Nuclear Defense Strategies – The nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia, left-over from the Cold War, present the world with its greatest danger. These two arsenals have 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. The nuclear defense strategies for Russia and the U.S. are similar. Within minutes upon receiving instruction to fire, either one or both countries can launch thousands of missiles. These strategies are fatally flawed because launching thousands of nuclear weapons could destroy all countries including themselves.
Global Danger – In a study made by the World Health Organization, they found that a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia could kill one billion people outright. In addition, it could produce a Nuclear Winter that would probably kill an additional one billion people. It is possible that more than two billion people, one-third of all the humans on Earth, would be destroyed almost immediately in the aftermath of a global thermonuclear war. The rest of humanity would be reduced to prolonged agony and barbarism. These findings are from a study chaired by Sune K. Bergstrom (the 1982 Nobel laureate in Physiology and Medicine) nearly 20 years ago. (1)
Subsequent studies have had similar findings. Professor Alan Robock says, “Everything from purely mathematical models to forest fire studies shows that even a small nuclear war would devastate the earth. (2)
Rich Small’s work, financed by the Defense Nuclear Agency, suggests that burning cities would produce a particularly troublesome variety of smoke. The smoke of forest fires is bad enough. But the industrial targets of cities are likely to produce a rolling, black smoke, a denser shield against incoming sunlight.(3)
The late Dr. Carl Sagan and his associates in their studies found that a nuclear explosive force equal to 100 million tons of dynamite could create a global nuclear winter. (4) The U.S. and Russia each have on alert a nuclear explosive power more than 10 times greater than that needed to create a nuclear winter.
Nuclear explosions with temperatures of 3,000 to 4,000 degrees centigrade at ground zero could start giant flash fires leaving large cities and forests burning with no one to fight them. Nuclear explosions can also lift an enormous quantity of fine soil particles into the atmosphere, creating more than l00,000 tons of fine, dense, dust for every megaton exploded on a surface. (5) This dust would add to the darkness and cold.
Explosive Power Compared – Nuclear weapons are far more powerful than is generally realized.
*The terrorist bomb that was detonated outside an office building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killed 168 people. This fertilizer and fuel bomb weighted 3 and 1/2 tons. (6)
* A small nuclear warhead, that one person can lift can have an explosive power equal to 40,000 tons of dynamite, or 8,000 trucks each carrying 5 tons of dynamite, or 3 Hiroshima size bombs
*One average size U.S. strategic nuclear warhead has an explosive force equal to 50,000 trucks each carrying 5 tons of dynamite.
*If 1,000 of the average size 0U.S. warheads were used they could produce an explosive force equal to 50 million trucks each carrying 5 tons of dynamite.
*One average size Russian strategic nuclear warhead has an explosive power equal to 40,000 trucks each carrying 5 tons of dynamite. (7)
Leader’s Concern – General Lee Butler (USAF), former head of the US Strategic Command, said, “… twenty nuclear weapons would suffice to destroy the twelve largest Russian cities with a total population of twenty-five million people and therefore that arsenals in the hundreds, much less in the thousands, can serve no meaningful strategic objective.” (8) Twenty nuclear warheads is less than one percent of the nuclear weapons that the U.S. has set for hair-trigger release.
Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, says there was no long-range war plan. Neither Russia nor the U.S. wanted to get behind. Each side strove to build the greatest number of nuclear weapons. More importantly, he said, the totals far exceeded the requirements of any conceivable war plan. (9)
Accidental Nuclear War – There have been at least three times in the past that the U.S. and Russia almost launched to false warnings. Each time they came within less than 10 minutes of launching before learning the warnings were false.
* In l979, a U.S. training tape showing a massive attack was accidentally played.
* In l983, a Soviet satellite mistakenly signaled the launch of a U.S. missile.
* In 1995, Russia almost launched its missiles because a Norwegian rocket studying the northern lights was mistakenly taken as the start of a nuclear attack. (10)
False warnings are a fact of life. For example, during an 18-month period in 1979-80 the U.S. had 147 false alarms in its strategic warning system. (11)
Casper Weinberger, when he was President Reagan’s Defense Secretary, said that since an anti-ballistic missile defense could require decisions within seconds there would be no time for White House approval. Hitting a missile having a head start and going thousands of miles per hour does not allow much time to assess whether a warning is false or not. (12) Do we want computers determining our fate?
Action – All countries with nuclear weapons need to assess what would be the consequences of their use, including possibility of self-destruction. Reporting these findings to the public could help build a better understanding of the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
General Butler has said the world can immediately and inexpensively improve security by taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. (13)
Reference and Notes
1. Sagan, Carl. The Nuclear Winter, Council for a Livable World Education, Boston, MA, 1983.
2. Robock, Alan. “New models confirm nuclear winter,’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, September 1989, pp.32-35.. .
3. Blum, Deborah, Scientists try to predict nuclear future from forest fires, The Sacramento Bee. Nov. 28, 1987.
4. Sagan, Op. Cit.
6. Hamilton, Arnold. “McVeigh forgoes 2 final appeals,“ Contra Coast Times, June 8, 2001.
7. Norris, Robert S. and Arkin, William. “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,”’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/Aug. 96.
8. Butler, Lee. Talk at the University of Pittsburgh , May13, 1999.
9. McNamara, Robert. Blundering Into Disaster, Pantheon Books, New, York, 1986.
10. Babst, Dean. “Preventing An Accidental Armageddon,” Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Feb., 2000.
11. Hart, Senator Gary and Goldwater, Senator Barry, Recent False Alerts from the Nation’s Missile Attack Warning System, a report to the Senate Armed Forces, 9 October, 1980, pp. 4 & 5.
12. Strategic Defense and Anti-Satellite Weapons, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 25, 1984, pp. 69-74.
13. Schell, Jonathan, “The Gift Of Time,” The Nation, Feb. 8, 1998, p. 58.