It’s been a long time since I was in school and had to practice nuclear bomb preparedness. Hiding under a desk didn’t seem to have much point when everyone knew if the blast didn’t get you the radiation would. I guess doing nothing as something gave a sense of involvement and control.
My grandfather an avid historian would argue with the family about how many societies before thought they were on the existential cusp, with various diseases, droughts, and warfare involving new and exciting means of destroying more for less. But in this modern case it seemed like we really knew the planet was finite and that it could be sterilized. Countering, he said that geographic boundaries were often considered absolute. A people literally did not know there was a world beyond. Somehow it seemed more comforting more real that we really knew that this was it and we had to make it not happen.
The thing about the bomb was its indiscriminate ability to kill. The blast killed; the radiation killed; the drifting winds of radiation killed; radiated contaminants killed. There was just no end to the horrors. It was like a chess board move that just blew up half the board with no one knowing for sure who would be killed. A desperate move that would escalate to planetary suicide since no one would get out alive.
If there hand’t been the images of the bomb blasts going off over and over I doubt if people would have ever believed that such power was possible. Sadly Christians did relate to it as evidence of a possible armageddon. If a human bomb could be so vast imagine what god could do.
The fear then was Russia and that there could be some newly invented bomb that was more focused with large, dangerous radioactively. While the bomb was inevitably dirty many thought it could be controlled and time was of the essence. On the other side, a bit later, it would be the neutron bomb, which was ingenuously a shock bomb of short length radiation that killed life forms but left buildings and infrastructures intact. It was too ghoulish an image for society to take and that path was never chosen.
My aunt who worked at Los Alamos as a Phd neutron physicist always regretted that political decision. A bomb that didn’t spread radiation for centuries was an improvement as was the preservation of infrastructure. The point in war after all was not to destroy everything but only the military with just enough force and no more. While Americans were more than willing to use children and women, civilians, in war the US had a mercenary, class view of war where only soldiers fought and killing civilians was grounds for court martial. Yet, civilians were trained to fight and participate should a ground attack occur.
It was assumed that war would happen. There is no long time in history when it hasn’t.
The defeated and impossible Star Wars idea wasn’t really much better with its space-sided missile and laser launchers that supposedly had precision accuracy. The so called “peace—” weapons, an ode to George Orwell’s use of war as peace propaganda in “1984″ was felt true by conservatives, making you wonder whether they were asleep in English or Civics class.
The Berlin wall came down and all of those nuclear weapons languished. Movies came and went about theft of plutonium, the ease of making a bomb, a mistaken triggering, and the too easy possibility of some nutso finding the right button and pushing it.
Until Iran and Korea decided they wanted bombs. Now to a peacenik it would seem crazy to allow anyone to make any more bombs, elevating the general tension of nuclear threat. Yet, some world leaders thought Iran having the bomb would make peace more secure as their inferiority complex was sated and they no longer had to prove themselves to be world players. Sigh. Sometimes you don’t want the bomb to use but just to have a talking point of equality in power. It’s sick though.
With tension only escalating in both religious fervor and economic desperation it’s not hard to see nuclear annihilation as a still too-present gloom that hovers over us at all times. Nohm Chomsky poses environmental catastrophe and nuclear war as the the two greatest threats today and further that the most powerful societies are the least interested in resolution.
“These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing,” Chomsky said.
He added that these threats are emanating from world’s most power countries while indigenous societies are trying to avoid them.
“It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards.”
“It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it,” he went on to add.
The banality of this threat made me wonder if I were to take bets on where a nuclear bomb would go off first? I posed this to Taslima Nazreen who said write about it so here I am doing it after long intro.
The NTI Nuclear Threat Initiative mostly covers reducing danger or increasing safety. There is a danger in discussing the most dangerous nuclear country as it can provoke a variety of counterproductive reactions. Part of unilateral treaties is making every party feel equally powerful and thus hesitant to want more. However, you can be sure that nuclear strategists have careful actuarials of nuclear scenarios. NTI’s take on understanding nuclear threats.
While it has been more than twenty years since the end of the Cold War, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons continues to pose a serious global threat. The likelihood of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia has decreased, but the continued presence of large stockpiles makes the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons a persistent risk. Many of the countries with smaller nuclear arsenals, such as India and Pakistan, are actively engaged in regional conflicts, making the possibility of regional nuclear war a concern. North Korea illicitly acquired nuclear weapons, and other countries, including Iran and Syria, have violated their nuclear safeguards commitments and are suspected of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities. In the post-9/11 world, the potential for catastrophic nuclear terrorism is also a serious threat. A number of efforts by governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are underway to attempt to mitigate the nuclear threat—but significantly reducing the risk of nuclear weapons use will require the sustained long-term commitment of the entire international community.
NTI lists country profiles with overviews of biological, chemical, nuclear, and missile weapons. While these profiles have lots of information they don’t really compare and contrast dangers though one could infer them.
The number of nuclear weapons around, and their age, makes it statistically significant that accidents will occur. That 95% of these weapons are American or Russian wags a rather long finger. Robert Dodge and Ira Helfand
That said, the greatest imminent existential threat to human survival is potential of global nuclear war. We have long known that the consequences of large scale nuclear war could effectively end human existence on the planet. Yet there are more than 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world today with over 95% controlled by the U.S. and Russia. The international community is intent on preventing Iran from developing even a single nuclear weapon. And while appropriate to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, there is precious little effort being spent on the much larger and more critical problem of these arsenals.
Helfand in an opinion piece for CNN notes the possible extent of catastrophe.
In fact, the humanitarian consequences of even a limited nuclear war, such as a conflict in South Asia between India and Pakistan, involving just 100 Hiroshima-size bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — would put 2 billion people’s lives and well-being at risk.
The local effects would be devastating. More than 20 million people would be dead in a week from the explosions, firestorms and immediate radiation effects. But the global consequences would be far worse.
The firestorms caused by this war would loft 5 million tons of soot high into the atmosphere, blocking out sunlight and dropping temperatures across the planet. This climate disruption would cause a sharp, worldwide decline in food production. There would be a 12% decline in U.S. corn production and a 15% decline in Chinese rice production, both lasting for a full decade. A staggering 31% decline in Chinese winter wheat production would also last for 10 years.
The resulting global famine would put at risk 870 million people in the developing world who are already malnourished today, and 300 million people living in countries dependent on food imports.
In addition, the huge shortfalls in Chinese food production would threaten another 1.3 billion people within China. At the very least there would be a decade of social and economic chaos in the largest country in the world, home to the world’s second largest and most dynamic economy and a large nuclear arsenal of its own.
A nuclear war of comparable size anywhere in the world would produce the same global impact. By way of comparison, each U.S. Trident submarine commonly carries 96 warheads, each of which is 10 to 30 times more powerful than the weapons used in the South Asia scenario. That means a single submarine can cause the devastation of a nuclear famine many times over.
Basically, any accident or intention is just too horrifying to bear. The fact that a few arms are enough counters the notion that a nuclear blast will be started as an act of specific war by large or well populated countries. For the most part they will have confidence that trade agreement, politics, and land wars will be sufficient. What could happen though is the age of the system could cause a device to trigger or allow for a terrorist to access old weapons poorly controlled. There is plenty of missing plutonium to worry about quickly made bombs. The only thing that makes it inherently more safe is the poisonous nature of radioactivity making it difficult to transport, and control, over the long term.
The other protection of large countries is their ability to spy and prevent nuclear weapon movements. For example, New York, Manhattan, since it is a prime target, has many radiation sensors able to detect weapons.
Since 2007, the Department of Homeland Security has poured more than $118 million into the NYPD-led Securing the Cities nuclear detection program.
The program pays for sensors — some stationary, some so small they are worn by first responders — that can detect unusual radiation as far as 150 miles from midtown Manhattan.
The sensors target both Hiroshima-style nuclear devices as well as “dirty” bombs — which use traditional explosives to spread radioactive material.
While GOP types and others like to banter Iran as a world threat, Iran or North Korea may not be the big threat.
A recent CNN poll revealed that more than three-quarters of the American public sees Iran and North Korea as “serious” threats while only 44 percent feels the same way about Russia. Indeed, fear of the Iranian threat in the United States is more widespread today than fear of the Soviet threat was in 1985, even though at that time the Soviet Union possessed the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and today Iran doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon.
The Foreign Policy Group created the NAT index (Nuclear Annihilation Threat) to try to assess the danger.
Our NAT Index is a relational metric that draws on four factors in determining the existential threats that nuclear-armed countries pose to one another: 1) the potential damage a country’s nuclear arsenal could cause to a target’s population; 2) the ability of a country to strike a target with ballistic missiles; 3) the presence of a strategic rivalry between the two countries; and 4) the risk of state failure in the country that is hypothetically attacking a target. The NAT Index can also be used to identify which nuclear-armed countries pose the greatest existential threats overall and which are the most vulnerable.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, for example, is capable of inflicting higher levels of proportional damage to a country the size of Israel than a country the size of China because of geographic and demographic differences. Countries that are rivals of North Korea and are within range of its ballistic missiles face a greater existential threat from Pyongyang than those that are not. We factor in the risk of state failure because an unstable country’s leaders and governmental policies can change on a dime and destabilized regimes can lose command and control of their nuclear weapons, exposing the arms to theft or unauthorized use.
What’s interesting here is the emphasis on the stability of a country. The more desperate, the more revolutionary, or the more engaged in conflict, the more likely the use of nuclear weapons. It’s not just a possibility of an accident but a desperate measure when a people feel they have nothing left to lose. Nor did they discount the possible shifting of allies.
While our index accounts for the heightened existential risks created by rivalries, we do not assume that nuclear-armed allies pose no risks to one another. From a realist perspective, the military power of other states can never be safely ignored — especially with respect to weapons that possess such uniquely destructive power. Beyond realism’s admonishment that today’s allies could become tomorrow’s rivals, the risks of nuclear weapons accidents and misuse exist between both rivals and allies. While it may appear odd to consider Britain as a potential nuclear threat to the United States, remember that Pakistan is also a U.S. ally. In accounting for the threats that even allies’ nuclear weapons pose, our analysis reflects the view that all nuclear weapons — no matter who possesses them — present a grave international security threat.
America is not immune from making idiotic attempts to use nuclear weapons.
Nuclear terrorism is yet another problem. Terrorists can’t make a nuke. But they do know how to pit countries and eventually provoke them to an inadequate response. There’s no lacking of short-sighted politicians who can take that last step, for instance Republican Senator Steve Buyer who nudged the government after 9/11 to nuke Tora Bora caves, instead of sending a task force to Afghanistan.
The largest nuclear threat to the US is China and Russia simply because they have long range capability with the most weapons. As does France. Here a hijacked weapon could trigger an automatic response.
Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund maintains it’s the numbers and ease of escalation.
“The biggest nuclear threat to the American people might well be a Russian accidental or unauthorized attack or one in response to a false warning of a U.S. attack,” she said before mentioning the long-range missiles both countries have aimed at one another. “This posture is very risky because it allows each country to launch on warning of an incoming attack—and there could be a false warning. High alert levels also make an accidental or unauthorized attack more likely. If something goes wrong—and things do go wrong—the result could be a large U.S. or Russia attack on the other nation.”
She added, “By maintaining its weapons on high alert, the United States encourages Russia to do so as well. We are risking the destruction of our society by clinging to this cold war policy. The U.S. should change its policy and encourage Russia to follow suit.”
Pakistan comes on top though if you look at the world’s nuclear threat.
Pakistan is the most dangerous because of its combination of closeness to enemies, ally to China, and its failed state status.
In Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index, Pakistan is ranked 12th in terms of the risk of state failure and is the only nuclear-armed country labeled in “critical” condition. One recent Nuclear Threat Initiative study noted that the country faces “immense threats, both from insiders who may be corrupt or sympathetic to terrorists and from large-scale attacks by outsiders.”
While China, US and Russia are still dangerous, the volatility of Pakistan should make it our greatest current concern and not Iran or North Korea. Granted we should be concerned by all nuclear weapons.
Pakistan and India are in a collision course of prolonged enmity. Conservative publications will print warnings about Pakistan and then follow them up with exaggerated fears of Iran.
Today there is effective parity between India and Pakistan. The latter has more weapons, the former more advanced weapons. But the Pakistanis are engaged in a headlong rush to supersede the nuclear capability of their neighbour and present India with a fearsome nuclear threat. Pakistan is now as close to being a failed state as is possible without tipping over the edge. Politically it is chaotic. Economically it is in crisis. Socially it is imploding.
If Pakistan and India go to war, it is likely that China will partner with its ally Pakistan. This would prevent the US from interfering other than severing ties with Pakistan and perhaps China.
The American Thinker, a conservative group, has posted an opposing view of NAT saying it is too simple and conjecturing its political purpose is to support New START, a nuclear limit treaty. This again shows how much conservative Americans still view nuclear weapons in extent and scope as essential to diplomatic viability rather than seeking a means of eliminating them. In their minds it is also not true when Obama says we need not fear Iran as much as we do. Many believe a limited nuclear war is a possible response. This travesty of reason emphasizes just how important it is to get both information and desire for cooperation back in the media.
For some time the discussion of eliminating nuclear weapons has been stymied by the ease of making them. While modern weapons are more complicated, simple, dirty bombs of devastating effect can be made easily with the only issue being access to radioactive materials. In the 70′s it was a joke that any college student could make a bomb. The Smithsonian lists top 10 of the some 419 thefts gone wrong. But how many have gone right, how easy can it be?
“The elements of a perfect storm are gathering,” said former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, founder of the Washington- based Nuclear Threat Initiative, in an e-mail. “There is a large supply of plutonium and highly enriched uranium-weapons- usable nuclear materials spread across hundreds of sites in 32 countries, too much of it poorly secured. There is also greater know-how to build a bomb widely available, and there are terrorist organizations determined to do it.”
Greenpeace, the anti-nuclear environmental group, has shown the ease with which intruders could breach security at Electricite de France SA reactors. Activists on Dec. 5 exposed lapses at EDF nuclear reactors near Paris and in southern France, hiding inside one for 14 hours and unfurling a banner reading “Safe Nuclear Doesn’t Exist” on the roof of another.
While countries may align to treaties, small terrorist groups do not and need only find a few Kgs of fuel.
Because a terrorist needs only about 25 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium or 8 kilograms of plutonium to improvise a bomb, the margin of error for material accounting is small. There are at least 2 million kilograms (4.4 million pounds) of stockpiled weapons-grade nuclear material left over from decommissioned bombs and atomic-fuel plants, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, a nonprofit Princeton, New Jersey research institute that tracks nuclear material.
It is hard for me not to have the overall intuition that the money is on Pakistan.
Worse are the ideologies of religions that foment such great fear and hatred as to make their use seem important. As if any horror here is justifiable because of a book, or because they seek reward in the next world. If religions would let go of their need to control people’s lives on all levels there would be less willingness to destroy them when they disappoint.
Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com