Sunday, February 21, 2016

How likely is nuclear Armageddon?

Trump was - if anything - actually arguing against nuclear proliferation in his idiotic answer.

I just had to go on a rant tonight, apparently. The discussion between the three of us had progressed from the question "Why do humans have drive?" to "Where is the world going to?" and the grim specter of a nuclear Armageddon began to tantalize me.

How likely is a large nuclear exchange, say 10 detonations or more? I would like this answer to be "exactly zero".... but we can't really say that.

While there is something to be said for the fact that in the 71 years since nuclear weapons have first demonstrated their destructive power they have not been used since, I think human kind has been a dangerous flirt in this. There have been several instances where nations have come very close to exchanging nuclear weapons. In sexual parlance, we haven't "done it" yet... still holding to the "just the (nuclear) tip (....missiles) philosophy.

Some close calls:

1962... The Cuban Missile Crisis:

This was scary as fuck, looking back on it. Probably at the time, too, since that's when making actual bomb shelters in your backyard was all the rage. Basically, John F. Kennedy displayed an incredible willingness to bring the world to nuclear exchange for... pride or prestige. Nuclear missiles in Cuba didn't change the picture at all - the U.S. and Soviet Union were able to destroy each other in 15 minutes anyways. They were primarily being sent there because Kennedy had already shown himself intent on assassinating Castro and invading the island.

A great example of how insane it is having people fly or float around with these things is below:

One Soviet officer’s reluctance saved the world from nuclear war. On October 27 (1962), American destroyers forced a Soviet submarine to surface near the quarantine line using depth charges. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the sub was carrying a nuclear-tipped torpedo. The Soviet commander believed that war had started and prepared to fire. Fortunately, authorization from three other officers was needed. Two were in favor. One was not.

The pride and prestige of Kennedy... the desire "not to disgrace our navy" of the Soviet sub commander. Think those human traits have gone anywhere?

1979... Good Old Fashioned Computer / Human Error:

....(C)omputers at the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) headquarters indicated that a large-scale Soviet missile attack was underway.

NORAD immediately relayed the information to high-level command posts and top leaders convened to assess the threat. Their response was swift: crews responsible for launching U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles were put on the highest alert, nuclear bomber crews boarded their planes to prepare for takeoff, and the Airborne Command Post—the aircraft designed to allow the president to maintain control in the event of an attack—was put in the air, though without the president on board. Six minutes later, when satellite data failed to confirm any incoming missiles, leaders decided against retaliation. It was later discovered that a technician had mistakenly inserted a tape containing a training exercise scenario into an operational NORAD computer, simulating a full-scale attack.

Missile silos were readied and pilots boarded their nuclear-armed planes because... the wrong disk was put into the computer....

1999... Right... Other Countries Have These Weapons Now

Fourteen nations possess nuclear weapons... and that includes a place as rational and sane as North Korea. Some of them hate each other. Like India and Pakistan. Sometimes they almost nuke each other:


When we talk about threats to our species, we usually global warming now. But we shouldn't forget nukes. Smart people like Noam Chomsky still consistently bring up the threat of nuclear weapons as one of, if not the threat to human kind. They're used primarily as political weapons, kind of like "get out of invasion free cards" but they do still exist... and will detonate when fired.

While we can hang our hat on the fact that nukes have not been used since 1945 our capacity for violence, pride, and mistakes - both stupid and honest - mean we should count ourselves lucky. I dunno.... if humanity is progressing to a more thoughtful and loving future it would be great to not fuck it up by destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons in the meantime.

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