The New Cold War

If you are looking for a reason the United States urgently needs to update its nuclear posture review, which is generally done every eight years, look no further than this sentence from the last review in 2010.”While policy differences continue to arise between the two countries and Russia continues to modernize its still-formidable nuclear forces, Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically.”That was then; this is now.

“A resurgent Russia has turned from partner to antagonist as it seeks to re-emerge as a global power,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander, told Congress in March.

Russia has not only morphed from “frenemy” to full-blown enemy since its 2014 covert invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea, but it has also updated its nuclear doctrine to intimidate NATO nations along its periphery, as well as former Soviet states, including Ukraine and Georgia.

It’s a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate,” the idea that a limited nuclear strike with a tactical or “battlefield” nuke could shock the U.S. into freezing a conflict in place.

“It’s one of the most challenging military questions you have,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of America’s nuclear forces, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

Hyten said “escalate to de-escalate” is really a strategy of “escalate to win,” which views the use of nuclear weapons as a normal extension of a conventional conflict.

“It’s important that we look at them seriously, understand what those pieces are,” Hyten testified April 4. “When we say ‘escalate to win,’ what does that really mean? And in order for us to win, we have two choices. One, to prevent that escalation. Or two, to respond in such a way after that escalation that would want to stop any aggression.”

While Russia remains America’s only peer in the area of nuclear weapons capabilities, China has been embarked on an ambitious military modernization campaign that includes both “qualitative and quantitative” upgrading of its nuclear arsenal, according to the last nuclear posture review.

And then there’s North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un has a stated goal of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles with the capability of delivering a nuclear warhead to a city on the U.S. mainland.

Hyten said that while the U.S. has de-emphasized the role of nuclear weapons for the past two decades, its adversaries have done the exact opposite.

“Russia, in 2006, started a huge, aggressive program to modernize and build new nuclear capabilities. They continue that to this day. New ballistic missiles, new weapons, new cruise missiles, significant air-launch cruise missile capabilities, now the ground launch cruise missile capabilities,” Hyten warned Congress. “China has done the same thing. Hypersonic glide vehicles on both sides that bring new threats to bear.”

It is, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, a grave new world.

“As service chiefs, you know, what we do is we look at [trying to balance] capability, capacity and readiness,” Goldfein testified before the House Armed Services Committee in April. “We make strategic trades based on our assumptions of the global security environment. What’s different now? The world’s different now.”

It’s against this backdrop that President Trump directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to begin a sweeping review of all aspects of U.S. nuclear deterrence policy, everything from how many warheads the U.S. needs, to how many delivery systems, to what threats the U.S. may need to counter in the coming decade.

National Security Presidential Memorandum 1, signed by Trump one week after his inauguration, directs Mattis to conduct the review “to ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, effective, reliable and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

Last month, Mattis assigned the task to the deputy secretary of defense and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and set a deadline of the end of 2017.

But even before the formal directive, the work had already begun, Hyten said. And it’s not just one review but multiple studies, including a review of the ballistic missile defenses and the appropriate response to Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with its recent deployment of a land-based cruise missile. “I suspect there will be serious consideration of recommending pulling out of INF treaty and not extending New START,” said James Carafano, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

But Hyten said it appears Moscow is adhering to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty agreement, which calls for both sides to be limited 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems by February 2018.

“From a strategic weapons perspective, I support the limits that are in the New START,” Hyten testified, adding that withdrawing from the treaty would not be part of the review.

Also off the table is consideration of eliminating any of the three legs of the nuclear triad, the Cold War strategy under which the U.S. maintains the capability to deliver nuclear weapons from submarines, bombers and land-based ICBMs.

The 30-year triad modernization plan calls for a new Columbia class of ballistic missile submarines, new B-21 Raider long-range stealth bombers, and new replacement ICBMs known as the ground-based deterrent, along with new bombs and cruise missiles. It is projected to cost $1 trillion.

But Michael O’Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the review should not just be about counting warheads and systems but about the role nuclear deterrence can play in maintaining peace and stability.

“I feel the best focus now may be on counterforce and how much of it we really need to do,” O’Hanlon said. “I don’t think we need to aim for the capacity to substantially disarm the Russians in a first strike, yet much of our planning still does so, explicitly or implicitly.”

But with Russia thinking differently about the role of nuclear arms in the 21st century, the U.S. may have to adjust its calculus too, argued Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain at last month’s hearing on the U.S. Strategic Command.

“Whatever well-intentioned hopes we may have had after the end of the Cold War,” McCain said, “the United States can no longer seek to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy or narrow the range of contingencies under which we would have to consider their use.”

Russia Extends Her Nuclear Horn Into The Arctic


Experts reckon the area could be cover more than £23 TRILLION worth of oil and gas

VLADIMIR Putin has his eyes set on starting a new Cold War – by opening a top-secret military base in the Arctic.

The giant complex on the northern ice cap is believed to be fully-armed with missile systems and nuclear-ready fighter jets.


The vast complex is decked out in the colours of the Russian flag


The vast complex is decked out in the colours of the Russian flag

It is part of a drive to take advantage of trillions of pounds worth of natural resources Moscow believes is buried beneath the snow


It is part of a drive to take advantage of trillions of pounds worth of natural resources Moscow believes is buried beneath the snow

Russia sends world’s largest submarine – Typhoon-class Dmitry Donskoy – to the BalticAnd Russian economists reckon it could hold the key to the Kremlin unearthing almost £24 TRILLION of oil and gas buried deep beneath the snow, The Times reports.

Moscow yesterday released the first pictures of the giant Arctic Trefoil complex on the Arctic island of Alexandra Land – where temperature can drop to -50°C.

More than 150 troops will be based at the clover-shaped compound – which is decked out in the red, white and blue of the Russian flag.

Vladimir Putin had overseen plans for the massive complex on Alexandra Land

Russia Increases the Nuclear Ante (Revelation 15)

Russia developing 152 mm tank gun and small battlefield nuclear weapons

brian wang | April 12, 2017 |
Russia in considering upgrading future T-14 main battle tnks to use the 2A83 152 mm gun instead of its current 2A82 125 mm gun. The 2A83 gun has a high-speed APFSDS shell with a 1,980 m/s muzzle velocity, only dropping to 1,900 m/s at 2 km.

However, Russian engineers have so far kept the 125 mm-size gun, assessing that improvements in ammunition could be enough to increase effectiveness, while concluding that a larger bore weapon would offer few practical advantage.

Russia is both miniaturizing the nuclear warheads and using sub-kiloton low-yield warheads. Battlefield nuclear weapons could be pared with the larger tank gun.

The 152 mm tank gun could penetrate 1 meter of armor.

For 11 years, China has been testing a 140mm gun on one its Type 98 tanks. The 140mm gun could fire an armor piercing round with twice the penetrating power of one fired from a 120mm gun (about 22 mega joules of energy, versus 11), the amount of ammunition carried was reduced by about a third (to 20-30 rounds, depending on the tank). The 140mm shell was about fifty percent larger than the 120mm one, and could probably knock out an M-1 tank with a frontal shot.

When the Armata (T-14) tank gets the 152mm gun, it will be the most powerful cannon to be mounted on a main battle tank of any country ever.

Trump’s Comrade States The Obvious

BN-JB080_russia_P_20150623091509Russia Could Annihilate U.S. With Nuclear Weapons, Trump Nominee Warns

The man President Donald Trump was set to nominate Thursday for a key Defense Department position once wrote an editorial that slammed Russia’s aggressive nuclear posture and the U.S.’ response.

The White House announced it intended to nominate David J. Trachtenberg to serve as the principal deputy under the secretary of defense for policy. In a December 2015 opinion piece for Defense News, Trachtenberg—the president of a national security consulting firm and former Department of Defense staffer—wrote that Russia had taken on a “threatening nuclear posture” and that the current approach left “Americans hostage to nuclear annihilation by Russia” in the name of strategic stability.

“In the most critical areas of nuclear deterrence and defense, it’s time to square the circle between Russia’s actions and America’s response,” Trachtenberg concluded in his Defense News piece. “Bolstering our nuclear offensive and defensive capabilities is long overdue. Let’s get on with it.”

The Trump administration’s ties to Russia have regularly come into question. The U.S. intelligence community determined that the country worked to help Trump get elected over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton through a hack of the Democratic National Committee and an “influence campaign.”

Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn stepped down after he misrepresented a conversation with a Russian ambassador to Vice President Mike Pence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, recused himself this month from an ongoing investigation of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia after it was revealed that he did not disclose his meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the run-up to the election.

Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump have expressed a desire to further their nation’s nuclear capabilities.

Russia must “enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems,” Putin said in December.

Trump tweeted around that time, the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.”

“Let it be an arms race,” Trump said in a statement to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the day after that tweet. “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Why Nuclear War With Russia Is Not In Prophecy (Daniel 7:7)

Nuclear war with Russia is LESS likely under Donald Trump ‘because Hillary Clinton was more likely to use Nato to threaten Russia’

Clinton was more likely to pull Ukraine into Nato ‘putting Russia on edge’, a former CIA analyst and intelligence chief says

A NUCLEAR war is LESS likely under Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton because the Democrat would use Nato to threaten Russia in eastern Europe, a former intelligence chief says.

In recent months Trump has shown an unwillingness to become embroiled in the Ukraine conflict and even suggested sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the annexation of the Crimea and Donbass regions could be lifted.

Donald Trump has guaranteed a trade deal

Nuclear war is less likely under Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton, it is claimed

This is because Trump is less likely to test Putin’s resolve by incorporating Ukraine into Nato

This is because Trump is less likely to test Putin’s resolve by incorporating Ukraine into Nato

Mathew Burrows, a former CIA analyst and National Intelligence Council boss, said this shows Trump views Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the region as less of a “matter of principle” than his Democratic former opponent.

Dr Burrows told The Sun Online that nuclear war could be triggered by Nato attempts to incorporate Ukraine, noting Putin’s Russian military doctrine called for the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons if it was threatened.

He explained: “This is (Putin’s) big legacy – that he got Crimea back from Ukraine and got it away from Nato. If Russia were to have to back down on this and see Ukraine become part of Nato then I think he is willing to use force to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Why WW3 Is Not Against Russia (Daniel 7/8)

I write about national security, especially its business dimensions.

Donald Trump’s election as president signals a big shift in the political landscape. Many observers have commented on how unpredictable the country’s future course now seems. However, there is at least one thing that will not change over the next four years. Avoiding nuclear war will remain the top priority of the U.S. government, because it is the one danger that can destroy our democracy in a day.

Trump understood this from the beginning of his campaign. He said early on that the U.S. needed to modernize its aging nuclear deterrent, and he returned to that theme over and over again in stump speeches. He was right: maintaining an assured ability to retaliate after a surprise attack is the main reason why potential aggressors don’t attack in the first place. So Washington needs to pick up the pace of nuclear modernization.

However, there is more to averting nuclear holocaust than having a robust strategic force. The U.S. needs to avoid getting into non-nuclear conflicts and crises that could escalate to the nuclear level. Eastern Europe is the place where such a scenario is most likely to unfold, because since the Cold War ended, the U.S. has extended security guarantees to former Soviet republics and satellites that lie close to the Russian heartland.

Avoiding nuclear war isn’t just about having a resilient strategic force. You also need modern ground forces that can deter conventional aggression — the kind of aggression that might escalate to nuclear conflict. (Credit: Wikipedia/National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office

For instance, after a NATO summit in July, President Obama reiterated America’s “unwavering commitment” to the security of countries on Russia’s doorstep, proclaiming that “we will defend every ally.” Coming as they did from a president who has reduced U.S. ground forces to a mere two brigades in a region where Moscow enjoys huge military advantages, Obama’s statements were extremely dangerous.

If Russia decided to move on Ukraine or the Baltic states, nuclear weapons might be the only way Washington could avoid quick defeat. NATO strategy envisions such a possibility, which is one reason why Obama’s senior security advisors rebelled against a proposal earlier this year to publicly state the U.S. would never be the first country to use nuclear weapons in a future war. Fact is, NATO strategy assumes it might be.

But because there are no guarantees Washington can get along with Moscow, something else needs to be done to minimize the likelihood a future European conflict will escalate to all-out nuclear war. Washington needs to modernize the conventional warfighting capabilities of U.S. military forces in Europe so Moscow sees little opportunity for quick victory in a future crisis. If Moscow is deterred from launching conventional aggression, there is little danger of a local conflict escalating to unrestrained nuclear war.

U.S. policymakers understood the linkage between conventional strength and nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. They talked about being able to prevail in Europe at each rung on the “ladder of escalation.” Judging from the way the Obama team denuded U.S. ground forces in Europe of warfighting capabilities, it didn’t see the connection. So now, in addition to working on improving relations with Moscow and rebuilding the nation’s nuclear force, the Trump team needs to restore some semblance of conventional deterrence in Europe.

Other than buying the F-35 fighter, which is crucial to defeating Russia’s regional air defenses because it is invisible to radar, this is mainly about upgrading the Army. The U.S. needs more than a “tripwire” defense on the ground, and the forces it fields must make Moscow doubt that a quick victory is possible. It is the illusion of easy success that could lead Russia to launch a military campaign in a future crisis, and thereby lead to nuclear escalation. So the U.S. Army must be able to stop a Russian advance without escalating to nuclear use.

This would not be expensive for a government that spends $11 billion per day. In fact, it could be accomplished by adding a little over one’s day’s worth of federal outlays to the Army’s equipment budget, as long as forces were redeployed to deter aggression more effectively. Basically we’re talking about improving the firepower, survivability and connectivity of combat systems the Army already owns, like the Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, and the Stryker troop carrier. Accelerated modernization of Army helicopters, improved electronic countermeasures and defenses against Russian drones would also be needed.

These improvements need to be made anyway, because Army modernization accounts have been starved for funding during the Obama years, and enemies are beginning to catch up. Seriously — Americans spend more on beer every three months than the Army gets in a year for new equipment. That needs to be fixed, not just because soldiers will die otherwise, but because having a resilient, robust ground force in Europe is our best insurance against the outbreak of a regional conflict that escalates to nuclear Armageddon during the Trump era.



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Former Fox News Star Greta Van Susteren Moves To MSNBC

The Russians know this, and have their own strategy for going nuclear in a future regional conflict. The Russian military’s chief of staff said in 2011 that local conflicts anywhere along his country’s borders could result in use of nuclear weapons, and doctrine has been developed for how Moscow would use nuclear weapons to gain the upper hand in a fight. Problem is, once the weapons of mass destruction start flying, the fight could escalate to an all-out strategic exchange.

If it did, American democracy might not survive. Tens of millions of Americans could die during the first weeks of war. There is little indication President Obama gave any thought to this possibility before extending his ill-advised commitments to countries lying only a few minutes from Russian military bases.

Although President-elect Trump is often derided by critics for not knowing much about geopolitics or strategy, the evidence to date suggests he sees the strategic landscape more clearly than Obama does. Trump understands that when a country has a thousand nuclear weapons aimed at your homeland, you need to work hard to stay on good terms with them. Even if it means conceding they might have legitimate security concerns near their own homeland.

Doctors Too Late For The Scarlet Woman

Doctors’ Group: Neither Candidate Should Have Finger On Hair-Trigger Nukes

This 2014 file photo shows an inert Minuteman 3 missile in a training launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Our presidential candidates each claim, to borrow a phrase, “the best temperament.” What do they mean? Well, simple: I am less likely than my opponent to end life on Earth.

We know this because the competing boasts about temperament arise in the context of whose fingers should or should not be allowed near our planet-threatening nuclear arsenal.

That’s 1,800 nuclear bombs on submarines, airplanes and rockets — most aimed squarely at Russia and ready for launch in minutes. We have another 5,000 or so in storage. (You know, in case we need more). The Russians have a mirror-image arsenal pointed back at us.

Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have warned that keeping nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert is reckless. There have been multiple near-misses and near-launches — cases where confusion or computer glitches forced leaders to make decisions in just a few sweaty, terrifying minutes about whether to Release the Kraken. And yet, in a failure of imagination and leadership, nothing has been done.

Control of this God-like power will soon be transferred to a new president. But do we really want to trust anyone with this situation? Not just with the power to order a nuclear strike — but the responsibility of deciding whether to do so in just minutes, on the basis of sketchy, preliminary information?

There’s been scant comment this political season on why it’s still like this. But that is finally starting to change, and as we move past the November election, the end of nuclear weapons could be the next big thing.

3 Minutes To Midnight

Back in the 1960s, a handful of doctors in Boston formed Physicians for Social Responsibility, and started putting the word out — in part via medical school symposia — that the risks of nuclear war were high, the concept itself an immoral catastrophe. By the 1980s, they had linked with doctors in the Soviet Union to found International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The two groups shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1985.

Thirty years later, concerned doctors again find themselves sounding the alarm, at a time when the dangers of nuclear war are as great as ever. Physicians for Social Responsibility revived the symposia of the 1980s earlier this month in Boston, with a meeting unique for having been sponsored by every medical and public health school in the city, including Harvard, Tufts and Boston universities and UMass.

This renewed push by doctors, scientists and concerned citizens is happening around the world. The Chicago-based Doomsday Clock, which conveys “how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making,” is now at three minutes to midnight — midnight meaning apocalypse. The last time the scientists and Nobel laureates who set the clock’s hands put us this close to midnight was in the Cold War 1980s.

Yet just as in the 1980s, there is also a groundswell anti-nuclear movement again building, and the banning and elimination of nuclear weapons is suddenly a surprising short-term possibility.

Moves To Ban, To ‘De-Alert’

“There’s no reason why you’d think, from living in the U.S., that there is any kind of big international movement to deal with nuclear weapons. But there is,” John Loretz, program director for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said at the recent Boston symposium.

Even as he spoke, in New York a breakthrough resolution sponsored by dozens of countries, including Ireland, Mexico and Austria, was wending its way through the United Nations. This week, resolution L.41 was approved by a U.N. committee and now goes to a full General Assembly vote some time in December. If it ultimately passes as expected, it will lead to negotiations in early 2017 for a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

Nukes would join chemical weapons, biological weapons and landmines as illegal under international law. That won’t make them go away — countries, including ours, can ignore the law. But to quote the Austrian foreign minister, “Experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms.”

This might also encourage our next U.S. president to de-alert nuclear weapons — meaning, take them off of hair-trigger status. Presidents ranging ideologically from Bush to Obama initially favored a de-alert, but then backed down while in office. And yet the process could be as simple as a presidential order declaring that even if we suspect we are under attack, we will not order a nuclear strike of any kind without a mandatory waiting period. Obviously, we would invite the Russians to do the same.

Remember, both nations have nuclear-armed submarines. So if you believe in deterrence, there’s no credibility lost by insisting on a 24-hour waiting period before blazing away. Florida has a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun. Why can’t the U.S. have a similar waiting period before buying an extinction-level event?

‘Before Your Luck Runs Out’

It would be hard to overstate the urgency of this work. There’s a whole rest of the world out there, with its own simmering conflicts and fanatical ideas. India and Pakistan, for example, have recently seen their worst violence over Kashmir in decades.

These nations fought wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, with 47,000 deaths. The last war came as both had just tested their first nuclear devices. Now they collectively have about 230 nuclear weapons. Climate disruption is increasing tensions between them, as they bicker over control of limited water supplies.

“Among all the pairings of nuclear weapons states, [India and Pakistan] are the ones that actually have an established history of going to war with each other over and over and over again,” said Zia Mian, a physicist and the director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security.

All September, “hysterical TV presenters” in India and Pakistan were demanding massive military responses, including nuclear strikes, Mian told the Boston symposium. By October, things had calmed, he said, but “there are only so many times that you can go through this before your luck runs out.”

Dr. Ira Helfand, who heads the Boston chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, followed up with a scientific forecast of the outcome if India and Pakistan were to exchange half of their nuclear weapons: 20 million lives lost immediately, catastrophic global cooling in a week, crop failures from America’s corn to China’s rice, famine deaths for up to 2 billion people.

The same would go for any exchange of 100 of the world’s 15,000-plus nuclear weapons.

‘Banned Once And For All’

The growing drive to ban nuclear weapons has support from around the world: health authorities, the Red Cross, mayors of more than 7,000 cities, former Cold Warriors like George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry. Pope Francis wants nuclear weapons “banned once and for all.”

Last week, U.N. resolution L.41 was endorsed by 15 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Tibet’s Dalai Lama and South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu. On Thursday, the European Union Parliament became the latest entity to endorse the idea.

And what of our American leadership? So far the White House is working to block the U.N. resolution. Instead, President Obama — despite his first-term call for “a world without nuclear weapons” — has endorsed a plan to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to upgrade and modernize the arsenal.

A trillion dollars! That’s the largest public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades — and it’s been conspicuously absent from the national discussion. Instead, our presidential candidates trade boasts over who is backed by more generals or admirals.

By all means, vote for your candidate of choice, but keep the big picture in mind. We need imaginative, far-reaching leadership to rapidly scale down to zero the world’s nuclear arsenals.

Dr. Matt Bivens, an emergency department physician at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford and at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, is on the steering committee of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The Us Russia Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7:7)


Could U.S.-Russia Tensions Go Nuclear?

Believe it or not, hair-trigger launch alerts are still with us—and perhaps even more dangerous than during the Cold War.

By Bruce Blair

November 27, 2015

The Russian warplane recently shot down inside Turkey’s border with Syria fits a pattern of brinkmanship and inadvertence that is raising tensions and distrust between Russia and U.S.-led NATO. Low-level military encounters between Moscow and Washington are fanning escalatory sparks not witnessed since the Cold War. And there exists a small but steadily growing risk that this escalation could morph by design or inadvertence into a nuclear threat.

The backdrop for these concerns is that both the United States and Russia maintain their nuclear command posts and many hundreds of strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert. This is a long-standing practice, or habit, driven by the inertia of the Cold War. The two sides adopted the accident-prone tactic known as launch-on-warning in order to ensure that their strategic forces could be fired before incoming warheads arrived. President Barack Obama’s recent nuclear employment guidance reiterated the need to preserve this option. Our nuclear command system and forces practice it several times a week. So do the Russians.

And believe it or not, Russia has shortened the launch time from what it was during the Cold War. Today, top military command posts in the Moscow area can bypass the entire human chain of command and directly fire by remote control rockets in silos and on trucks as far away as Siberia in only 20 seconds.

Why should this concern us? History shows that crisis interactions, once triggered, take on a life of their own. Military encounters multiply; they become more decentralized, spontaneous and intense. Safeguards are loosened and unfamiliar operational environments cause accidents and unauthorized actions. Miscalculations, misinterpretations and loss of control create a fog of crisis out of which a fog of war may emerge. In short, the slope between the low-level military encounters, the outbreak of crisis and escalation to a nuclear dimension is a steep and slippery one.

Somewhere along this slope, a psychological construct known as “deterrence” is supposed to kick in to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. But deterrence can become an extreme sport during a confrontation, a game of taking and manipulating existential risk, morphing into games of chicken, bluff, coercion and blackmail. The basic idea is to instill fear in an adversary’s mind that events could spin out of control and result in a nuclear war.

That’s especially true since the public doesn’t realize just how little time exists for our leaders to make a decision to use nuclear weapons, even today—and if anything the atmosphere has become even more hair trigger with the threat of cyberwarfare. A launch order is the length of a tweet. Missile crews in turn transmit a short stream of computer signals that immediately ignite the rocket engines of many hundreds of land-based missiles. For the United States, this takes 1 minute. As a former nuclear-missile launch officer, I personally practiced it hundreds of times. We were called Minutemen. U.S. submarine crews take a little longer; they can fire their missiles in 12 minutes.

The last time the U.S. brandished nukes wholesale for the purpose of deterrence was in 1973 when Henry Kissinger and his team raised the global nuclear alert level during the Arab-Israeli war. The aim was to warn Soviet leaders they had better not intervene with troops on the side of Egypt’s encircled military. They had better back down or else face an escalating risk of nuclear war, driven not so much by premeditation as by inadvertence.

Russia’s sounding of nuclear warnings over the Ukraine imbroglio is reminiscent of this Cold-War brinkmanship. The crisis is far from matching Cold War tensions, but there are risk-takers in the game, and we are witnessing the early stages of a spiral of action-reaction cycles along with dangerous unintended consequences.

Close encounters between Russian and Western military aircraft have spiked. NATO fighter planes have made many hundreds of intercepts of Russian warplanes over the past year. Russian warplanes have stepped up provocative overflights of foreign airspace, and also are engaged in muscular interdiction. For instance, a U.S. spy plane probing Russian borders was forced to flee into Swedish airspace to escape harassment by Russian fighters.

At some point these interactions could begin to spin out of control and into what strategist Tom Schelling calls “the threat that leaves something to chance.”

The cycles of action-reaction evident in the Ukraine crisis are leaving more and more to chance. Although the parties seem confident that they are in full control, in fact they are not, and each seems partially oblivious to the threatening nature of their own behavior seen through the eyes of the other party.

In order to reassure U.S. NATO allies in Eastern Europe, we have been flying U.S. strategic bombers to the area, (sans nuclear warheads, but the Russians do not know this for certain), sometimes in provocative formations. Russia initiated or countered with actions and threats involving their own strategic bomber flights along U.S. coastal waters. In the European theater, Russia countered with threats to deploy nuclear-capable missiles (e.g., Iskanders) to new locations.

We also began deploying Aegis destroyers to the Black Sea to reassure allies like Romania. As it turns out, these ships carry dozens of cruise missiles armed with conventional warheads, whose 1,000-mile range allows them to reach all the way to Moscow. By my calculations, these stealthy and accurate weapons could strike without warning and destroy all but the hardest military targets. They could destroy the Kremlin in a flash without warning, along with key Russian installations in its nuclear command, control, communications and early warning network. Moreover, the Russians cannot be 100 percent certain that the missiles are not nuclear-tipped.

That they may pose a decapitation threat probably underlies Russia’s escalatory response: harassment of the destroyers with fighter aircraft and its recent deployment of a fleet of attack submarines to the Black Sea. And in a further escalating response, NATO’s top naval commander has proposed deploying U.S. anti-submarine aircraft to new bases in the region to counter the Russian subs, which now threaten our destroyers, which now threaten Moscow.

Do U.S. leaders understand that the Russians may fear a decapitation threat is emerging, and that this threat may be the underlying driver raising the stakes for Russia to the level of an existential threat warranting preparations for the use of nuclear weapons? I doubt they do.

At some point one side or the other may blink and back off, or maybe not. Tensions could continue to rise until the crisis escalates by intention or inadvertence to the threshold of nuclear use. In the case of Russia, this threshold is low. Russia’s strategy in Europe was devised by President Vladimir Putin himself in the year 2000 in response to NATO’s bombing of the Balkans. The strategy is called “de-escalatory escalation,’ which unleashes tens to hundreds of nuclear weapons in a first strike meant to shock an adversary into paralysis. And so it might, or it might just escalate into a nuclear exchange.

Given the 11- to 30-minute flight times of attacking missiles (11 for submarines lurking off the other side’s coasts, and 30 for rockets flying over the poles to the other side of the planet), nuclear decision-making under launch on warning—the process from warning to decision to action—is extremely rushed, emotionally charged, and pro forma, driven by checklists. I describe it as the rote enactment of a prepared script. In some scenarios, after only a 3-minute assessment of early warning data, the U.S. president receives a 30-second briefing on his nuclear response options and their consequences. He then has a few minutes—12 at most, more likely 3 to 6—to choose one.

Then a short launch order would be transmitted to launch crews.

Our past and continuing reliance on launch-on-warning means that the standard paradigm of stable mutual deterrence based on second-strike retaliation after absorbing a massive attack was and is an intellectual construct without operational meaning. A former four-star commander, retired Gen. George Lee Butler of U.S. strategic forces explains:

“Our policy was premised on being able to accept the first wave of attacks … Yet at the operational level it was never accepted … They [nuclear planners] built a construct that powerfully biased the president’s decision process toward launch before the arrival of the first enemy warhead … a move in practice to a system structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack … ”

U.S. presidents went along with this, albeit reluctantly. They all acquiesced to the imperative of making a quick decision to fire on warning. Ronald Reagan (in his memoirs) complained about having only “six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to release Armageddon!” Although admitting it was an accident-prone policy, top security advisers such as Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft argued in a top secret meeting that it was important for the Soviets to think that the U.S. would follow these rules. “It is not to our disadvantage if we appear irrational to the Soviets in this regard,” as Scowcroft put it.

Common sense tells us this is risky. Early warning teams in the U.S. receive sensor data at least once a day that requires them to urgently assess whether a nuclear attack is underway or the alarm is false. Once or twice a week they need to take a second close look, and once in a blue moon the attack looks real enough to bring them to the brink of launch on warning. The early warning team on duty is supposed to take only 3 minutes from the arrival of the initial sensor data to provide a preliminary assessment and notify the top military and civilian leaders if an attack is apparently underway.

The U.S. and Russia have come this close to disaster on several occasions involving false alarms. On one occasion, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was seconds away from waking President Jimmy Carter in the middle of the night to inform him that the Soviets had launched an all-out nuclear attack and that Carter would have to choose a retaliatory option without delay. As he began to pick up the phone, he received word that it was a false alarm.

If U.S.-Russian relations again deteriorate to a Cold War-level of nuclear brinksmanship, the risk of mistaken launch may be even higher than it was during the Cold War. During a crisis, the severity of which may not even be appreciated by one or both belligerents—to wit, in 1983-84 paranoid Soviet leaders, fearing a U.S. nuclear first strike, were on the brink of launching a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States, and U.S. leaders had not a clue—the pre-disposition of leaders to believe missile attack warning would of course be heightened. And due to the total collapse of Russia’s satellite early warning network, today Russia’s decision time for launch-on-warning has decreased to 2 to 4 minutes. This situation is a mistaken launch waiting to happen.

It is aggravated by a murky new threat—cyberwarfare. Given our poor comprehension of this cyberthreat, it seems imprudent in the extreme to keep U.S. and Russian command systems poised to launch on warning, and nuclear missiles poised to fly as soon as they receive a short stream of computer signals, whose origin may not be authorized.

Given all this risk-taking, which extends with even greater force to other nuclear weapons countries, and given that deterrence itself is nothing more or less than the manipulation of nuclear risk, we cannot reasonably expect nuclear weapons never to be used. We can reasonably expect to witness the use of nuclear weapons in our lifetime, somewhere in the world, probably in the context of an escalating crisis between some subset of the world’s nine nuclear weapons countries—an India-Pakistan nuclear crisis being the leading but by no means exclusive candidate; a U.S.-Russia nuclear confrontation cannot be ruled out.

The obvious solution is to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely, but of course that will not happen overnight. Meanwhile, the following seven measures would help move the dial further away from nuclear midnight. They draw upon the recent report of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction—led by former U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James E. Cartwright and Ambassador Thomas Pickering and comprised of former generals, admirals, defense ministers and national security experts from around the world, including from all of the nuclear weapons countries except North Korea:

One. The United States and Russia could agree to eliminate launch-on-warning from their strategy. They should immediately cease conducting exercises that involve launching strategic missiles on the basis of data from early warning sensors.

Two. They could agree to begin taking their strategic missile forces off of hair trigger, by adopting physical measures such as downloading warheads to storage that extend the time required to launch from the current period of minutes to a period of days. Beginning with an immediate 20 percent reduction in the size of their missile forces on high alert, the United States and Russia should verifiably stand down all their forces in phases over the next 10 years.

Three. All the nuclear weapons countries could agree to refrain from putting any nuclear forces on high alert except under tightly controlled conditions. This agreement would sharply limit the scope and timing of any re-alerting undertaken for training, exercising, or national security emergencies, and would require pre-notification of such activities.

Four. The U.S. and Russia could work with other nuclear establishments to share knowledge, best practices and technologies in the area of safety and security.

Five. The U.S. and Russia, perhaps with China, could lead an effort to ban cyberwarfare aimed at nuclear command, control, communications and early warning networks. These networks should be strictly off limits to cyberattack.

Six. Confidence-building measures agreed to through military-to-military dialogue could help reduce the risk that geopolitical tensions around the world could escalate by design or inadvertence to the nuclear threshold.

In addition, Russian and U.S. leaders and experts need to consult on possible ways to reduce risks of crisis escalation growing out of the current U.S.-Russian tension and enhance prospects of resuming constructive bilateral discussions on a range of core security issues. In the area of nuclear risk reduction, they should begin discussing possible bilateral as well as multilateral measures to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons use worldwide, including accidental detonations, unauthorized “insider” launch, cyberlaunch or degradation of nuclear command-control-communications and early warning networks, false warning of enemy missile attack, rapid conflict escalation leading to rushed nuclear decision-making, and terrorist theft or seizure of deployed or stored nuclear weapons.

Hopefully, they together could identify some important bilateral and multilateral measures—best practices in the areas of crisis communications, prevention of dangerous military activities, nuclear operations, postures, command-control, safety and security—on which we have common ground, as the basis for continued dialogue to advance the most promising measures.

Read more:

The Next One Won’t Be A Miss (Rev 15)


Nuclear War: Near Misses

NATO War Games Unwittingly Put Soviets and U.S. on ‘Hair Trigger’ in ’83, Analysis

In December 1988, Jörg Winger was a West German Army radio operator eavesdropping on Soviet military channels when he overheard a startling message: The Russians wished him Merry Christmas by name.

“That was the moment where we realized that we had moles on the base,” he recalled.

Mr. Winger, now a television producer, and his wife, Anna LeVine Winger, an American author, later harvested that incongruous holiday greeting as grist for a retro series, “Deutschland 83.” They consulted a historian who provided an even more dramatic narrative arc: In 1983, according to recently declassified documents, the Russians apparently became convinced that a NATO nuclear training exercise code named Able Archer 83 was a cover for an actual nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact nations.

The American government finally declassified a presidential analysis of Able Archer and the Russian response that definitively dramatized how the two superpowers came closer to a nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis two decades earlier — and, this time, by accident.

“In this case truth turned out to be at least as strange as fiction,” said Klaas Voss, the historian at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research who advised the producers. “The war scare was as real as it gets.”

Dr. Voss and the Wingers knew of the story but not of the document until it was made public.

According to the Feb. 15, 1990, analysis by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, “In 1983 we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.”

The fact that the Warsaw Pact’s military response to Able Archer was “unparalleled in scale,” the board concluded, “strongly suggests to us that Soviet military leaders may have been seriously concerned that the U.S. would use Able Archer 83 as a cover for launching a real attack” and that “some Soviet forces were preparing to pre-empt or counterattack a NATO strike launched under cover of Able Archer.”

“This situation could have been extremely dangerous if during the exercise — perhaps through a series of ill-timed coincidences or because of faulty intelligence — the Soviets had misperceived U.S. actions as preparations for a real attack,” the report said.

While the Soviets were transporting nuclear weapons to launchers and assigning priority targets, NATO commanders appeared to be either oblivious to the apprehension in Moscow — already jittery over the Reagan administration’s Star Wars missile defense initiative, the deployment of American Pershing II missiles in Europe and the incapacitation by illness of much of the aging Soviet leadership — or discounted it.

In “Deutschland 83,” an East German spy who has infiltrated the alliance command reveals himself to avert a war. In reality, Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Perroots, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of American Air Forces in Europe, made what the advisory board described as a “fortuitous, if ill-informed” decision not to respond to signs of the elevated Soviet military alert.

“Really scary,” the board’s report quoted President Ronald Reagan as saying in June 1984 after he read “a rather stunning array of indicators” of Soviet aggressiveness in the wake of Able Archer compiled by his C.I.A. director, William J. Casey.

The advisory board’s heavily redacted 94-page report was made public last month, 11 years after the National Security Archive at George Washington University, a nongovernmental group that focuses on transparency, asked that it be declassified.

“This new report is the first all-source assessment, as of 1990, and should clinch the debate: This is hugely important. This war scare was real,” said Thomas S. Blanton, the archive director. “Turns out, 1983 is a classic, like the Cuban missile crisis, where neither superpower intended to go nuclear, but the risk of inadvertence, miscalculation, misperception were just really high. Cuba led J.F.K. to the test ban. Nineteen eighty-three led Reagan to Reykjavik and almost to abolition.”

The document came to light as tensions between Washington and Moscow have again escalated.

“Deutschland 83” debuted in the United States in June and will be shown in Germany later this month.

“Whenever you are writing about history, you’re really writing about the present as well,” Ms. Winger said. “I’m not sure we meant the story as a warning, exactly, but certainly we wanted to make people think about all these things. We always imagine history is created by a massive groundswell of choreography, but at the end of the day an individual has to make decisions.”

The Russians were making their decisions, in part, by feeding 40,000 variables into a computer to predict the likelihood of nuclear attack.

“Soviet intelligence clearly had tipoffs” to the Able Archer exercise, the advisory board’s report said, and some scenarios suggested a nuclear first strike.

“It is an especially grave error to assume that since we know the U.S. is not going to start World War III,” the board warned, “the next leaders of the Kremlin will also believe that — and act on that belief.”

A Good Idea That Will Never Happen (Rev 16)

12314487975_b892237866_k-470x260The Need for Nuclear Alerts

Mel Deaile and Al Mauroni
May 6, 2015 · in Commentary

The U.S. general who commanded America’s nuclear forces and a few other notable American national security leaders have forged an alliance of sorts with a number of European, Russian, and Asian military officers and national security experts over a most explosive issue. The Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction, chaired by retired Gen. James Cartwright, is calling for the end of U.S. and Russian nuclear “hair-trigger” attack readiness as well as a series of agreements among the “nuclear club” that would end alert status for nuclear forces. Their report concludes that nuclear forces on alert make a nuclear exchange — accidental or deliberate — more likely because of escalating tensions between the United States and Russia. The effort to reduce the readiness level of nuclear forces is, in reality, a stepping stone for the Global Zero movement to continue its push for total nuclear disarmament. This effort, led by Gen. Cartwright, unfortunately misses the strategic importance of maintaining an alerted nuclear force and uses hyperbole and misinformation to advance a flawed argument.

The report makes the amazing statement that basic deterrence and operational cohesion can be preserved even as these radical “risk reduction” measures are implemented. The report offers an expansive view of what “de-alerting” entails, which includes taking warheads out of the land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles, locking down the ballistic missiles so they can’t be launched within 72 hours, taking targeting data off-line, restricting ballistic submarine patrols, removing all non-strategic nuclear weapons from Europe, pulling back on theater missile defense capabilities, and eventually eliminating all land-based ballistic missiles. The report claims that these steps would increase strategic stability and reduce the chance of a terrorist group obtaining a nuclear warhead. Sure, verifying that Russia, China, and the United States are all complying with these proposed steps would be impossible, since no nation will let inspectors go into launch centers or ballistic submarines to see if these measures have in fact been taken. But these are simply minor details to be overcome through other confidence-building measures. What this report really demonstrates is Global Zero’s deliberate distortion of general deterrence theory. The report does nothing to address the rationale as to why we keep nuclear forces on alert.

Alerted nuclear forces are actually a stabilizing force in international relations because they force diplomats and national leaders to carefully consider their next escalatory step. There has to be a credible belief that a nation cannot avoid a violent response if it attacks the United States (deterrence by punishment), or that its goals will not be met even if it attacks the United States (deterrence by denial). If the U.S. nuclear posture is to deter a nuclear or WMD attack by a peer nation-state, there is no better asset position for that mission than the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on alert.

There are two necessary conditions for nuclear deterrence. First, the weapons must raise the cost of an adversary contemplating an attack on the United States. With 450 launch silos serviced by 45 launch control centers, an adversary must have and be able to launch an arsenal of over 500 weapons to wipe out the ICBM force. An adversarial nuclear state that cannot take out the entire ICBM infrastructure has to consider that a retaliatory strike could be inbound within 30 minutes of an attack. This secured strike capability is the basis of assured destruction and deterrence.

Second, the nuclear assets must be positioned and postured to affect the decision calculus of the adversary. If the ICBMs are taken off-line and the warheads for submarine ballistic missiles are not mated, an adversary who didn’t de-alert its forces could easily take out America’s three strategic bomber bases and two submarine bases, thus putting the United States in jeopardy. Without this alerted force, the entire U.S. nuclear infrastructure could be taken out with a force of a few nuclear weapons. Alerted weapons let the adversary know that any preemptive strategic attack against the United States will not work because it will be impossible to take out the entire nuclear force. The inability to preemptively strike another nation requires alerted, responsive forces, dispersal of forces, and positioning forces so that they cannot be located at any time.

Advocates for taking America’s ICBMs off alert fail to put the concept of nuclear alert in perspective. Alert became a feature of nuclear operations since the advent of the ICBM. In fact, Strategic Air Command assumed its first alert tour on 1 October 1957, three days before the Russians launched Sputnik. The missile age reduced the time for leaders to make a nuclear strike decision from days to hours to minutes. These early alerted forces were nuclear-armed strategic bombers capable of reaching their targets within a matter of hours. The main purpose of the alert force, at that time, was to make sure the United States could get its forces airborne to preserve its secured second strike in case of a preemptive attack. While bombers served as the primary alert force in the early years of the Cold War, the ICBM force slowly grew in capability until 1964 when the number of missiles on alert outnumbered the number of bombers. In 1991, the bombers were removed from an alert posture by order of President George H. W. Bush. Since that time, ICBMs on alert served as the primary deterrent force in the U.S. arsenal.

The commission’s report suggests that sole reliance on the U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet to provide what we call “assured second strike” will maintain U.S. deterrence capability against a first strike scenario. It notes that nuclear bombers could be armed within 48 hours in times of crisis, but might not survive a first strike. While the submarine fleet is survivable due to its stealth, it is not as responsive to national crises as land-based ballistic missiles or bombers, and there would be fewer delivery systems for an enemy to monitor. Also, this recommendation puts all of the risk into one option. If an adversary develops a technology to detect ballistic missile submarines at sea or dedicates more reconnaissance assets to watch the few missile boats move from home base to sea, then our one option to deter a strategic nuclear exchange is in peril. Furthermore, the U.S. triad works because the various legs serve as a hedge in case of a technical or mechanical problem in the other legs. No president or Congress is going to accept that calculus.

While nuclear-alerted missiles provide strategic stability, the argument against them continues to rest on deliberate falsehoods. The first involves the false notion of a “hair-trigger.” The second is that a high-alert status opens the door to a nuclear accident or incident. And the third is that high-alert makes it far more likely that a misinterpretation between world leaders or military forces could lead to a nuclear exchange. All three arguments are full of holes. There is no “hair-trigger” alert. The U.S. military has maintained an unblemished safety record for 25 years.* And constant communications between the United States and Russia dramatically reduce the possibility of such misinterpretations.

What Hair-Trigger?

One of the arguments presented against alert is that these missiles are on a “hair-trigger” — a term used seven times in the Global Zero report. This gives the impression that missiles stand at the ready and all a launch officer has to do is press some red button and nuclear Armageddon occurs. As Gen. Cartwright understands better than almost anyone, this is utterly ridiculous. First, the president is the only person authorized to order the release of a nuclear weapon. The suggestion that the president has less than a few minutes to make a decision for a full-out strategic response based on a tenuous launch warning is a straw man. There is no demand for the president to make a decision within minutes — if there is any doubt, the decision could be to wait until there is clear evidence prior to any retaliation. Secondly, no one individual can launch a nuclear missile. As with all things in nuclear operations, two people must give consent (aside from, of course, the president) before an action can occur. No one person has knowledge of all nuclear codes; therefore, an insider threat is mitigated. Furthermore, crews are directed by relatively short encrypted messages. While the notion of hacking into the nuclear command and control system would make for a great Hollywood movie, the truth is that all messages go through sophisticated levels of encryption so it would be impossible to duplicate an actual message. While the ICBM force has had some bad press recently, none of the infractions ever compromised the integrity of the launch codes or the nuclear command structure.

The Global Zero report states that the risk of the outbreak of nuclear conflict has not decreased proportionally with the significant reductions of nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War. They insist that a “hair-trigger” alert could result in a nuclear exchange during this period of high acrimony on the international stage. By doing so, they ignore geopolitical context. While tensions between the United States and Russia are undoubtedly higher than we’d like, we are not facing anything approaching the massive competition for global dominance that was the Cold War and the tensions that came along with it. This argument and the others advanced by Global Zero commission reveal their effort as just another excuse for taking nuclear weapon systems offline.

The Accident Red Herring

Another Global Zero argument for eliminating the ICBMs and returning non-strategic nuclear weapons to the United States is that it would reduce nuclear incidents or accidents. (An accident would be an unexpected error due to a failure of procedures such as an unauthorized launch or the loss of a nuclear weapon. An incident would be an intentional hostile event involving a nuclear weapon, facility, or component.) This is a red herring. There have been 32 known “broken arrows” (accidents involving nuclear weapons) in the history of nuclear operations. The majority of these accidents involved aircraft carrying nuclear weapons, and a majority of those occurred in the 1960s when Strategic Air Command was flying airborne alert. A significant accident happened in 1980 when a dropped wrench socket hit a fuel line that eventually caused a liquid-fueled rocket to explode and jettison the nuclear warhead some 600 feet downrange. Today’s nuclear weapons are much more safe and secure than during the Cold War. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has no liquid-fueled rockets (they are all solid fuel) and no bombers flying on alert loaded with nuclear bombs.

Misinterpreting Misinterpretations

Finally, those who would de-alert the nuclear force claim that the slightest misinterpretation could lead to a nuclear exchange. History refutes this claim as well. During the Cold War, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft routinely penetrated the airspace of both sides. This was a commonly-accepted practice to test resolve, prod air defenses, and to signal displeasure with current policy or practices. Even today, Russian bombers enter U.S. and European airspace and U.S. reconnaissance planes loiter on the boundaries of Russia. The United States sends its B-2 Spirit bombers to Europe and Southeast Asia to demonstrate political resolve. It did not lead to nuclear war in the past and it will not in the future, because political and military leaders recognize this for what it is — strategic messaging, not acts of war.

During the early days of George W. Bush’s administration, a Chinese fighter aircraft ran into a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft forcing it to land on Hainan Island. While this was an international incident between two nuclear-weapon states, it did not lead to nuclear war or even a change in the nuclear posture of both countries. Additionally, previous misinterpretations of launches did not lead to a nuclear exchange because both sides understand the importance of strategic context. Some like to claim a false target on a radar screen, a fly landing on the scope, or some other fanciful scenario might happen that could cause an unauthorized nuclear first strike. The Dr. Strangelove scenario of a Gen. Jack Ripper launching the nuclear fleet on an attack to preserve the United States’ “purity of essence” makes for great entertainment but is hardly based on fact. As noted above, the president is the only person who can authorize a U.S. nuclear release and constant communications between the United States and Russia (through the White House “hot line,” the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, the State Department, and the United Nations) work to prevent such scenarios.

While the Cold War is over and tensions between the two sides have recently increased, there is no current strategic context under which either side would launch a bolt out of the blue. So does this mean nuclear weapons should be pulled off alert? Absolutely not. No one can forecast the future security environment of Russia and China. We are in a multipolar world in which nuclear weapon states other than Russia also pose an existential threat. It is because our nuclear forces are on alert that the United States remains free from the threat of nuclear or WMD attack. If there are people who cannot get out of the Cold War mentality of “Dr. Strangelove,” it is the Global Zero community and not the Air Force.


*The flight of the B-52 bomber from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base in 2007 while carrying six nuclear cruise missiles was an unauthorized movement. However, the nuclear weapons were not armed and never left the custody of the U.S. Air Force. As a result, this is not considered a nuclear accident, as opposed to the 1966 Palomares incident or 1968 Greenland crash (both of which involved B-52 bombers).


Dr. Mel Deaile and Al Mauroni work at the U.S. Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air University, U.S. Air Force, or Department of Defense.