November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

By |2016-11-01T12:55:22-07:00November 1, 2016|

November 3, 1945 – Before the creation of the CIA, the National Security Council or even the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the American Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), founded at the onset of U.S. entry into World War II with the task of producing intelligence reports for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), was working on critical estimates involving the military capabilities and future intentions of the Soviet Union.  Based on a number of studies that concluded that Soviet ideology promoted inevitable conflict between Soviet and non-Soviet nations, the Joint Intelligence Committee reports convinced the JCS of dire Soviet military intentions against the U.S. and its allies in Europe and Asia.  On this date, a new JIC estimate, JIC-329, focused on Soviet vulnerability to a limited attack with nuclear weapons.  The estimate identified 20 industrial cities in the U.S.S.R., including Moscow, Gorki, Leningrad, Tashkent, Tbilisi, and Baku, that should be targeted for atomic destruction in an effort to blunt a Red Army offensive in Europe or Asia.  JIC-329 was the basis for the earliest known of many subsequent nuclear war plans against the Soviet Union and its allies.  Comments:  Unfortunately, seven decades into the Nuclear Age, there is little doubt that U.S., Russian, and other military establishments continue to devise ever more sophisticated and extensive planning and practice for the unthinkable – nuclear warfighting in a frighteningly large array of scenarios.  Meanwhile, every hour, day, week, month, and year, the risk of nuclear war imperceptibly increases.  Nuclear Armageddon is inevitable unless we resolve to end this insanity by eliminating once and for all these doomsday weapons.  (Source:  Larry A. Valero.  “The American Joint Intelligence Committee and Estimates of the Soviet Union, 1945-47.”  Studies in Intelligence (Unclassified Edition), No. 9, Summer 2000, pp. 65-80.)


November 9, 1934 – Today is the birthdate of Carl Sagan (who passed away on Dec. 20, 1996), a U.S. astronomer, astrophysicist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, cosmologist, science communicator (he produced and wrote the popular Cosmos PBS-TV series which first aired in 1980) who was a consultant and advisor to NASA since the 1950s.  He also helped guide and direct the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo robotic space missions.  This David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, made seminal contributions to the study of planetary atmospheres, planetary surfaces, the history of the Earth and exobiology and his list of international scientific and humanitarian honors is too long to list here.  Dr. Carl Sagan received the NASA Medal for Distinguished Public Service twice and was a recipient of the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences for “distinguished contributions in the application of science to public welfare.”  Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Sagan along with four other scientists – R.P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman, and J.B. Pollack – conducted extensive unprecedented research (reported in a December 23, 1983 article published in the journal Science, titled, “Nuclear Winter:  Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions”) on the global atmospheric and climate impacts of nuclear war.  Their discovery, which has been expanded and explained in more detail over the decades by many other similar scientific analyses, was that the explosion of as few as 100-200 nuclear weapons during a period of a day or so, would inject extremely large amounts of dust and smoke into the Earth’s upper atmosphere causing substantial reductions in light and temperature levels triggering a “nuclear winter.”  This previously unexpected impact of nuclear warfighting would substantially increase the magnitude of nuclear war deaths in a so-called “limited war” (100-200 explosions) and possibly lead to human extinction in an extensive all-out global nuclear war (a 5,000 megaton war).  Comments:  Carl Sagan was also one of the most prominent and vociferously outspoken proponents of ending the nuclear arms race and he spent quite a bit of his valuable time publicizing his views on this and other global threats to humanity.  In a Cosmos episode entitled, “Who Speaks for Earth?” Dr. Sagan expounded magnificently on this and related topics which are, of course, still very relevant today, “The global balance of terror, pioneered by the United States and the Soviet Union, holds hostage all the citizens of the Earth…The hostile military establishments are locked in some ghastly mutual embrace.  Each needs the other, but the balance of terror is a delicate balance, with very little margin for miscalculation.  And the world impoverishes itself by spending a trillion dollars a year on preparations for war and by employing perhaps half the scientists and high technologists on the planet in military endeavors.  How would we explain all this to a dispassionate extraterrestrial observer?  What account would we give of our stewardship of the planet Earth?  From an extraterrestrial perspective, our global civilization is clearly on the edge of failure in the most important task it faces – preserving the lives and well-being of its citizens and the future habitability of the planet…Nuclear arms threaten every person on the Earth.  Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labeled impractical or contrary to human nature – as if nuclear war were practical or as if there was only one human nature.  But fundamental changes can clearly be made – we’re surrounded by them…The old appeals to racial, sexual, and religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalist fervor are beginning not to work.  A new consciousness is developing which sees the Earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself – is doomed!  We are one planet.  Our loyalties are to the species and the planet.  We speak for Earth.  Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring.” (Source:  The Carl Sagan Portal accessed October 15, 2016.)


November 10, 1950 – Enroute from a Canadian air base at Goose Bay to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, a U.S. Air Force B-50 Superfortress bomber, carrying a U.S. Mark IV nuclear bomb that had previously been secretly deployed in Canada, developed engine trouble near Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec and was forced to jettison the 5 ½ ton nuclear weapon at 10,500 feet altitude approximately 300 miles northeast of Montreal.  The crew set the bomb to self-destruct at 2,500 feet as it dropped over the St. Lawrence River.  The conventional blast of the bomb’s high-explosive shaped charges disturbed thousands of area residents and scattered nearly 100 pounds of radioactive uranium (U-238) used in the weapons’ tamper over a large area.  Thankfully, the bomb’s plutonium core or “pit” had been removed.  The aircraft made an emergency landing at a U.S. base in Maine.  But the U.S. Air Force covered up the incident explaining it away as the military practice explosion of a 500-pound conventional bomb.  This secret Broken Arrow was not revealed until the 1980s.  Comments:  Many of the hundreds, if not thousands of nuclear accidents involving all nine nuclear weapon states still remain partially or completely classified and hidden from public scrutiny.  These near- nuclear catastrophes provide an additional justification for reducing dramatically and eventually eliminating global nuclear weapons arsenals.  (Sources:  “Broken Arrows: Nuclear Weapons Accidents.” accessed Oct. 13, 2016 and Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, and William Burr. “Where They Were.” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. November/December 1999.)


November 19, 1985 – In their first face-to-face meeting in Geneva, President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev spoke about moving beyond their nations’ mutual mistrust and suspicions of the past to begin a new stage of U.S.-Soviet relations.  Mr. Gorbachev stressed the need for ending the nuclear arms race while President Reagan expressed his concern about Soviet intentions in the Third World.  Later though at a dinner with Gorbachev and his wife, the President did acknowledge the importance of the nuclear issue as one that “would unite all the peoples of the world.”  Comments:  While both leaders at the later October 1986 Reykjavik, Iceland Summit spoke publicly about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, the military-industrial complex in both nations circumvented these leaders’ desire to negotiate a nuclear abolition treaty.  President Reagan died in June of 2004 but Mikhail Gorbachev, today at age 85, is still concerned that renewed Cold War tensions have brought the world to “a dangerous point.”  On Oct. 10, 2016, Gorbachev criticized both the Obama and Putin administrations for their rhetoric over Syria, the U.S. suspension of talks with Russia regarding a Syrian ceasefire, Putin’s announcement that Russia was withdrawing from a bilateral arms control agreement aimed at reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium, and U.S. support of continued military deployments in NATO countries near Russia’s western border.  The 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner said that, “It is necessary to return to the main priorities.  These are nuclear disarmament, the fight against terrorism, the prevention of an environmental disaster.  Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.” (Sources:  Roland Oliphant.  “Mikhail Gorbachev Warns World Is At ‘Dangerous Point’ Amid U.S.-Russian Face-Off Over Syria.”  The Telegraph.  Oct. 10, 2016 and  Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton. “The Gorbachev File:  National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 544.”  Document-07, (“Dinner Hosted by the Gorbachevs in Geneva”) Nov. 19, 1985, both accessed Oct. 13, 2016.)


November 20, 2013 – An Associated Press story by Robert Burns titled, “Nuke Troubles Run Deep,” summarized a new Rand Corporation study on the performance levels of U.S. Air Force officers assigned to duties relating to nuclear warfighting.  The news was not good.  The Rand report found that overall these officers suffered low job satisfaction and very high rates of “burnout.”  The study also found unusually high rates of court martials in the ICBM force, 129 percent higher in 2011 than the previous year and, just a year later, 145 percent higher in 2012 than in the Air Force as a whole.  One nuclear warfighter reportedly was quoted as saying, “We don’t care if things go properly, we just don’t want to get in trouble.”  Comments:  The combination of human fallibility juxtaposed with the most destructive weapons ever invented yields unfortunately very dire consequences not only for America but for the entire human species as well.  This is why a dramatic and swift reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons must be the top global priority.  Continuing delays in addressing this global imperative are not only irrational but omnicidal.  (Source: accessed Oct. 13, 2016.)


November 24, 1961 – When all communications links, including a number of seemingly redundant ones, between the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) and NORAD suddenly and inexplicably went dead, cutting SAC off from three early warning radar stations in England, Greenland, and Australia, the only explanation possible, it was reasoned, was that a full-scale Soviet nuclear first strike had begun.  As a direct result, all SAC bases were put on high alert and nuclear-armed B-52 bombers scrambled and prepared to counterattack the Soviet Union with hundreds of megatons of nuclear weapons.  Luckily, the order for World War III to begin was never given when it was ascertained that the allegedly redundant communication circuits all ran through one relay station located in Colorado.  The cause for the communication breakdown was the overheating of a single motor.   Comments:  Such false alarms are still possible today although technological verification is more sophisticated and supposedly more foolproof.  It is still true however that the very short response times in nuclear crises, make accidental, unintentional, or unauthorized nuclear warfare a frighteningly real possibility now and in the future.  That is why short of the elimination of all nuclear weapons arsenals, a crucial preliminary step is for the nuclear weapons states to de-alert these doomsday weapons, making it impossible to fire these civilization-destroying devices for at least 72 hours during which time it is hoped that rational minds will circumvent such a catastrophe.  (Sources:  “Seven Close Calls in the Nuclear Age.” accessed Oct. 13, 2016 and Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013.)


November 26, 1991 – Britain exploded the last of 45 nuclear weapons ending a forty-year period (1952-1991) of testing at the U.S. Nevada Test Site on this date.  Nuclear testing by Britain and other nuclear weapons states (which continues today by North Korea) of more than 2,000 nuclear devices has inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to global populations, especially native peoples.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague large numbers of people to this day due to nuclear testing.   The United Kingdom signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) the same day as the United States on Sept. 24, 1996 but unlike the U.S., which has failed to ratify the agreement, the U.K., like most global nations, ratified the CTBT on April 6, 1998.  Recently the United Nations Security Council voted almost unanimously (14 affirmative votes and one abstention) to pass a U.S. draft resolution calling on all nation states to end nuclear weapons testing and to expedite the final ratification of the CTBT.  Ironically, the U.S. and a bloc of 44 nuclear capable nations including China, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan (but not Russia, the U.K, and France) are holding up the permanent end of nuclear testing.  The Republican-controlled Congress has consistently opposed ratification (despite overwhelming evidence that hundreds of global sensing stations have credibly eliminated the possibility of hiding a clandestine nuclear blast) since the U.S. Senate narrowly rejected CTBT ratification by a vote of 51-48 on Oct. 13, 1999.   Even today, some Republicans are so adamantly against the CTBT that they have threatened to prevent the authorization of about $37 million annually that the U.S. contributes to the organization that administers the treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which represents about a quarter of its budget.  Comments:  The citizenry of the United States and the global community, in the last days before the Nov. 8th presidential election, can still pressure President Obama, the Congressional leadership, and other key U.S. political figures, as well as the newly elected 45th President, to make CTBT ratification a top priority in the current or newly sworn-in Congress, along with nuclear de-alerting, ending the Global War on Terrorism (the longest war in U.S. history which, if it continues, increases the risks of nuclear terrorism over the long-term), phasing out civilian nuclear power by 2025, and converting the U.S. energy grid from fossil fuels and nuclear power to green energy in the next 10 to 15 years.  (Sources:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 15, 22, 24 and Kambiz Foroobar.  “U.N. Adopts U.S.-Drafted Plea for Stalled Nuclear Test Treaty.”, Sept. 23, 2016, accessed Oct. 13, 2016.)