The follow up to this question: What advice could a time traveller give for use of an atomic bomb to end WW2 while minimizing loss of life or later nuclear brinkmanship

A time traveler is back in time around the time that the US is considering using Nukes, the time period is already modified such that there is no longer a guarantee that brinkmanship won't lead to nuclear war. The above question's consensus seems to be that the nukes will still be used in much the same way they were now. It also seems many stressed that the nukes of Japan were partially to show off their power to discourage Russia, not just to defeat Japan.

So assume that nukes are going to be used in WW2 in much the same way they were in our timeline. However, the time-traveler warns the US of the Nuclear brinkmanship, risk of nuclear winter, and general terror that this all lead etc. He also points out that Russia will get nukes soon since anyone can research it, and spies are heavily involved in stealing US nuclear secrets; the time traveler lack of knowledge and changes in the timeline mean he can't tell them what spies to expect or how to avoid a leak.

The time traveler encourages a policy to the high ups to try to avoid escalation by setting policies on proliferation when they are the only ones with nukes. He suggests the following.

First, as much as possible the US publicly acts upset and horrified by the nukes as they can politically both before and after their use. Play up the "were only using nukes because we think it will save more Japanese lives in the long run, but were still very sorry to use them" whoever they can. After using the nukes pretend the US didn't realize how powerful they would be and are thus even more upset about using them; they start talking of their 'realization' of the threat of nuclear winter if nukes become weapons of war.

Then, immediately after Japan surrenders they propose an anti nuclear proliferation accord; or alternatively perhaps they suggest making the new United Nations roles include preventing proliferation and members of the UN must agree to some anti-proliferation policies and back the UN in enforcing those policies.

In any case the basic treaty sets rules such as limiting the maximum number of nukes to a small number, specifying situations where nukes may not be used in warfare, indicating that countries agree to enacting strong sanctions on violators of the treaty, from trade to declaration of war etc.

The general idea behind this is that everyone is likely to be behind signing something like this while the US still is the only one with Nukes, because they are only restricting abilities they don't yet have and limiting how much the US can exploit their power. The rules are reasonable enough to make most people want such non-proliferation rules to exist in any case, and thus want to sign such a treaty, particularly with fears of the nuclear winter scenario the US describes. Thus it should be easy to get people to sign such a pact as long as the US holds the only nukes.

However, the pact is written in such a way that it does not directly outlaw any use of a nuke, only on mass proliferation and certain egregious uses. Thus the US, as the only nuclear power, is still able to use their nukes to intermediate countries like Russia since they are legally allowed to use them on the small scales they would likely want them for at that time. The pact only becomes relevant once you have two nuclear powers tempted to escalate leading to buildup of weapons. Thus the US is not sacrificing much of it's current bargaining power by backing the treaty, and may be able to use it's nukes to encourage treaty policies that are good for them, such as sanctions on people trying to develop nuclear capabilities to maintain their nuclear superiority for some time.

Given this general advise for moving forward would the US be willing to attempt it, and would it work? That is to say, would the US be too loath to give up their bargaining chip even if it meant avoiding later danger and/or the politicians afraid of the public opinion of voters if they try? If it was enacted, would it even work or would both sides pretend to abide by the treaty while still escalating?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is like asking Sauron to put aside the One Ring after using it to dominate and enslave Middle Earth. (OK, so the US is probably closer to the 3 Elven lords who wield the lesser rings, but being the only nation with nukes is literally owning the One Ring of Power). The real answer is to use the power for good and disarm everyone else right away before they can do anything about it. Since America is a commercial empire, the newly disarmed states can look forward to being occupied by Yankee traders with all kinds of interesting stuff in their sample cases. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Dec 23, 2015 at 21:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Thucydides Off on a tangent, but: Yes, people say the U.S. could have taken over the world when it was the sole nuclear power. But how, exactly? Suppose the U.S. had demanded that every country in the world surrender to it. If some country that wasn't openly hostile had refused, like Spain or Argentina or Siam, would the U.S. have nuked them into submission? Very unlikely scenario. And even if all other countries did surrender, then what? Would the U.S. send troops to occupy them all? Expensive even if the country is submissive. What happens if guerilla wars break out? Etc. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Dec 25, 2015 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ In the post WWII environment, the US had the potential power to disarm all the combatant nations of the world, disband their armies and fleets and airforces, and use the threat of nuclear weapons to make it stick. The positive would be a global "Marshall Plan" where the US provides the capital investment to rebuild shattered economies and employ all the demobilized military forces, while using "soft power" (i.e. yankee traders) to give everyone a different and positive economic and social model to follow. This would not be easy or cheap, or even guaranteed to succeed, but a possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Dec 25, 2015 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ Down vote for insufficient research on actual attempts at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Sep 16, 2018 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ I think that this question would be better on History.SE or Politics.SE $\endgroup$
    – John Locke
    Sep 16, 2018 at 13:52

4 Answers 4


Regardless of the US position, it won't work. The USSR will continue its development efforts. It has already seen what happens when another country is in a position to threaten it (and the US does, by virtue of having nukes). There is simply nothing we can do short of a credible threat to bomb them back into the stone age which will trump that consideration. The USSR (and its conquered client states in Eastern Europe) had just won a world war, and they would have been most unhappy about bending the neck to the Capitalists. They might have signed your proposed treaty, but from their point of view they had little to gain by adhering to it. The benefits of building up a nuclear arsenal were simply too tempting.

"Treaties are like roses and young girls: they last while they last." - DeGaulle


I don't doubt that a carefully-worded treaty and well-designed set of policies could slow down and limit nuclear proliferation, but it's hard to imagine any scenario that would stop it completely, or even slow it down by a lot.

Once one country has nuclear weapons, they have an advantage over every other country. No one wants to be in a position of being vulnerable. Sure, if everybody has nuclear weapons, there's the danger that a total nuclear war could cause a holocaust. Whether that ends all life on Earth or "only" kills a few hundred million people and makes life miserable for the rest for decades or more, I think we'd all agree it's a bad thing. But if your enemy has nuclear weapons and you don't, they can threaten to wipe out your country and there's little or nothing you can do in response. You are totally at their mercy. No one wants to be in that position.

Even if you are convinced that the country with the nuclear weapons has no intention to harm you or threaten you ... they have no such intention TODAY. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Maybe some dispute will come up that will turn ugly. Maybe new leaders will come to power who have different policies. And you don't want to wait until a crisis comes and then scramble to develop nuclear weapons. That process could take years. Any rational national ruler will start now, just to be safe.


Don't forget that it wasn't the case that the US invented the bomb, then everyone else realised and started their own efforts.

Other countries were working on nuclear weapons in parallel, in particular the UK and Germany. But neither country could afford to put huge resources aside to successfully make a weapon; Germany simply failed in the end, and the UK pooled its efforts with the US to create the Manhattan project. The USSR would almost certainly have been looking in to nuclear weapons and likely obtained materials and research after invading Germany.

So there are at least two countries who would be actively acquiring nuclear weapons anyway, one of whom having a huge incentive to have their own weapons and little to sign a treaty. Perhaps a pre-emptive arms limitation treaty similar to SALT may have made a difference, but that came along by itself eventually (and without any weapons being used in the interim).


(Wall Of Text questions are definitely frowned upon.)

They did.


The Baruch Plan was a proposal by the United States government ... during its first meeting in June 1946. The United States, Great Britain and Canada called for an international organization to regulate atomic energy

The plan proposed to:

  1. extend between all countries the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends;

  2. implement control of nuclear power to the extent necessary to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes;

  3. eliminate from national armaments atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction; and

  4. establish effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying States against the hazards of violations and evasions

The US agreed to turn over all of its weapons on the condition that all other countries pledge not to produce them and agree to an adequate system of inspection.

The Soviets rejected this plan on the grounds that the United Nations was dominated by the United States and its allies in Western Europe, and could therefore not be trusted to exercise authority over atomic weaponry in an evenhanded manner


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