How do we keep the world safe in a nuclear age?
Third edition. March 2013.

Today, the world faces many complex challenges. Climate change, terrorism, and international pandemics crowd the headlines of the newspapers. For many, understanding the challenges facing the world is overwhelming. Perhaps no issue can seem more overwhelming than nuclear weapons. We can see the results of terrorism, environmental issues, and disease, yet for most of us nuclear weapons remain out of sight and out of mind. For many, the abstract theories and jargon that surround nuclear weapons combined with the nearly unimaginable consequences make thinking about the challenges of nuclear weapons difficult.

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons gives students the tools they need to wrestle with the questions that surround the future of nuclear weapons.


The readings introduce students to the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. Students will examine some of the arguments for and against nuclear weapons and then look at three challenges: (1) the leftover arsenals of the Cold War, (2) proliferation, and (3) the threat of nuclear terrorism.


Portrayals of the Soviet Threat

Students examine the Soviet threat as it was perceived during the Cold War.

Songs about Nuclear Weapons

By analyzing lyrics and watching video, students explore the relationship between political events and popular culture.

Mapping the Nuclear World

Students analyze maps and data to draw conclusions about the status of nuclear weapons stockpiles today.

Fifteen Minutes

Students stage a fictional depiction of presidential decision making during the minutes before a potential nuclear attack.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively to present different policy options for the United States to an undecided group of senators, students are able to clarify and evaluate alternative policies concerning nuclear weapons.

Morality and Deterrence

Students begin to understand the complex moral conundrums associated with nuclear weapons through examination of a well-used analogy for deterrence.

Film and Nuclear War

Students watch selected films and consider the relationship of film and political ideas.

Other WMD

Utilizing the internet, students research information on biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
What are the dangers of nuclear weapons?
Why are some countries allowed to have nuclear weapons and others not?
Why did North Korea develop nuclear weapons?
  • To be used during Day 1 activity of The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.

  • To be used during the Day 2 activity of The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.

  • Interesting and important materials on nuclear weapons.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Busch, Nathan E. and Joyner, Daniel H. (eds.) Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Future of International Nonproliferation Policy (Studies in Security and International Affairs) (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2009) 360 pages.

Mueller, John E. Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (New York: Oxford University Press 2009) 336 pages.

Sagan, Scott and Waltz, Kenneth. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012) 288 pages.

Tannenwald, Nina. The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (Cambridge Studies in International Relations) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) 472 pages.

Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 2000) 361 pages.

Extensive resources on the issues surrounding nuclear weapons.
A source with numerous links to resources regarding weapons of mass destruction.
This collection includes declassified documents on many aspects of U.S. nuclear policy and nuclear crises including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Will rising tensions between the United States and North Korea lead to nuclear war?
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