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.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has invited Vladimir Putin for talks in Berlin, in the Russian president’s first trip to Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014.
The summit will be held under the so-called “Normandy Format”, where representatives from Moscow and Kiev meet colleagues from the German and French governments
French president François Hollande and the Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko will also take part in the meeting, according to the German chancellery. It would be the first meeting of the Normandy four since last October.
A statement from the chancellery said it would be their first meeting since October 2015 in Paris. The purpose of the talks was “to assess the implementation of the Minsk accords” since then “and to discuss further steps”.
Last week Mr Putin called off a trip to Paris amid rising diplomatic tensions between Russia and the west over Syria. That decision came after Mr Hollande strongly criticised Russia’s role in the bombing campaign in Syria.
The last time Ms Merkel met Mr Putin was in Moscow in May 2015.
The Minsk accord was reached in February 2015 but since then fighting has continued between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops in the east of the country.
State television threatens the West with nuclear weapons, the Kremlin halts a disarmament treaty, the army warns of shooting down US jets. As ties between Russia and the West have once again slumped, rhetoric in Moscow has peaked.
“Relations between Russia and the US, and the West in general, have been dragged down to the bottom, to a level below which it is difficult to fall,” Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Moscow-based Political Expert Group think tank, told AFP.
But it wasn’t meant to be like this.
Just over a month ago Moscow and Washington inked a deal to revive a ceasefire in Syria and the Kremlin seemed to have scored a tactical win by getting the United States to open the door to coordinate strikes against jihadists.
The agreement, hammered out after repeated rounds of exhausting talks, appeared a potential breakthrough in Syria’s civil war and years of bad blood and furious mudslinging between Moscow and Washington sparked by the Ukraine crisis.
Many, however, were skeptical that the Kremlin and White House, on opposite sides in Syria, could begin to bury the hatchet – and so it proved.
Soon the truce collapsed and as the violence spiraled so did the ferocious acrimony.
Washington suspended talks with the Kremlin on Syria; Moscow tore up a treaty on disposing weapons-grade plutonium; the West accused Russia and Syria of potential war crimes in its brutal attacks on rebel-held east Aleppo.
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.
Amid negotiations about a reduction of oil production between members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia reported its highest post-Soviet record oil output.
Russia’s ministry of energy announced Saturday that in September it pumped a record 11.1 million barrels per day (bpd), the most since the demise of the Soviet Union and 4% above the previous output of 10.7 million bpd, according to preliminary estimates. Russia, as well as OPEC members, has struggled with the long recession as oil prices stay below $50 a barrel. In 2008, as a result of the financial crisis, oil prices plunged from $147 a barrel to less than $35.
On Wednesday, during the informal meeting in Algiers, for the first time in eight years, OPEC agreed to outline a deal that limits oil output. “We decided the range of production for OPEC of 32.5 to 33 million barrels a day should be divided between OPEC member countries,” Iranian minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said after the meeting. Working out an output freeze as well as the levels of production by each country is the goal of the next formal meeting in Vienna slated for November. However, some doubt whether OPEC will follow through on the commitments made at Algiers.
Russia’s oil minister, Alexander Novak, said after the Algiers agreement was announced, that “Russia will carefully consider those proposals which will be eventually drawn up”, but “our position is keeping the volume of production at the level that has been reached.” Nevertheless, Russia is flexible and is open for joint OPEC efforts to stabilize the oil market.
A 2014 US-backed coup in Ukraine followed by a referendum, in which Crimea voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia, sent Washington-Moscow ties on a downward spiral that continues to feed distrust between the two global powers.
“If Clinton is elected, there’s going to be some level of continuity with [US President Barack] Obama because they share the same type of worldview and to some degree a similar foreign policy,” University of Dayton Political Science Professor Daniel Birdsong told Sputnik.
Birdsong explained the mindset as one in which engagement is primarily diplomatic, and if military intervention is involved, a reluctance to deploy US “boots on the ground,” a reliance on airpower and the use of local proxies in combat zones.
The approach, he said, is reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The hawkish image projected by Clinton could be rooted in her being the first female presidential candidate from a major political party, Birdsong explained.
“She has to contend with a stereotype of women being weaker on national defense, on military engagement,” Birdsong said. “Her taking a muscular stance on foreign policy, or with Russia more specifically, has to do with that.”
NATO leaders agreed on Friday to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland while increasing air and sea patrols to demonstrate readiness to defend eastern members against the alleged ‘Russian aggression.’
Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly said after the summit that the decisions made at NATO summit in Warsaw should be regarded as a preparation for a hot war with Russia.
On Saturday, Gorbachev told Echo Moskvy in an interview that he sticks to what he had said earlier and that he considers NATO decisions short-sighted and dangerous.
“Such steps lead to tension and disruption. Europe is splitting, the world is splitting. This is a wrong path for the global community” He said. “There are too many global and individual crises to abandon cooperation. It is essential to revive the dialogue.”
Soros was speaking at an event in London hosted by Open Russia, a movement founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The businessman added that the current situation is much the same when the EU flourished while the Soviet Union started collapsing.
He also noted that he felt “more than ever” that the destiny of the EU is hinged on Ukraine’s future.
At the same time, Soros accused Western countries of not implementing the principle decisions to help Kiev. According to him, Ukraine is on the verge of economic collapse and the EU should take implement emergency financial measures.
In January, the business magnate said that the European Union may soon collapse due to the migrant crisis and a lack of leadership. In an interview with Bloomberg, Soros said that in order to survive the EU needs strong leaders and external assistance, including from Russia.
The foreign ministers of China, Russia and India have issued a joint communiqué calling for further reforms at the International Monetary Fund granting emerging economies a greater voice.
The joint statement follows the close on Monday of the 14th Russia-India-China Foreign Ministers Meeting held this year in Moscow.
In it, the countries’ ministers welcomed implementation of draft reforms from 2010 meant to raise quotas and reallocate voting shares at the IMF to grant developing countries a greater role in international monetary policy. Conditions for implementing those reforms were only satisfied in January after half a decade of delay.
But the ministers went on to call on the IMF to push forward with further reforms to give emerging markets and developing nations greater representation and more say at the Fund “as quickly as possible”.
The communiqué, released in full today on the official website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – though at present available only in Chinese – also called for greater international and regional coordination by the three nations and reaffirmed China and Russia’s support of India’s desire for a greater role at the United Nations.
Now, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are threatening to invade Syria.
How dangerous could this get, in a worst case scenario?
Robert Parry – the investigative reporter who broke the Iran-Contra story for the Associated Press and Newsweek – wrote yesterday:
A source close to Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that the Russians have warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary to save their troops in the face of a Turkish-Saudi onslaught. Since Turkey is a member of NATO, any such conflict could quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear confrontation.
Washington’s Blog asked one of America’s top experts on Russia – Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, and the author of a number of books on Russia and the Soviet Union – what he thought of Parry’s claim.