Many people are complacent about nuclear weapons.  They would prefer to deny the nuclear threat and put nuclear dangers out of their minds.  Unfortunately, this is a dangerous approach to a serious threat to humanity. There are many ways in which a nuclear detonation could take place, including accident, miscalculation and intentional use.  Any use of nuclear weapons, including by accident or miscalculation, could lead to the destruction of a city as occurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Further, a nuclear weapon detonation could trigger a retaliatory response leading to nuclear war and even broader devastation, including the annihilation of complex life on the planet.  Listed below are 15 possible scenarios for a nuclear detonation.  These are 15 arguments against complacency and for engagement in seeking a world without nuclear weapons.

  1. False Alarm:  A false alarm triggers a decision to launch a nuclear attack.
  2. Unauthorized Launch: Launch codes are obtained by hackers, espionage agents or coercion and used to launch high alert forces.  This could involve the physical takeover of a mobile missile, or the use of codes obtained via pre-delegation.
  3. Accidental Nuclear War:  An accidental launch leads to an escalation into a nuclear war.
  4. Control and Communications failure:  A rogue field commander or submarine commander falls out or deliberately puts himself out of communications with his central command and launches a nuclear attack on his own authority.
  5. “Dr. Strangelove” Nuclear War:  The launch of a nuclear attack by a rogue field or submarine commander leads to a retaliatory strike that escalates into a nuclear war.
  6. A Terrorist Bomb:  A terrorist group obtains nuclear materials and creates an unsophisticated nuclear device or obtains a bomb and succeeds in detonating it in a large city.
  7. Terrorist Bomb Triggers Nuclear War:  A terrorist nuclear attack is disguised in such a way as to appear to come from another nuclear weapons state, leading to a “retaliatory strike” that escalates into nuclear war.
  8. Preemptive Attack:  Believing one’s country to be under nuclear attack or about to be under such attack, a leader of a nuclear weapon state launches a preemptive nuclear attack.
  9. Preventive Nuclear War:  A nuclear weapons state launches an unprovoked nuclear attack against another country perceived to pose a future threat.  An example would be the use by Israel of a small tactical nuclear weapon against deeply buried nuclear facilities in Iran.
  10. Escalation of Conventional War:  India and Pakistan, for example, engage in further conventional war over Kashmir.  The conflict escalates into a nuclear exchange of approximately 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons, resulting in potentially a billion deaths.
  11. Military Parity:  In a conventional war, Russia defaults to nuclear weapons due to its deteriorating conventional military capability.
  12. Irrational Leader:  An unstable and paranoid leader, fearing attack and/or regime change, launches a nuclear attack against perceived adversaries.  There are no democratic controls.
  13. Rational Leader:  A leader, making what he deems to be rational calculations, launches a nuclear attack against perceived adversaries to assure the survival of his country.  There are no democratic controls.
  14. Prompt Global Strike:  The US proceeds with plans to place conventional weapons on some of its inter-continental ballistic missiles.  When launching one of these missiles, it is mistaken for a nuclear-armed warhead, resulting in a retaliatory nuclear attack.
  15. Intentional Nuclear War:  Tensions and conflict between major nuclear powers mount, leading to an intentional nuclear war.  Civilization is destroyed and complex life on Earth is ended.