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The vocabulary and terminology required to study and discuss the Arms Race – and the Cold War – with confidence.
  • Exploration of the increasingly-destructive nuclear weaponry created by the US and the USSR, laying the foundation for studying the Cuban Missile Crisis in more detail.

Fact Sheet

What is the Arms Race?

The Arms Race was a period of intense competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War to build up their military forces, especially nuclear weapons. It escalated tensions because both superpowers sought to outdo each other in terms of military strength, leading to a constant state of alert and the fear of a potential conflict.

What is the concept of MAD?

“Mutually assured destruction” (MAD) was a strategy in which both superpowers believed that if they launched a nuclear attack on the other, they would face an equally devastating retaliation. This deterrence theory was a core element of the arms race, as it discouraged either side from initiating a nuclear conflict for fear of their own destruction.

What nuclear weapons were tested during the Arms Race?

During the Cold War arms race, both the United States and the Soviet Union conducted numerous nuclear weapons tests, including the testing of various types of nuclear devices. The most significant tests included Operation Ivy and Castle Bravo detonated by the US, and Tsar Bomba detonated by the USSR, the largest detonation in history.

Who was Klaus Fuchs?

Klaus Fuchs was a German-born physicist who played a significant role in the development of atomic weapons during and after World War II. He played a significant role in the development of the Arms Race, passing sensitive atomic bomb-related information to the Soviet Union, making him one of the most prominent atomic spies of the Cold War era.


Video Transcript

AgentStarted kicking off towards the end of the Second World War.
The United States top secret Manhattan Project
developed atomic bombs,
Dropped ‘em on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And set in motion a chain of dangerous nuclear
That brought the world to the brink of extinction.
Like, what were they thinking?
American 1Now boys we gotta keep a’hold of these plans,
Don’t want them getting into Soviet hands!
American 1 & 2No! Klaus!
Russian 1 & 2Haha! Full house!
AgentSee the Soviets had spies like Klaus Fuchs in the
Manhattan Project. Sure enough it wasn’t long before the
Russians joined the nuclear party.
Russian 1Kaboom!
Oh look, we built a rocket, see?
Kiss goodbye to your nuclear monopoly,
Don’t act bad, don’t make us MAD!
AgentM.A.D. - Mutually Assured Destruction. From 1949 both
sides had the means to destroy each other, meaning,
theoretically, any leader would be outta’ his god’dam
mind to hit the red button. Nevertheless, the
Superpowers were testing ever more gargantuan
warheads, and atomic bombs were about to make way
for a new terrifying destructive power.
Here we go again!
American 1Prepare the hydrogen.
American 2Operation Ivy detonated, 10.4 Megatons.
American 1Pretty good, but we can do more,
Time to settle this score.
American 3Castle Bravo detonated, 14.8 Megatons.
Russian 1Hey take cover it’s Kuzma’s Mother!
Russian 2Tsar Bomba released...50 Megatons!
American 3Holy!
AgentSo by 1961, both sides had demonstrated their nuclear
might, the Tsar Bomba was the largest detonation in
human history. In 1962 tensions came to a head on the island of Cuba...
American 3You gotta see this, Mr President,
Our planes have obtained some hard evidence.
The Russians are rushing across the Atlantic
With missiles for Cuba.
American 1 / JFKFor Cuba?
American 3It’s frantic!
American 2The antics of the USSR
Have gone too gad’dam far.
The response, must be critical,
Real action not political.
American 1 / JFKHey, don’t be a fool,
gotta keep it politi-cool.
American 2Don’t you wanna’ teach them a lesson?
American 1Yes, but not with open aggression.
With a naval blockade off the Cuban shore.
American 2A naval blockade is an act of war!
American 1Okay, keep it clean.
Call it a “quarantine”.
Russian 1 / KhrushchevWhat’s this? Are you serious?
JFK must be delirious!
American 1 / JFKNikita Khrushchev, read my lips:
Turn around your missile ships.
Russian 1 / KhrushchevWe won’t be intimidated.
Russian 2This has quickly escalated!
Russian 3The eyes of the world are fixated on this.
Russian 2And we’re staring into an atomic abyss.
American 2This beautiful patch of Caribbean shore
Could mark the beginning of nuclear war
American 3Our leaders have taken us to the brink.
Now will humanity swim or sink?
American 1 / JFK & Russian 1 / KhrushchevOkay, we agree.
American 1 / JFKThe Russians go back across the sea,
A great day for the US of A
And a moral victory!
All AmericansHooray!
Russian 1You think this deal looks murky?
Well, the US had missiles in Turkey.
In exchange they took them away,
We’ll fight another day.
AgentThe missile crisis brought the world to the brink. In the
‘60s the focus switched to the space race and the 70s
saw a period of nuclear de-escalation known as...
American 2 & American 3Be cool...
American 1Détente?
Russian 2 & Russian 3Be cool.
Russian 1Détente.
AgentTruth be told, the threat of nuclear warfare has never
gone away, so what do you make of all this?