George H. Quester
Most analysts of military and foreign affairs would agree that nuclear weapons have been important to the U.S. world position since 1945. 1 Only a few would argue that such weapons have made no difference, that history would have evolved more or less the same even if Einstein had been wrong and atomic bombs had never been developed. 2
The intention of this chapter will be to sort the periods of time since the end of World War II when such weapons have made greater or lesser contributions to American world power, and then to project the influence of nuclear weapons into the future. Among the important factors here will be whether and when other powers acquire nuclear weapons, what the confrontation of traditional (“conventional”) military forces has been, and whether the political background has produced basic conflicts between the United States and such other powers.
Analysts of broader international relations have sometimes focussed on whether the world is “bipolar” or “multipolar” amid contending theories of which structure and distribution of power is the more likely to produce peace. 3 The end of the Cold War has even produced speculation about a “unipolar” world, where the United States is presumably far ahead of all the other states in the military or other power it can bring to bear in potential conflicts. 4
While this array of alternative interpretations of the distribution of power in the world is not based only on nuclear weapons, it has often been tied fairly closely to such weapons of mass destruction. Among the questions we will be sorting here are whether and when the United