Nuclear warfare (sometimes atomic warfare or thermonuclear warfare) is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is used to inflict damage on the enemy.
Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction; in contrast to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can produce destruction in a much shorter time-frame and can have a long-lasting radiological warfare dimension.
A major nuclear exchange would have long-term effects, primarily from the fallout released, and could also lead to a “nuclear winter” that could last for decades, centuries, or even millennia after the initial attack.
Some claimed that the result would be that almost every human on Earth could starve to death. Other analysts however dismiss the nuclear winter hypothesis, and calculate that even with nuclear weapon stockpiles at Cold War highs, although there would be billions of casualties, billions more rural people would nevertheless survive.
So far, two nuclear weapons have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States near the end of World War II. On August 6, 1945, a uranium gun-type device (code name “Little Boy”) was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Three days later, on August 9, a plutonium implosion-type device (code name “Fat Man”) was detonated over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
These two bombings resulted in the deaths of approximately 120,000 people.
After World War II, nuclear weapons were also developed by the Soviet Union (1949), the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and the People’s Republic of China (1964), which contributed to the state of conflict and extreme tension that became known as the Cold War.
In 1974, India, and in 1998, Pakistan, two countries that were openly hostile toward each other, developed nuclear weapons. Israel (1960s) and North Korea (2006) are also thought to have developed stocks of nuclear weapons, though it is not known how many.
The Israeli government has never admitted or denied to having nuclear weapons, although it is known to have constructed the reactor and reprocessing plant necessary for building nuclear weapons. South Africa also manufactured several complete nuclear weapons in the 1980s, but subsequently became the first country to voluntarily destroy their domestically made weapons stocks and abandon further production (1990s).
Nuclear weapons have been detonated on over 2,000 occasions for testing purposes and demonstrations.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resultant end of the Cold War, the threat of a major nuclear war between the two nuclear superpowers was generally thought to have declined.
Since then, concern over nuclear weapons has shifted to the prevention of localized nuclear conflicts resulting from nuclear proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.