Arms race

Last updated

An arms race occurs when two or more nations participate in interactive or competitive increases in "persons under arms" as well as "war material". [1] Simply defined as a competition between two or more states to have superior armed forces; a competition concerning production of weapons, the growth of a military, and the aim of superior military technology.


The term is also used to describe any long-term escalating competitive situation where each competitor focuses on out-doing the others.


Pre-First World War naval arms race

1909 cartoon in Puck shows (clockwise) US, Germany, Britain, France and Japan engaged in naval race in a "no limit" game. Naval-race-1909.jpg
1909 cartoon in Puck shows (clockwise) US, Germany, Britain, France and Japan engaged in naval race in a "no limit" game.
The size and power of battleships grew rapidly before, during, and after World War I: a result of competitive shipbuilding among a number of naval powers, brought to an end by the Washington Naval Treaty Battleship building scatter graph 1905 onwards.png
The size and power of battleships grew rapidly before, during, and after World War I: a result of competitive shipbuilding among a number of naval powers, brought to an end by the Washington Naval Treaty

From 1897 to 1914, a naval arms race between the United Kingdom and Germany took place. British concern about rapid increase in German naval power resulted in a costly building competition of Dreadnought -class ships. This tense arms race lasted until 1914, when the war broke out. After the war, a new arms race developed among the victorious Allies, which was temporarily ended by the Washington Naval Treaty.

In addition to the British and Germans, contemporaneous but smaller naval arms races also broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire; the Ottomans and Greece; France and Italy; the United States and Japan; and Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

Nuclear arms race

During the Cold War, an intense period between the Soviet Union and the United States and some other countries. This was one of the main causes that began the cold war, and perceived advantages of the adversary by both sides (such as the "missile gap" and “bomber gap”) led to large spending on armaments and the stockpiling of vast nuclear arsenals. Proxy wars were fought all over the world (e.g. in the Middle East, Korea, Vietnam) in which the superpowers' conventional weapons were pitted against each other. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, tensions decreased and the nuclear arsenal of both countries were reduced.

Other uses

An evolutionary arms race is a system where two populations are evolving in order to continuously one-up members of the other population. This concept is related to the Red Queen's Hypothesis, where two organisms co-evolve to overcome each other but each fails to progress relative to the other interactant.

In technology, there are close analogues to the arms races between parasites and hosts, such as the arms race between computer virus writers and antivirus software writers, or spammers against Internet service providers and E-mail software writers.

More generically, the term is used to describe any competition where there is no absolute goal, only the relative goal of staying ahead of the other competitors in rank or knowledge. An arms race may also imply futility as the competitors spend a great deal of time and money, yet end up in the same situation as if they had never started the arms race.

See also

Related Research Articles

Nuclear disarmament act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons

Nuclear disarmament is the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons. It can also be the end state of a nuclear-weapons-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. The term denuclearization is also used to describe the process leading to complete nuclear disarmament.

Weapon An instrument used to inflict damage or harm

A weapon, arm or armament is any implement or device that can be used with intent to inflict damage or harm. Weapons are used to increase the efficacy and efficiency of activities such as hunting, crime, law enforcement, self-defense, and warfare. In broader context, weapons may be construed to include anything used to gain a tactical, strategic, material or mental advantage over an adversary or enemy target.

Nuclear warfare conflict or strategy in which nuclear weaponry is used to inflict damage on an opponent

Nuclear 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 and can have a long-lasting radiological warfare result. 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 analysts 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. However, others have argued that secondary effects of a nuclear holocaust, such as nuclear famine and societal collapse, would cause almost every human on Earth to starve to death.

Pre-emptive nuclear strike

In nuclear strategy, a first strike is a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force. First strike capability is a country's ability to defeat another nuclear power by destroying its arsenal to the point where the attacking country can survive the weakened retaliation while the opposing side is left unable to continue war. The preferred methodology is to attack the opponent's strategic nuclear weapon facilities, command and control sites, and storage depots first. The strategy is called counterforce.

Mutual assured destruction Doctrine of military strategy

Mutual(ly) assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy's use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

World War III hypothetical future global conflict

World War III and the Third World War are names given to a hypothetical third worldwide large-scale military conflict subsequent to World War I and II. The term has been in use since at least as early as 1941. Some have applied it loosely to refer to limited or smaller conflicts such as the Cold War or the War on Terror, while others assumed that such a conflict would surpass prior world wars both in its scope and in its destructive impact.

Brinkmanship extreme strategy

Brinkmanship is the practice of trying to achieve an advantageous outcome by pushing dangerous events to the brink of active conflict. It occurs in international politics, foreign policy, labor relations, and military strategy involving the threat of nuclear weapons, and high-stakes litigation. This maneuver of pushing a situation with the opponent to the brink succeeds by forcing the opponent to back down and make concessions. This might be achieved through diplomatic maneuvers by creating the impression that one is willing to use extreme methods rather than concede. The term is chiefly associated with American Secretary of State John Dulles, during the early years of the Eisenhower administration 1953-1956. Dulles sought to deter aggression by the Soviet Union by warning that the cost might be massive retaliation against Soviet targets.

Détente easing of strained relations, especially in political situation

Détente is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation, through verbal communication. The term in diplomacy originates around 1912 when France and Germany tried, without success, to reduce tensions.

Nuclear arms race competition between multiple parties to have superior nuclear weaponry

The nuclear arms race was an arms race competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies during the Cold War. During this very period, in addition to the American and Soviet nuclear stockpiles, other countries developed nuclear weapons, though none engaged in warhead production on nearly the same scale as the two superpowers.

United States and weapons of mass destruction

The United States is known to have possessed three types of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in combat, when it detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. It had secretly developed the earliest form of the atomic weapon during the 1940s under the title "Manhattan Project". The United States pioneered the development of both the nuclear fission and hydrogen bombs. It was the world's first and only nuclear power for four years (1945–1949), until the Soviet Union managed to produce its own nuclear weapon. The United States has the second largest number of nuclear weapons in the world, after Russia.

Arms industry industrial sector which manufactures weapons and military technology and equipment

The arms industry, also known as the defense industry or the arms trade, is a global industry which manufactures and sells weapons and military technology, and is a major component of the Military–industrial complex. It consists of a commercial industry involved in the research and development, engineering, production, and servicing of military material, equipment, and facilities. Arms-producing companies, also referred to as arms dealers, defense contractors, or as the military industry, produce arms for the armed forces of states and for civilians. Departments of government also operate in the arms industry, buying and selling weapons, munitions and other military items. An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition - whether privately or publicly owned - are made, maintained and repaired, stored, or issued, in any combination. Products of the arms industry include guns, artillery, ammunition, missiles, military aircraft, military vehicles, ships, electronic systems, night-vision devices, holographic weapon sights, laser rangefinders, laser sights, hand grenades, landmines and more. The arms industry also provides other logistical and operational support.

Canada and weapons of mass destruction

Canada has not officially maintained and possessed weapons of mass destruction since 1984 and, as of 1998, has signed treaties repudiating possession of them. Canada ratified the Geneva Protocol in 1930 and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1970, but still sanctions contributions to American military programs.

Deterrence theory military strategy during the Cold War with regard to the use of nuclear weapons

Deterrence theory is the idea that an inferior force, by virtue of the destructive power of the force's weapons, could deter a more powerful adversary, provided that this force could be protected against destruction by a surprise attack. This doctrine gained increased prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War with regard to the use of nuclear weapons and is related to, but distinct from, the concept of Mutual assured destruction, which models the preventative nature of full-scale nuclear attack that would devastate both parties in a nuclear war. Deterrence is a strategy intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started by means of threat of reprisal, or to prevent them from doing something that another state desires. The strategy is based on the psychological concept of the same name. A credible nuclear deterrent, Bernard Brodie wrote in 1959, must be always at the ready, yet never used.

Militarisation of space use of outer space for military aims

The militarisation of space involves the placement and development of weaponry and military technology in outer space. The early exploration of space in the mid-20th century had, in part, a military motivation, as the United States and the Soviet Union used it as an opportunity to demonstrate ballistic-missile technology and other technologies having the potential for military application. Outer space has since been used as an operating location for military spacecraft such as imaging and communications satellites, and some ballistic missiles pass through outer space during their flight. As of 2019, known deployments of weapons stationed in space include only the Almaz space-station armament and pistols such as the TP-82 Cosmonaut survival pistol.

Industrial warfare

Industrial warfare is a period in the history of warfare ranging roughly from the early 19th century and the start of the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the Atomic Age, which saw the rise of nation-states, capable of creating and equipping large armies, navies, and air forces, through the process of industrialisation.

Cold War (1979–1985) 1979–1985 phase of the Cold War

The Cold War (1979–1985) refers to a late phase of the Cold War marked by a sharp increase in hostility between the Soviet Union and the West. It arose from a strong denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. With the election of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and American President Ronald Reagan in 1980, a corresponding change in Western foreign policy approach toward the Soviet Union was marked by the rejection of détente in favor of the Reagan Doctrine policy of rollback, with the stated goal of dissolving Soviet influence in Soviet Bloc countries. During this time, the threat of nuclear war had reached new heights not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Nuclear triad nuclear weapons launchable from strategic bombers, submarines and ICBMs

A nuclear triad is a three-pronged military force structure that consists of land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-missile-armed submarines and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles. Specifically, these components are land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers. The purpose of having this three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation's nuclear forces in a first-strike attack. This, in turn, ensures a credible threat of a second strike, and thus increases a nation's nuclear deterrence.

The military history of Europe refers to the history of warfare on the European continent. From the beginning of the modern era to the second half of the 20th century, European militaries possessed a significant technological advantage, allowing its states to pursue policies of expansionism and colonization until the Cold War period. European militaries in between the fifteenth century and the modern period were able to conquer or subjugate almost every other nation in the world. Since the end of the Cold War, the European security environment has been characterized by structural dominance of the United States through its NATO commitments to the defense of Europe, as European states have sought to reap the 'peace dividend' occasioned by the end of the Cold War and reduce defense expenditures. European militaries now mostly undertake power projection missions outside the European continent. Recent military conflicts involving European nations include the 2001 War in Afghanistan, the 2003 War in Iraq, the 2011 NATO Campaign in Libya, and various other engagements in the Balkan and on the African continent. After 2014, the Russian annexation of Crimea and ongoing crisis in Ukraine prompted renewed scholarly interest into European military affairs.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Cold War:

Effects of the Cold War

In its course, the Cold War became a growing threat to world peace and when it reached its highest form of confrontation, as a direct and indirect consequence, numerous people suffered great misfortunes. Since the end of the war up until its subsequent century, the Cold War had many effects on nation-states and targeted them in many economical and social ways, for example in Russia, military spending was cut dramatically since 1991 creating a decline in the Soviet Union’s military-industrial sector. Such a dismantling left hundreds of millions of employees unemployed thus affecting Russia’s economy and military


  1. Smith, Theresa Clair (1980). "Arms Race Instability and War". Journal of Conflict Resolution . 24 (2): 253–284. doi:10.1177/002200278002400204.