Superpower rivalry: the arms race and space race

Question - HSC 2009 b
Assess the role of the arms race in maintaining Cold War tensions after 1949.

Examiners’ comments
Better responses addressed the question with a sophisticated and sustained assessment of the role of the arms race in maintaining Cold War tensions. These responses incorporated accurate and detailed historical evidence to support their argument. They successfully analysed growing tensions between superpowers while also dealing with the period of détente, and linked these to the arms race. Weaker responses simply narrated events from 1949 and or dealt with specific crises. These responses did not address the arms race as the focus of the question.
Arms Race - some key dates/events/concepts:
  • By 1949, both USA and USSR had nuclear weapons.
  • 1950 NSC-68: massive increase in military expenditure (see Text p.23).
  • 1951 MacArthur sacked from command of Korean War - publicly advocated use of nuclear weapons against China (see Text p.27).
  • 1952 USA detonated H-bomb, shortly followed by USSR.
  • Soviet policy under Khrushchev: peaceful co-existence.
  • US strategy under Eisenhower/Dulles (see text p.41). “New Look”; “Massive Retaliation”
Text pp.48-9 ‘The arms race and Sputnik’:
  • 1957 Sputnik showed that the USSR had means (ICBM) of delivering nuclear weapons to any part of the USA.
  • US placement of IRBMs in Western Europe.
  • The impact of other significant weapon developments: SLBMs and MIRVs
  • Eisenhower’s fears of development of “military industrial complex” (also pp.52-3).
  • Hopes for and failure of Paris Summit 1960 (text p.52).
  • Kennedy’s inaugural address (text p.53). How did ‘flexible response’ differ from ‘massive retaliation’?
  • Impact of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)
  • Significance of Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
  • Nuclear proliferation: Britain (1952); France (1960); China (1964). Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (1968)
Newsreel: Failure of the 1960 Paris Summit

ICBM – Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
IRBM – Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile
SLBM - Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile
MIRV - Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs first deployed in 1970)

In question above: Assess... maintaining Cold War tensions.

As you can see from the 2009 HSC Examiners’ Comments on this question you need to do more than narrate the events of the period.

Show how the arms race was a vital contributor to the tension of the period. The existence of the ability of each side to destroy the other, but not avoid retaliatory destruction, led to new strategies under Khrushchev and Eisenhower. What were these? How did they further contribute to tension?

The cost of the arms race and its potential to lead to economic ruin, led the leaders to seek some sort of arms control agreement - this foreshadowed the Détente of the 1970s.

The need for tactical advantage in nuclear arms, led to the most severe crisis of the period.

Note: for the assessment task, you only need to cover up to the 1960s. However, a question such as the one above in the HSC would require you to go into the 1970s and détente.

To what extent did the Space Race play a significant role in the development of the Cold War to 1968?
Text: pp.47-49 The Launch of Sputnik, p.55 The Space Race Continues
Space Race - some key dates:

  • 4 Oct 1957 Sputnik
  • Nov Sputnik II - first dog in space
  • 6 Dec 1957 Vanguard - exploded on launch

Click here to see the failed Vangaurd launch, 6 Decemebr 1957

  • 31 Jan 1958 Explorer I
  • 29 July 1958 creation of NASA - non-military space development agency
  • 12 April 1961 - first man in space (cosmonaut)
  • 5 May 1961 - US put Alan Shepherd in space (astronaut); Kennedy committed US to put man on Moon within decade.
  • 20 Feb 1962 - John Glenn equals Gagarin’s orbit of the earth
  • 16 June 1963 - first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in Vostok 6 - propaganda coup for USSR
  • 201px-Apollo_11_insignia.png20 Sept 1963 - Kennedy proposed joint US-USSR moon program. Came close to agreement. Kennedy’s assassination, and accession of Johnson, ended negotiations.
  • Throughout the 1960s, competition intensified with the Soviet Vostok program, and Voskhod programs (March 1965 first space walk (EVA) by Alexey Leonov), and the US Gemini program (many advances in technology)
  • Soviet Moon program, Soyez, resulted in unsuccessful tests, and was in crisis at the time of the US moon landing.
  • US Moon program, Apollo, achieved notable successes: 24 Dec 1968, Apollo 8 made first manned orbit of the moon.
  • 20 July 1969 - Apollo 11 - first man on the moon.

First Moon landing 20 July 1969

Significance of space program:
  • Part of Khrushchev’s ‘peaceful coexistence’ - competition and rivalry, which had the effect of increasing tension.
  • Accelerated technological development.
  • Very costly.
  • Initially associated with the arms race through Khrushchev’s rhetoric following the launch of Sputnik. Increased fear and tension.
  • Provided propaganda value for each side with new ‘firsts’.
  • The USSR achieved many firsts initially (see list above) with the USA playing catch up.
  • In the 2nd half of the 1960s, the USA developed superior technology which allowed them to claim victory in the race.

In question above: "To what extent..." What was its significance in relation to other events in the development of the Cold War to 1968?
Other more significant contributors to tension:
  • Arms race
  • Berlin
  • Cuba
  • Czechoslovakia
Briefly assess significance of each to show their greater role in the development of the Cold War.