Uncertainty in the Nuclear Arms Race
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Uncertainty in the Nuclear Arms Race
Starting in 1949, shortly after the end of the Second World War, the competition for nuclear superiority began between the United States and the Soviet government. Their hostility and need for nuclear supremacy led both countries to spend huge sums of money to increase the effort and the quantity and quality of its’ nuclear weapons (A Global History of the Nuclear Arms Race).

Both the United States and the Soviet Union were uncertain of the capacity of each other’s arsenal of nuclear weapons due to the lack of information. The United States lacked confidence in its investigations and believed there was a missile-gap between the two countries throughout a large portion of the 1950s (A Global History of the Nuclear Arms Race). The Soviets, at times, used various tactics to exaggerate its number of nuclear weapons in order to continuously confuse the United States (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). From the very start, during the Second World War, there was distrust, uncertainty and a covet relationship between the two. The United States had not inform, it’s then ally, the Soviets, of the Manhattan Project until the Potsdam Conference on July 24th, 1945, after it had already briefed Britain and successfully tested the nuclear bomb (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). To the surprise of many, Stalin appeared unsurprised (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). It later became known that Soviet spies had infiltrated the highly classified and secretive project and behind the scenes, the Soviets had already begun to build their own atomic weapon (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). The lack of information between the two was most apparent when U.S. experts had incorrectly predicted that the Soviets would not have the means of creating an atomic bomb of their own until the mid-1950s. The Soviet Union had in fact created its’ own nuclear bomb on August 29, 1949 (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race).

Increasing economic problems caused by the expensive arms race (e.g. The United States spent an average of 35 Billion a year on nuclear complex)(Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race), and China’s new role politically (The People’s Republic of China became the 5th nuclear power in the world in 1964, a threat to both the Soviet Union and the United States), caused the first thoughts of nuclear disarmament in the 1970s (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). Because of continuous distrust and the growing “red scare” phenomena within the United States, there was uncertainty of whether or not the United States should disarm (Weapons of Peace: the Nuclear Arms Race). If the United States had been certain of what type of Soviet Union it was playing (one that preferred mutual arms reduction above all or one that ultimately pursued the goal of nuclear superiority) the choice between armament and disarmament would have been clearer. Because of the Soviet’s past secretive actions and goals, the United States knew that it was playing an imperfect information game when deciding how to proceed. In the interest of preparing for any possible situation, the United States had to construct two distinct games, one in which the Soviet government believed that the utility of mutual arms reduction was greater than that of unilateral armament and another that planned for unmatched nuclear power. In both games, if the United States decides to increase or decrease its’ nuclear arms, the Soviet government is responding by also choosing between either increasing or decreasing its’ nuclear arms. Because of their need for national security, both the United States and Soviet Union had to choose between increasing their arms or being confident that the other country will follow through and mutually decrease their arms together. Partial or deciding not to take action, was not an option for both countries.

In both games the United States’ payoffs for an action stays consistent and therefore the country’s preference ordering is also the same in both games. The United States may have initially preferred a scenario in which it would continue building nuclear weapons, with the hopes that the Soviets would choose to disarm, because of the growing concern for safety in the United States. However, it knew that mutual arm reduction would be best because it would alleviate the United State’s staggering economic system and the thriving threat of China’s nuclear advances. I argue that the United States would have preferred mutual nuclear arms reduction above all. The worst outcome would be never reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union and having to continue increasing armament. Therefore, the outcomes, in order of United State’s preferences, are: mutual disarmament >armament/ U.S.S.R disarmament > disarmament /U.S.S.R armament >mutual armament.

If the U.S.S.R were to disarm and the United States would continue armament, the United States would yield a utility of 2. This action would have a payoff of 2 because although, the United States would like to have political control over the U.S.S.R, it’s ideal preference (having a payoff of 3), would be mutual disarmament since it would lower the cost of making/maintaining nuclear weapons and also give the country maximum security. If the Soviet Union were to continue armament, while the U.S. decided to disarm, the United States would yield a utility of 1 because it would lose the cost of nuclear weapons but impose a huge security

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