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. 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 activists had claimed in the 1980s that with this
potential nuclear winter side-effect of a nuclear war almost every human
on Earth could starve to death. However analysts, who dismiss the
nuclear winter hypothesis, calculate that with nuclear weapon stockpiles
at Cold War highs, in a surprise countervalue global nuclear war,
billions of casualties would have resulted in the nuclear holocaust with
billions of more rural people, nevertheless surviving.
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 to having nuclear
weapons, although it is known to have constructed the reactor and
reprocessing plant necessary for building nuclear weapons.
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.
possibility of using nuclear weapons in war is usually divided into two
subgroups, each with different effects and potentially fought with
different types of nuclear armaments.
The first, a limited
nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to a small-scale use
of nuclear weapons by two (or more) belligerents. A "limited nuclear
war" could include targeting military facilities—either as an attempt to
pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a defensive
measure, or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces, as an
offensive measure. This term could apply to any small-scale use of
nuclear weapons that may involve military or civilian targets (or both).
The second, a full-scale nuclear war, could consist of large numbers of
nuclear weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including
military, economic, and civilian targets. Such an attack would almost
certainly destroy the entire economic, social, and military
infrastructure of the target nation, and would probably have a
devastating effect on Earth's biosphere.