With President Trump in possession of the nuclear launch codes, I have a feeling that many people who’ve neglected nuclear weapons as an important cause area may begin to sit up and take notice. This is a good thing. There currently exist basically no checks and balances on a US President’s ability to go to nuclear war. Harold Hering was cashiered from the Air Force in 1973 after asking (on the subject of nuclear weapons launch) “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”. Nothing has changed since then.
This post series is meant as a non-exhaustive primer on the (declassified) physical and strategic realities of nuclear weapons. It’s supposed to get you up to the point where you can begin asking the right questions in a relatively short time period. If you want more information, I’ve included relevant links (mainly to Wikipedia) at the end of every section. The quality of Wikipedia does vary when it comes to nuclear weapons, so take what it says with some salt.
One final caution: everything in this post series could be obsolete and we would have no real way of knowing. Nations reserve their highest level of classification for their nuclear capabilities and plans. Some of these plans and capabilities can be inferred from what we know of the physics of nuclear weapons or by looking for equilibriums between decision makers, but a lot is hidden from public view.
2.0 Basic Science
3.3 Next Steps
4.0 Nuclear Weapon Design
4.1 Gun Assembly Design
4.2 Implosion Design
4.3 Miniaturizing Weapons
4.4 Boosted Weapons
4.5 Alarm Clock/Sloika
4.6 Teller-Ulam Design
5.0 Nuclear Weapon Effects
5.2 Direct Effects
5.2.3 Direct Radiation
5.3 Indirect Effects
6.0 Nuclear Delivery Mechanisms
6.3 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles
7.0 Nuclear Weapon Strategy
7.1 Tactical and Strategic Weapons
7.2 First Strike, Second Strike, Counterforce, Countervalue
7.3 Mutually Assured Destruction
7.4 The Nuclear Triad
7.5 Current Nuclear Strategy
7.5.3 India and Pakistan
7.5.4 UK and France
7.5.5 North Korea
7.5.8 The United States of America
8.0 High Value Anti-Nuclear Activism
8.1 Tactical Weapons
8.2 Arms Reduction Treaties
8.3 Anti-Ballistic Missiles
Laser Enrichment – How It Works
Laser Enrichment – Proliferation
North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program FAQ
The Graph Model of Conflict Resolution As Applied to the Current North Korea Crisis
The Graph Model of Conflict Resolution Sensitivity Analysis
The (Nuclear) International Monitoring System
I’ve also published an introductory presentation: Nuclear Weapons Explained Backwards
As I receive feedback, I intend to update this post series. All major changes (e.g. not copy editing) will be posted here.
February 5, 2017
- In 3.0 Proliferation, clarified that the design of a nuclear weapon is at least as challenging as enrichment, if not more so.
- In 7.5.5 North Korea, clarified my stance on North Korean fizzles and underlined the danger that even relatively small weapons pose.
February 12, 2017
- Added the first “Special Topics” post: Laser Enrichment.
- In 3.0 Proliferation, added a reference and link to laser enrichment.
April 1, 2017
- Significant rewrites to the first part of section 3.0 Proliferation.
- Added a new section to the Proliferation post, covering Weapons Grade Plutonium.
December 19, 2017
- Added link to the North Korea Nuclear Weapons FAQ
- Added links to my two relevant GMCR posts
- Added link to Nuclear Weapons Explained Backwards
April 14, 2019
- Added link to my post on the International Monitoring System