The warning comes as the Pentagon begins an extensive review of its nuclear arsenal.
On Sept., 26, 1983, shortly after midnight, the Soviet Oko nuclear early warning system detected five missiles launched from the United States and headed toward Moscow. Stanislav Petrov, a young lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Force, was the duty in the Serpukhov-15 bunker that housed the Oko command center. Petrov was the man in charge of alerting the soviets about a nuclear attack, which would trigger a retaliatory strike. He determined that the Oko had likely malfunctioned and the alarm was false. The Americans would not start World War III with a quintet of missiles (risking total annihilation.) It was a daring judgment call. He was, of course, right. As the U.S. prepares to undertake a new nuclear posture review to determine the future direction of the nation’s nuclear weapons, a report from a United Nations research institute warns that the risks of a catastrophic error — like the one that took place that early morning in 1983 — are growing, not shrinking. Next time, there may be no Lt. Col. Petrov in place to avoid a catastrophe.
On Monday, the U.S. Defense Department commenced a new, massive study into its nuclear weapons arsenal, looking at how weapons are kept, how the U.S. would use them in war and whether they present an intimidating enough threat to other countries not to attack us. The review was mandated by President Trump in a Jan 27, memo.
The Pentagon is scheduled to complete the review by the end of the year, an essential step as the military seeks to modernize different aspects of its nuclear deterrent. But a new report from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, or UNIDR, argues that as the modern battlefield becomes more technologically complex, crowded with more sensors, satellites, drones, and interconnected networks, the risks of another nuclear accident are on the rise.
“A greater reliance on automated systems can lead to misplaced confidence while introducing new points of vulnerability,” says the report. Those new points of vulnerability include so-called “hidden interactions.” That means a sensor or computer program misinterpreting some bit of data and possibly presenting false information in a way that could cause an accident.
The 1987 incident provides a good case in point. Oko satellites mistook a very unusual sunspot on top of a high altitude cloud as a missile strike, hence the false alarm.
Take those satellites, combine them with sensors on drones and data from other sources as well, including new, perhaps unproven technologies to detect missile launches and the picture becomes much more crowded and murky.
After yesterday US officials reported that Iran conducted a nuclear ballistic missile test on Sunday, which some claimed would be another violation of the UN resolution and Obama’s nuclear deal, on Wednesday Iran’s defense minister admitted that the Islamic Republic had indeed tested a new missile, but added the test did not breach Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers or a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the pact.
Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal in 2015, but this is the first during U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump said in his election campaign that he would stop Iran’s missile program. Furthermore, the confirmed launch comes at a precarious time, with president Trump seemingly looking for excuses to scrap the Iran deal, which could potentially lead to the reestablishment of Iran sanctions and the halt of Iranian oil exports to global markets, taking away as much as 1 million barrels of daily supply.
The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss.
But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority.
The current situation is too dangerous.
More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank.
While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.
Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.
As Russia and America creep ever closer to outright conflict, now that the diplomatic facade of the proxy war in Syria falls away with every passing day, one voice if calling for the world to stop and reassess what it is doing. Former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Monday that the world has reached a “dangerous point” as tensions between Russia and the United States surge over the Syria conflict; a conflict which if escalated even fractionally further, could result in all out war between the two superpowers according to General Joseph Dunford.
Gorbachev blamed the current state of affairs between Russia and US on the “collapse of mutual trust” and urged the sides to resume dialogue and push towards demilitarization and complete nuclear disarmament.
“I think the world has reached a dangerous point. I don’t want to give any concrete prescriptions but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake. Now we must return to the main priorities, such as nuclear disarmament, fighting terrorism and prevention of global environmental disasters. Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.” Gorbachev said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Relations between Moscow and Washington, already at their lowest since the Cold War over the Ukraine conflict, deteriorated sharply in recent days as the United States pulled the plug on Syria talks and accused Russia of hacking attacks.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (L) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan begin their mini-summit talks in Reykjavik October 11, 1986.
On Wednesday, the US Pacific Command (PACOM) reported that a US B-1B strategic bomber flew from the military base located in Guam and landed at the Osan airbase in South Korea for the first time since 1996. The US military reported that the move aimed to show the US readiness to “defend and to preserve the security of the Korean Peninsula and the region.”
A representative from the North Korean General Staff said that the activities of the United States and South Korea dragged the Korean Peninsula toward potential nuclear war, as cited by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Friday. According to the statement, Pyongyang’s warheads would destroy Seoul, as well as the US base if the US bombers continued their flights. North Korea has been under pressure from the international community since its January nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch in February, which resulted in tightening sanctions against Pyongyang in the new UN Security Council resolution in March. On September 9, Pyongyang carried out a nuclear test at its northeastern nuclear test site. The nuclear experiment is believed to be the fifth and the largest since North Korea started pursuing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
On Tuesday we noted – with some alarm – that the US is set to deliver 20 new nuclear bombs to Germany, each of which has four times the destructive power of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.
For his part, Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said the move blurs the line between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons,” while one member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats warned that the “new attack options against Russia” constitute “a conscious provocation of [Germany’s] Russian neighbors.”
Of course, as we’ve documented extensively of late, NATO has never really been shy when it comes to “conscious provocations” of the Russians and that goes double in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent support for the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.
Still, war games are one thing, but nuclear escalations are entirely another and if ever there were a time when nuclear sabre rattling could prove especially dangerous it’s now, as the US and Russia are one “accident” away from open war in Syria.
Pakistan could have the world’s third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons after the US and Russia within a decade if it continues to build up to 20 nuclear warheads annually, a new report warns.
The report, written by two respected US analysts and published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concluded that Pakistan is outpacing India, with its neighbour and rival appearing to produce just five warheads annually.
Western diplomats who keep close track of the two countries’ nuclear capabilities believe India has about 100 nuclear warheads while Pakistan has produced about 120. Pakistan has the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, behind Russia, the US, France, China and the UK.
Asked to comment on the findings, a senior Pakistani government official told the Financial Times that the “projections [in the report] for the future are highly exaggerated. Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state, not a reckless one”.
Nonetheless the build-up of nuclear capacity is striking in the context of efforts to prevent neighbouring Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998 when it carried out a series of six nuclear tests just three weeks after India carried out a second series of its own tests. Neither country has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The Doomsday Clock that represents a countdown to a potential political related global catastrophe was set to three minutes to midnight on January 22, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – a group of experts that maintains the clock – the minute hand has been moved two minutes closer to midnight to express their dissatisfaction with the world progress on “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals.” The group maintains that these issues “pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity,” the newspaper adds.
ABC News points out that the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted a total of 18 times in its history, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 (following the successful testing of thermonuclear weapons by the US and the USSR) to 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 (a show of optimism related to the end of the Cold War). The previous adjustment was made in January 2012, with the minute hand being moved one minute closer to midnight.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded by a group of University of Chicago scientists who previously worked on creating the first nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project. The Doomsday Clock, maintained by the group since 1947, originally represented only a threat of the global thermonuclear war, but since 2007 it also reflects climate change and any technological developments that may cause irrevocable harm to humanity.
China carried out a long-range missile flight test on Saturday using multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, according to U.S. defense officials. As The Washington Free Beacon reports, the test of a new DF-41 missile, China’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, marks the first test of multiple warhead capabilities for China (the DF-41 is capable of carrying up to 10 warheads and has a maximum range of 7,456 miles, allowing it to target the entire continental United States). Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, warned “the beginning of China’s move toward multiple warhead-armed nuclear missiles is proof that today, arms control is failing to increase the security of Americans.”
With 1,643 nuclear warheads deployed, Moscow has reversed 14 years of U.S. superiority, and now has one more warhead in the field than the Pentagon, according to a U.S. State Department report.
Though both former Cold War adversaries have massively cut their nuclear arsenals since 1991, the data shows that over the past six months — a period that has seen Russia-West relations dive bomb over the crisis in Ukraine — both nations have boosted their nuclear forces.
The report, which is released annually to monitor arms control efforts, has two key metrics — the number of individual nuclear warheads deployed, and the number of launchers and vehicles to deliver those warheads, such as ICBMS, submarines and bomber planes.
Since March, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Moscow has upped the ante in both regards, increasing the number of launchers from 906 to 911 and its arsenal of warheads deployed from 1,512 to 1,643.