||The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand. (September 2011)|
A nuclear war is a war in which the opposing sides fight with nuclear weapons. No full-scale nuclear war has ever happened, but because nuclear weapons are extremely powerful and could cause destruction throughout the world, the possibility of nuclear war has had a great effect on international politics.
Nuclear bombs were first invented during the Second World War and were used by the United States to bring about the surrender of Japan. Two bombs were dropped, one each on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are still the only nuclear weapons that have ever been used in fighting a war. At that time only the USA had the technology needed to make the bomb, but within a few years the Soviet Union had developed it too. This led to the Cold War, in which the USA and the Soviets were enemies and each had large stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but did not dare to use them against each other, either directly or by attacking the other country's allies. Since either country could be completely destroyed by the other's weapons, nuclear war could no longer be limited to the use of only one or two bombs; if they were used anywhere by one side, the other would attack with its own nuclear weapons, and the fighting would almost certainly escalate (become greater). This situation came to be known as the "balance of terror," or Mutually Assured Destruction, and prevented conflicts between the two superpowers from leading to a third world war.
Since the end of Communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe, tensions between America and Russia have eased and war has become less likely. However, today there is more worry about the spread of bomb-making technology. Countries around the world who already have their own bombs include Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea; as all kinds of technology tend to become cheaper and easier to get hold of, there is a fear that nuclear weapons could become available to countries with unstable governments. There is also the possibility that terrorists might be able to build nuclear weapons and use them.
Nuclear war in popular culture [change]
Ever since the end of World War Two, writers, film-makers and artists have created works imagining how a nuclear war might happen and what life would be like afterwards. Most have pictured widespread death and destruction, and a grim post-holocaust world where a few survivors struggle to live without power, medicine or food. Some have pictured civilisation breaking down completely, and primitive societies developing, with the past world becoming forgotten.