Practice DBQ : Nuclear Weapons & World Security

July 23, 2011

Help your students prepare for the NY Regents Exam with these document-based question exercises modeled closely on the format used in the exam.

To the Teacher:

The following Document-Based Question (DBQ) exercise on nuclear weapons issues can help students practice for such standardized tests as the New York State Regents Exams. To prepare students for the exercise, consider conducting the "Nuclear Nightmares and Nuclear Security" lesson on this website.



Read each paragraph and then answer the question following it. After you have read all of the paragraphs, write an essay in response to item H.


"The States concluding this Treaty... Considering the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war [and]... Believing that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war... Have agreed as follows: ....

Article VI
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament... "

Excerpt from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which entered into force in 1970 and has been signed by 187 nations, including the United States. At a review conference of the treaty in 2000, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China, the five original nuclear weapons nations, pledged "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons."

Question: What are two major purposes of the NPT?


"The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remains the global anchor for humanity's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and move towards nuclear disarmament.... Whatever value the concept of nuclear deterrence may have served during the Cold War... it should be clear that nuclear weapons today serve only as an obstacle to peace and security.... For the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon States under the NPT, their nuclear arsenals are increasingly becoming either a focal point for resentment or cynicism among the nuclear "have-nots," or, worse, a target for emulation for States that wish to pursue clandestine WMD programs."

Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy

Question: Why does Director General ElBaradei think that nuclear weapons are "an obstacle to peace and security"?


"International terrorism is one of the major threats for Russia. We understand as soon as we ignore such components of our defense as a nuclear and missile shield, other threats may occur....We are not only conducting research and successful testing of the newest nuclear missile systems. I am certain that in the immediate years to come we will be armed with them. These are such developments and such systems that other nuclear states do not have and will not have in the immediate years to come."

President Vladimir Putin of Russia

Question: What purpose does Russia have in developing new nuclear missile systems, according to President Putin?


"Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends.... Nuclear attack options that vary in scale, scope, and purpose will complement other military capabilities. The combination can provide the range of options needed to pose a credible deterrent to adversaries whose values and calculations of risk and gain and loss may be very different from and more difficult to discern than those of past adversaries....Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bioweapons facilities)."

excerpt from Nuclear Posture Review statement of the George W. Bush administration

Question: What is the Bush administration's explanation for its view that the U.S. needs both nuclear and conventional weapons?


"Throughout the nuclear age, the fundamental goal has been to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. Now the policy has been turned upside down. It is to keep nuclear weapons as a tool of warfighting rather than a tool of deterrence. If military planners are now to consider the nuclear option any time they confront a surprising military development, the distinction between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons fades away."

Ivo Daalder, foreign policy specialist, Brookings Institution

Question: Why does Daalder think that the Nuclear Policy Review turns nuclear policy "upside down"?


"We should not all get carried away with some sense that the United States is planning to use nuclear weapons in some contingency that is coming up in the near future. It is not the case. What the Pentagon has done with this study [the Nuclear Policy Review] is sound, military, conceptual planning and the president will take that planning and he will give his directions on how to proceed.

Secretary of State Colin Powell

Question: According to Secretary Powell, what is the purpose of the Nuclear Policy Review?


"The core problem is that stopping the spread of nuclear weapons requires more international teamwork than the Bush administration recognizes.... Nuclear weapons, material, and know-how are threats wherever they exist, not only in a handful of "evil" states. The United States cannot defeat these threats alone.... It needs sustained cooperation from dozens of diverse nations to broaden, toughen, and enforce nonproliferation rules-including China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and leading states that have forsworn nuclear weapons, such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Africa, and Sweden. These and other states must be persuaded to strengthen nonproliferation rules.... The nuclear weapon states must show that tougher nonproliferation rules not only benefit the powerful but constrain them as well."

Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Question: What are two key elements in halting the spread of nuclear weapons, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace?


Everyone agrees that the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction are nuclear weapons. That is why the NPT was created 35 years ago. But nuclear weapon proliferation continues and the elimination of all nuclear weapons is no closer.

Using information from the documents and your knowledge of nuclear weapon history, write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs, and a conclusion in which you:

  • compare and contrast different viewpoints on dealing with the dangers nuclear weapons present
  • discuss your own viewpoint and the reasons for it



This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: