Writing by Elise Langford // Photograph by Sandra Lazzarini
With tensions rising between North Korea and the United States of America, it can be hard to understand the terminology used surrounding nuclear weapons, let alone predict what will happen
next. At the moment it seems as though Trump’s aggressive tweets and Kim Jong-un’s insults may
actually end humanity, or at least, humanity as we know it.
While this is a pretty darn depressing thought, it helps to see the positives. Nuclear war might
happen, so… try that new hobby you’ve been meaning to for ages! Ask your crush out! Dye your hair an insanely bright colour! Drop out of school/uni/work to pursue a career in flame dancing!
For those less radical amongst us, you could always arm yourself with enough knowledge to
understand the lingo used in these crazy times. Think of this as your nuclear knowledge cheat-sheet – a simple guide to understanding the terms commonly used when nuclear weapons are being discussed.
Weapons of mass destruction:
This is a term used broadly to describe weapons created and manipulated by humans to cause
damage and suffering on a large scale. The use of WMDs is illegal, immoral, and seen as a last resort, as they can inflict huge amounts of damage to human lives and cause environmental destruction. WMDs include biological (deliberately spreading harmful or deadly diseases), chemical (gases and poisons), and nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons vary in their size, composition, destructive abilities, and design. The first nuclear
weapons were atomic, with the more destructive hydrogen bombs now favoured by those looking to update their nuclear arsenal. Think of atomic weapons as the flip-phones of the nuclear world, and atomic weapons as the latest model iPhone. Regardless of the type of nuclear weapon, it is well- accepted that the use of any nuclear weapon would cause horrendous damage to humanity and the environment.
Nuclear deterrence theory:
Nuclear deterrence theory is the idea that possessing nuclear weapons will protect you from other
types of war. In other words, foreign countries will be too scared of nuclear attack to invade you,
threaten you, or fight you with conventional armies. This theory is supported by a fair amount of
academic experts and security strategists, but is not foolproof. It assumes that countries will always act sensibly and predictably… two traits Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have often avoided. It also assumes that more countries having nuclear weapons is a good thing (cos they won’t fight each other), which is tricky because the more nuclear weapons = the higher chance of an accident.
The fancy way of saying an increasing amount of nuclear weapons. Proliferation is a fun word to use to describe non-nuclear things too. For example: ‘I ignored my homework and by the end of the week it had proliferated’. Your teacher will be so impressed that they will forget about your unfinished homework. Thank me later.
The Cold War:
The Cold War began in the aftermath of World War Two, and was between the United States and
the Soviet Union (USSR), and their respective allies. The US and the USSR had major ideological
differences, and furiously experimented to create and modernise nuclear weaponry. The conflict between the two powers was complex and largely revolved around ideological and financial differences. The main difference between the Cold War and international conflicts before it was that neither the US nor the USSR dared infuriate the other too much, as nuclear deterrence theory in action meant that military action would have been disastrous. The decades-long war only “ended” (the defining moment of defeat is still debated by many) due to financial ruin and in-fighting within the USSR.
A term used to identify the states with nuclear weapons. As far as we know, there are eight nations
currently with nuclear weapons. These are the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel is suspected to have nuclear weapons but will not confirm this for the UN. Some other nations have previously had nuclear weapons, but currently do not.
United Nations Sanctions:
The United Nations (UN) is attended by nearly every nation on earth, and is the closest thing to a
world government that we have. Its power is arguable, as it often only sends ‘strongly worded
letters’ to countries and individuals who do the wrong thing. One tactic that it uses to try and control misbehaving nations is issuing sanctions, which are basically rules. Sanctions can restrict trade, restrict a nation’s access to the global community, bar it from banks, or other punishments the UN sees fit. North Korea has recently received the strictest sanctions ever issued by the UN.
Websites to check out if you’re interested in learning more: