GENS4008 Nuclear Arms and the New World Order

The aim of this course is to discuss the problem of nuclear weapons: how they work, what their effects are, and how we might get rid of them. The subject involves a mixture of science and international relations, and is usually taught jointly by physicists and political scientists.. In talking about arms control issues, we are inevitably drawn into a discussion of the ‘New World Order’, and the shape of things to come.


Last updated, July 2008

Chris Hamer

Information for 2008


The First Year Teaching Unit, a separate unit within the School of Physics, is responsible for teaching the subject. Professor M. Burton is the Director of this unit, located in Room 03, Old Main Building (ext. 4542).

The subject Co-ordinator is A/Prof. C.J. Hamer, Room 106, Old Main Building. Enquiries regarding content, assessment, etc. should be directed to Prof. Hamer in the first instance, or the First Year Teaching Unit in the second instance.


If you are absent from any University class with legitimate reason, e.g. illness, you should report that fact to the Registrar, in the Chancellery, together with any supporting documents, e.g. medical certificates. This is of particular importance as your absence may affect your final assessment grade in a subject.

If you discontinue “Nuclear Arms and the New World Order” you should notify the Physics First Year Teaching Unit (Room 03), and also complete and lodge the appropriate form with the Registrar.

Changes of address should be notified in writing to the First Year Teaching Unit and to the Registrar.

Course Outline

In this subject, students are invited to study and debate various questions connected with nuclear weapons, which constitute perhaps the ultimate threat to our security and environment. No previous knowledge is assumed.

We first look briefly at the international political system, and the principal actors on the world stage. We discuss the role that warfare has played in international affairs over the centuries, and the factors driving the arms race.

Next we ask how a nuclear bomb actually works, and the biological and environmental effects its explosion might have. We discuss the effects of blast, heat and radiation, and the possibility of a “nuclear winter”. We look at the strategies developed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact for the deployment and use of nuclear weapons.

Then we review the various attempts to control nuclear arms, including the recent INF and START treaties. Means of verifying these agreements are mentioned.

Finally, we discuss political means by which the threat of nuclear weapons might be removed forever. Various systems of collective security are reviewed, including the United Nations and the European Union. We finish on the topic of the “New World Order”, and where it might lead us in the future.


  • The International Political System
  • Nuclear Processes and Reactions
  • Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Types and Development.
  • Effects of a Nuclear Bomb: Blast, Heat, Radiation.
  • Environmental and Biological Effects of Nuclear Weapons
  • Some current issues such as the National Missile Defense (NMD) program are discussed
  • Arms Control Treaties
  • Current Issues in Nuclear Arms Control
  • The United Nations
  • The European Union
  • The Search for Common Security



To be advised


A/Prof. C. Hamer (Course Co-ordinator)            School of Physics


To be advised

The class will be divided into tutorial groups, beginning in Week 2 of the Session.

The tutorials will consist of presentations and debates by students on questions associated with the course, and discussion of the material presented in lectures.


There will be four components to your assessment as shown above.

a)      An in-session 1 hour examination consisting of short essay questions, contributing 20%

b)      An essay to be handed in by the end of week 11, contributing 50%

c)      An oral presentation on a topic for discussion, contributing 15%

d)      A mark for participation during tutorials, contributing 15%


(i)    Your final result will be notified to you by the university in the usual fashion

(ii)  Additional assessment after the final examination period at the end of the session may be awarded only on the grounds of documented illness or other extenuating circumstances. Under University regulations any such documentation must be submitted within 7 days of the end of session examination. Documentation submitted after this 7 day period will not be considered.

(iii)  An application for review of results may only be made at the end of the session. Such a review is not a reassessment. As the calendar states:

“A review of a result is not a detailed reassessment of a student’s standard of knowledge and understanding of, and skills in, the subject. It is rather a search for arithmetic error in arriving at the composite mark and for any gross and obvious error in assignment of marks in components of the final composite mark.”


A list of essay topics will be given out at the beginning of the course. Each topic may be chosen by one person in each tutorial group, so the essay topics must be booked with your tutor on a first come, first served basis.

An essay of about 2,000 – 3,000 words is required. Handwritten reports are acceptable, but if your handwriting is not legible, please have the report typed.

Essays must be submitted by 5:00 pm on Friday of week 11 of session.

They must be handed to your tutor, or else to the First Year Physics Unit (Room 03).

A guide to writing essays will be handed out at the beginning of the course. Make sure you read and understand it, especially the sections on including references and avoiding plagiarism. “Any argument, quote or idea taken from a reference source and included in the essay without acknowledgement is termed plagiarism.” If plagiarism is detected in an essay, the essay will be failed and disciplinary action taken.


Each student will make an oral presentation to his/her tutorial group, putting the case for one side of a debated issue. This presentation will be assessed, counting 15%.

Reference Books

For reasons of cost there is no recommended text for the subject.


You should find the following reference books useful.

  • D.S. Papp, Contemporary International Relations
    A standard textbook on international relations
  • D.W. Ziegler, War, peace, and international relations
    Another textbook
  • K. Tsipis, Understanding Nuclear Weapons A general description in laymen’s terms.
  • Morris McCain, Understanding Arms Control
  • R.Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb;
    Dark Sun: The making of the Hydrogen Bomb.
    A Pulitzer prize-winning account.
  • A.B. Pittock: Beyond Darkness An Australian perspective on the effects of nuclear weapons.
  • D. Ball: A Suitable Piece of Real Estate Functions of U.S. bases in Australia.
  • K. Suter: Alternative to War
  • L.S. Wittner: One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement
  • C. Hamer: A Global Parliament (now available on-line)