How do we keep the world safe in a nuclear age?
Fourth edition. November 2017.

Today, nuclear weapons remain a pressing concern and a challenging issue for the international community. Remaining Cold War arsenals, proliferation of new weapons, and threats of nuclear terrorism persist as major policy concerns. Readings, lessons, and simulations introduce students to the history of nuclear weapons and some challenges that they present today. Equipped to wrestle with the political, military, and moral questions that surround the future of nuclear weapons, students role play a simulation in the U.S. Senate, advocate different policies, and ultimately create their own vision for U.S. policy on nuclear weapons. Part I introduces students to the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. Part II examines some of the arguments for and against nuclear weapons, and then looks at three challenges: the leftover arsenals of the Cold War, proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Portrayals of the Soviet Threat

Students examine U.S. portrayals of the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

Mapping the Nuclear World

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

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

Fifteen Minutes

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

Film Analysis

Students watch selected films and consider the relationship of film to historical understanding.

The Options Role Play

Working cooperatively to present different policy options, students clarify and evaluate alternative U.S. policies for nuclear weapons.

Joining the Debate on U.S. Policy

Students deliberate the options presented and consider the moral dilemmas of nuclear deterrence. They then articulate their own coherent recommendations for U.S. policy.

  • Slideshow of the images used in the lesson “Portrayals of the Soviet Threat”

  • Slideshow of the map used in the lesson “Mapping the Nuclear World”

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.

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

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

Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. New York: Penguin Group, 2013.

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.

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

Extensive resources on the issues surrounding nuclear weapons.
A source with numerous links to resources regarding weapons of mass destruction.
A collection of declassified documents on many aspects of U.S. nuclear policy and nuclear crises.
An antinuclear organization that provides reports, data, and policy recommendations.
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