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Archive for the ‘Nuclear abolition’ Category

Nuclear Arsenal

In Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 17, 2017 at 10:48 am

The Independent Newspaper
Thursday, February 16, 2017

I participated in the U.S. and international movements to ban nuclear weapons in the 1980’s. Progress was made at that time in the US/Russian commitment to decommission and destroy accumulated nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world without such weapons.
That commitment to disarm has deteriorated, and the world is now only two and one-half minutes from midnight according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. They have moved the hands of their iconic Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to the nuclear hour that marks the end of humanity.
The Bulletin cited several reasons for the darkening of the global security landscape including deteriorating relations between the US and Russia (together possessing more than 90% of world’s nuclear weapons), North Korea’s continuing weapons development, the march of arsenal modernization programs in nuclear weapons states, and new doubt over the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal, (though it proved successful in meeting goals in year one.)
These are all matters President Trump has signaled that he would make worse due to “ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the US Nuclear arsenal, a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice about international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts ,” according to the Bulletin. I would add to this list his condoning of fake news and alternative facts.
I think that no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous nuclear race must be a priority. See trivalleycares.org or wagingpeace.org to take action.
Patricia Moore, MSW
Livermore

The author of this artice is a member of Tri-Valley Cares of Livermore, CA, an affiliate of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

EXCLUSIVE-In call with Putin, Trump denounced Obama-era nuclear arms treaty – sources

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 10, 2017 at 8:51 am

by Reuters
Thursday, 9 February 2017 17:05 GMT
By Jonathan Landay and David Rohde

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) – In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

The White House declined to comment. It referred Reuters to the official White House account issued after the Jan. 28 call, which did not mention the discussion about New START.

It has not been previously reported that Trump had conveyed his doubt about New START to Putin in the hour-long call.

New START gives both countries until February 2018 to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades. It also limits deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

During a debate in the 2016 presidential election, Trump said Russia had “outsmarted” the United States with the treaty, which he called “START-Up.” He asserted incorrectly then that it had allowed Russia to continue to produce nuclear warheads while the United States could not.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he supported the treaty during his Senate confirmation hearings.

During the hearings Tillerson said it was important for the United States to “stay engaged with Russia, hold them accountable to commitments made under the New START and also ensure our accountability as well.”

Two of the people who described the conversation were briefed by current administration officials who read detailed notes taken during the call. One of the two was shown portions of the notes. A third source was also briefed on the call.

Reuters has not reviewed the notes taken of the call, which are classified.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

CONCERNS OVER PHONE CALLS

The phone call with Putin has added to concerns that Trump is not adequately prepared for discussions with foreign leaders.

Typically, before a telephone call with a foreign leader, a president receives a written in-depth briefing paper drafted by National Security Council staff after consultations with the relevant agencies, including the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, two former senior officials said.

Just before the call, the president also usually receives an oral “pre-briefing” from his national security adviser and top subject-matter aide, they said.

Trump did not receive a briefing from Russia experts with the NSC and intelligence agencies before the Putin call, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine if Trump received a briefing from his national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In the phone call, the Russian leader raised the possibility of reviving talks on a range of disputes and suggested extending New START, the sources said.

New START can be extended for another five years, beyond 2021, by mutual agreement. Unless they agree to do that or negotiate new cuts, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers would be freed from the treaty’s limits, potentially setting the stage for a new arms race.

New START was ratified by the U.S. Senate in December 2010 by a vote of 71 to 26. Thirteen Republican senators joined all of the Senate’s Democrats in voting for the treaty, although Republican opponents derided it as naive.

The call with Putin was one of several with foreign leaders where Trump has turned to denounce deals negotiated by previous administrations on trade, acceptance of refugees and arms control.

In a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump questioned an agreement reached by the Obama administration to accept 1,250 refugees now being held by Australia in offshore detention centers. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammad and John Walcott; Editing by John Walcott, Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)

Welcome to America’s ‘Nuclear Sponge’

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 7, 2017 at 10:45 pm

By Ton Z. Collina, Defense One, Feb. 3, 2017

If ICBMs are meant to draw enemy missiles toward American soil, it’s time to rethink our nuclear strategy.

The United States currently deploys hundreds of nuclear missiles across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Each missile carries a nuclear payload many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people. The Pentagon is now planning to build a new, deadlier generation of these missiles, which are housed in underground silos.

But these intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, are not meant to be launched, ever. Not even in a nuclear war. Their primary mission is to be destroyed in the ground, along with all the people that live anywhere near them. Their main purpose is to “absorb” a nuclear attack from Russia, acting as a giant “nuclear sponge.” Such is the twisted logic of atomic warfare.

But it never made sense to draw a nuclear attack toward the United States, rather than away from it. Even during the Cold War, analysts challenged this plan, claiming it was “madness to use United States real estate as ‘a great sponge to absorb’ Soviet nuclear weapons.”

Yet the nuclear sponge is still with us. Not only that, the Trump administration is planning to spend $100 billion to do it all over again.

Newly minted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the ICBM and the nuclear sponge mission, although he did not call it that. Testifying before the Senate on Jan. 12, Mattis said, “It’s clear they are so buried out in the central U.S. that any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out. In other words, the ICBM force provides a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary.”

And: Despite Objections, Pentagon Takes Step Toward Buying New Nuclear Weapons

Cost-imposing for whom? Yes, attacking U.S. ICBMs would be very costly for Russia, mainly because the United States would retaliate with hundreds of nuclear weapons launched from submarines at sea. But what about the costs to Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming? Of course we want to prevent nuclear war, but do we need to throw the upper Midwest under the bus to do it?

No, we do not. In fact, the five ICBM states and the entire country would be better off if we did not have ICBMs at all. They are expensive, redundant, and above all, dangerous.

The United States can safely phase out the existing ICBMs without replacing them. This would save a boatload of money and take the missile states out of the crosshairs. And, as former Defense Secretary Bill Perry has written, it would also address the concern that ICBMs “could trigger an accidental nuclear war.”

Last year, before he became defense secretary, Mattis asked if it was time to remove the land-based missiles, as “This would reduce the false alarm danger.”

What are Perry and Mattis talking about? Nothing less than a nuclear nightmare, in which atomic weapons are used by mistake.

U.S. land-based missiles are highly vulnerable. They sit out in the open and everyone, including Vladimir Putin, knows exactly where they are. So if Russia attacks them (no other country could), President Trump has only two options: launch the missiles before the attack arrives (and destroy Russia), or wait and let them be destroyed in the ground. Either way, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming are toast.

But here is the rub: President Trump would have about 10 minutes to make this fate-of-the-world decision. And the only sane decision is not to launch. Why? Because there is no way to know for sure (and you want to be sure) that the feared Russian attack is real.

There have been at least three false alarms in the United States that could have led to a mistaken nuclear war. Forty years ago, Perry himself was awakened in the middle of the night and told that Pentagon computers were showing 200 ICBMs on their way from the Soviet Union. Luckily, it was not the end of the world, but just a computer glitch.

How would President Trump respond if he were told at 3 a.m. that hundreds of Russian nuclear missiles were landing in minutes? Would he have the temperament to realize that it could be a false alarm, or would he impulsively launch a counter attack? No one else has the authority to make this call, and once the missiles fly they cannot be called back.

It is shocking that senior officials in the nuclear weapons business do not take the risk of false alarms seriously. They reassure us that the chance of a false alarm is “at an all-time low” and that “the statistical probability that the United States would launch ICBMs as a result of a false alarm is close to zero.” Such language is dangerously irresponsible. One can imagine the same bromides being used before the Titanic sank or the Space Shuttle exploded.

The honest truth is that the probability is low but not zero. And the consequences would be astronomical. When it comes to nuclear weapons, it only takes one. Human errors and machine errors do occur. It is only a matter of time before the odds add up to a catastrophic failure. As Perry writes, “we do not have to take that terrible risk anymore. We should not rebuild our ICBM arsenal.”

Moreover, ICBMs are redundant. The United States is rebuilding its nuclear-armed submarines that can hide under the oceans, able to survive a Russian nuclear attack. That is all we need to keep Moscow in check. In the unlikely event that new threats emerge that could put the subs at risk, the Air Force is rebuilding the insurance policy: nuclear-capable bombers. The ICBMs are an extra insurance policy that we can do without.

Which brings us back to Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. There is no good reason why these fine states should have a larger nuclear target on them than other states. It’s time to get rid of ICBMs, and throw away the nuclear sponge.

*****

Tom Z. Collina is the policy director for Ploughshares Fund.

Nobel Peace Laureates: Time to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons is now!

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on February 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

February 5, 2017

(The following statement from 21 Nobel Peace Laureates was released at the conclusion of the 16th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Bogota, Colombia.]

On March 27, negotiations will commence at the United Nations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. As Nobel Peace Laureates we applaud the UN General Assembly for convening this negotiating conference, fully support its goals, and urge all nations to work for the speedy conclusion of this treaty in 2017 and for its rapid entry into force and implementation.

The nine nuclear-armed states retain some 15,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy the world many times over. Nearly 2,000 of these warheads are on hair-trigger alert. They can be launched in a matter of minutes at the whim of an unstable or intemperate leader, and leaders of nuclear-armed states have made increasingly dangerous and irresponsible statements about the use of these weapons. Some display a shocking and appalling ignorance about the nature of nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use.

In response to this danger, more than 120 nations around the world have supported a Humanitarian Initiative that seeks the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. The nine states that possess these weapons have responded with plans to spend more than a trillion dollars to upgrade their nuclear arsenals and make them even more dangerous. Their behavior is an intolerable threat to the lives of everyone on this planet, including the citizens of their own countries. That behavior must change.

A large-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia would cause a global winter that would kill most of the people on the planet, and possibly cause our extinction as a species. Even a very limited nuclear war, as could well take place involving states with smaller nuclear arsenals, could disrupt the climate sufficiently to cause a prolonged global famine that would put up to 2 billion people at risk of starvation and destroy modern civilization.

The danger of nuclear war is growing. The time for action is now. We must prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Oscar Arias (1987)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1989)

F. W. de Klerk (1993)

Shirin Ebadi (2003)

Leymah Gbowee (2011)

Mikhail Gorbachev (1990)

International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997)

International Peace Bureau (1910)

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985)

Tawakkol Karman (2011)

Mairead Maguire (1976)

Medecins Sans Frontiere (1999)

Rigoberta Menchu (1992)

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995)

Jose Ramos-Horta (1996)

Kailash Satyarthi (2014)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984)

Lech Walesa (1983)

Betty Williams (1976)

Jody Williams (1997)

Muhammad Yunus (2006)

Unspoken Words: Nuclear War Provocations and Plans

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 3, 2017 at 9:19 am

by JUDITH DEUTSCH, CounterPunch, February 2, 2017

During the election campaign there was a brief period of anxiety about Clinton or Trump taking possession of the nuclear code, with the power to eradicate our species at the push of a few buttons. But where has discussion, let alone mention, of nuclear weapons gone? An exception is the brief article by Robert Dodge in CounterPunch about the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advancing the Doomsday Clock to 2 ½ minutes before the midnight of human extinction caused by nuclear war or climate change: “Nuclear weapons are not even on the radar of our congress. Their phones are not ringing off the hook about nuclear weapons.”

In a January 30th interview with Sonali Kolhatkar, George Lakoff discussed Trump’s trial balloon about nuclear weapons in which Trump said that if we have them, we should use them. Lakoff said that there was a very brief reaction and then it’s gone, signaling that the public doesn’t care. Doesn’t care or doesn’t know? Harvard professor Elaine Scarry has said that some of her students had never heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is a dangerous time to not know about nuclear weapons. Trump inherited from Obama the ongoing US/NATO/Israeli escalation and military encirclement against Iran, China, and Russia, and the $1tn program to modernize nuclear weapons. On January 28th the Ron Paul Institute reported that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced a bill to Congress: “… it specifically authorizes the president to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran at any time of his choosing and without any further Congressional oversight or input, as the President determines necessary and appropriate in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” (Emphasis added).

Among the challengers to Iran’s purported nuclear threat are Richard Falk (UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, expert on nuclear weapons and international law): “What has Iran done to justify this frantic war-mongering … the outright threats emanating from Israel and the U.S. that leaves ‘all options’ on the table”? Seymour Hersh investigated Israel’s nuclear weapons program in his book The Samson Option. About Iran, Hersh wrote of “the repeated inability of the best and the brightest of the Joint Special Operations Command to find definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons production program in Iran….. with lots of belligerent talk but no definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons program.” And perhaps most damning, the U.K. Guardian: “Leaked spy cables show Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.” Robert Fisk in The Independent 2012: “The Israeli President warns us now that Iran is on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon. Heaven preserve us. Yet we reporters do not mention that Shimon Peres, as Israeli Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing in 1996. That was 16 years ago. And we do not recall that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999. That would be 13 years ago. Same old story. We’ve been here before – and it suits Israel that we never forget ‘Nuclear Iran.’”

Noam Chomsky reported that a nuclear Iran suited the U.S. pre-1979, before the Islamic revolution overthrew the brutal shah regime. “A secret agreement made between MIT and the Shah of Iran, … pretty much amounted to turning over the Nuclear Engineering Department to the Shah.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kissinger, and Wolfowitz “wanted Iran to develop nuclear facilities and they were allies at the time.” [1]

Demonizing Iran at this time deflects attention from real nuclear dangers. According to the 2016 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the nine nuclear states together possess a total of approximately 15,395 nuclear weapons, with the United States and Russia accounting for more than 93%. The public likely does not know that shortly after the UN pledged to end the scourge of war, shortly after two atomic bombs killed minimally 140,000 Japanese people, that the U.S. embarked on developing far more lethal hydrogen bombs. The explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb was 15-16 kilotons, whereas today’s bombs are in the range of 100 Kt to 550Kt of TNT (6 to 34 times the Hiroshima force). “Even a small-scale nuclear war involving one hundred Hiroshima-type (15 Kt) nuclear bombs between two countries such as India and Pakistan, would have a devastating effect on Earth’s climate” and “it is unlikely there would be any survivors.” “At most, this would involve only 0.3% of the world’s nuclear explosive power” [2]

Nuclear weapons are deployed by intercontinental ballistic missiles, by submarine launched ballistic missiles, and by strategic bombers. Submarines carrying up to 24 missiles, with each carrying four to five warheads, possibly as many as 144 warheads per submarine, constantly patrol the oceans. In a striking example of apparent disregard for the people of this planet, a CNN newscast from August 2016 shows a smiling Michelle Obama “christening” a General Dynamic Virginia-class submarine manufactured in Connecticut, named after her, and designed to carry nuclear weapons. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, even though a Russian first-strike is not a credible risk, the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert and ready to launch within ten minutes toward their targets.

The five year UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review met in April, 2015, following four years of preparatory meetings. Given the volatile tension between the U.S. and Russia and China, there was an urgency to take nuclear weapons off high alert status. Instead, the focus of the month-long meeting was diverted to Iran’s nuclear weapons and to political opposition by the U.S., U.K., and Canada to establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East in order to shield Israel’s nuclear program from international laws and oversight. In violation of the NPT, Germany has provided Israel with a fleet of advanced submarines equipped to fire long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Astonishingly, two of these submarines, which carry weapons of mass destruction, were given to Israel as Holocaust reparation! According to Netanyahu, the submarines carry nuclear weapons pointed at Iran. “The Obama administration’s pretense that it knows nothing about any nuclear weapons in Israel makes intelligent discussion about the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Middle East all but impossible.” India provides Israel with a launching site in the Indian Ocean.

During the Cold War, nuclear weapons strategy was based on deterrence, or mutually assured destruction (MAD). Deterrence necessitated the capacity to retaliate with nuclear weapons, so the strategy in itself required weapons proliferation. Shortly after 9/11, G.W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). Missile defence systems are designed to destroy incoming nuclear missiles shortly after they are launched. There is a belief within the military that the U.S. could destroy its enemy’s full nuclear arsenal and prevent retaliation. Nuclear strategy shifted from deterrence to pre-emptive first strike, with the belief that a nuclear war is winnable and acceptable.

Frustrated by the decades-long paralysis in regulating and eliminating these weapons, and fearful that there is even more likelihood of nuclear war than during the Cold War, the UN-formed Open Ended Working Group (OPEG), made up of all nations, is now focusing entirely and explicitly on eliminating nuclear weapons. The nuclear-armed nations, plus many liberal democracies like Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain and other NATO countries, have voted against the majority. Iran voted for.

The late Jonathan Schell dedicated his life to the abolition of nuclear weapons. He wrote that nuclear exterminism did not come from 20th century totalitarian regimes, but that “the most radical evil imaginable – the extinction of the human species— [was] first placed in the hands of a liberal republic”. A graver suspicion was that the United States and its allies did not build these weapons to face extraordinary danger, but because of “an intrinsic element of the dominant liberal civilization itself – an evil that first grew and still grows from within that civilization rather than being imposed from without.” [3] Entire societies, the human species itself, are merely a pawn. Schell writes that nuclear strategy is the “very epicenter of banality” and is manufactured in think tanks and academic institutions from the pseudoscience of game theory.

The anti-nuclear and antiwar movements have been relatively silent about Israel and about Obama’s nuclear program. One current political opening may be women’s timely activism on the ground, with the precedent of women having led the successful opposition to atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in 1961. Women, in their historical role of caring for the young and old, for growing food and carrying water, are the unseen victims of war and should have the power to veto.

Notes.

[1] Noam Chomsky and Laray Polk (2013). Nuclear war and Environmental Catastrophe. Seven Stories Press), p. 21-22.

[2] Dr. Dale Dewar and Florian Oelck (2014). From Hiroshima to Fukushima to You: A Primer on Radiation and Health. Between the Lines. P. 149-50. Also see Eric Schlosser (2013). Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. Penguin.

[3] Jonathan Schell (2001). The Unfinished Twentieth Century: The Crisis of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Verso. P. 32-47.

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Judith Deutsch is a columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, former president of Science for Peace, and a psychoanalyst by profession. She can be reached at judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

The Doomsday Clock just advanced, ‘thanks to Trump’: It’s now just 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.

In Art, Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, War on February 2, 2017 at 4:01 am

by Peter Holley, Abby Ohlheiser and Amy B Wang, Washington Post, January 26, 2017

It’s now 2 ½ minutes to “midnight,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which warned Thursday that the end of humanity may be nigh.
The group behind the famed Doomsday Clock announced at a news conference that it was adjusting the countdown to the End of it All by moving the hands 30 seconds closer to midnight — the closest the clock has been to Doomsday since 1953, after the United States tested its first thermonuclear device, followed months later by the Soviet Union’s hydrogen bomb test.
In announcing that the Doomsday Clock was moving 30 seconds closer to the end of humanity, the group noted that in 2016, “the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change.”
But the organization also cited the election of President Trump in changing the symbolic clock.
“Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts,” theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss and retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley wrote in a New York Times op-ed on behalf of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. “Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”
The clock is symbolic, sitting at the intersection of art and science, and it has wavered between two minutes and 17 minutes till doom since its inception in 1947. A board of scientists and nuclear experts meets regularly to determine what time it is on the Doomsday Clock.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded by some of the people who worked on the Manhattan Project. One of them, nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf, was married to artist Martyl Langsdorf. She created the clock and set it at seven minutes to midnight, or 11:53, for the cover of the group’s magazine. Her husband moved the time four minutes later in 1949.
Since then, the bulletin’s board has determined when the clock’s minute hand will move, usually to draw attention to worldwide crises that, the board believes, threaten the survival of the human species. The group’s reasoning focuses almost exclusively on the availability of nuclear weapons and a willingness among the world’s great powers to use them.
In 2016, the bulletin said in its statement Thursday: “The United States and Russia — which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases.”
The group noted that the “climate change outlook was somewhat less dismal — but only somewhat.”
Notably, the bulletin added: “This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.”
Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state who also served as ambassador to the United Nations and Israel, cited Trump’s “casual talk” about nuclear weapons in telling reporters that “nuclear rhetoric is now loose and destabilizing.”
“We are more than ever impressed that words matter, words count,” he said.
In their op-ed — headlined “Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight” — Krauss and Titley wrote:
“We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action.
“But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.”
Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump faced a recurring charge: that he could not be trusted with the nation’s nuclear weapons.
In August, a group of 50 former national security officials who served Republican and Democratic presidents signed an open letter saying Trump lacked the character, values and experience to be president.
“All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” the group said.
The worst-possible scenario was at times unspoken but clear — that Trump’s lack of self-control could spark nuclear war.
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” his Democratic campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, charged.
While Trump has repeatedly dismissed those criticisms, he has done little to calm fears of impending nuclear war since winning the presidency. Last month, Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” He did not elaborate on the message, which followed comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin about strengthening his country’s nuclear arsenal.
Trump’s tweet — and comments he reportedly made the following day to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski — sparked fears of a renewed arms race between the two countries.
Although Trump later seemed to back off of his statements, suggesting in an interview with two European publications that “nuclear weapons should be way down,” there were reasons to be concerned after he gained control of the United States’ nearly 1,400 active nuclear warheads on Inauguration Day, The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor said.
Two days after Trump was elected, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki invited him to visit, the Japan Times reported.
Then, Tadatoshi Akiba, the former mayor of Hiroshima, wrote a letter to Trump just before his inauguration, urging him to make “wise and peaceable” decisions regarding nuclear weapons

WORLD WAR THREE, BY MISTAKE

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 24, 2016 at 11:01 am

By Eric Schlosser, The New Yorker, December 23, 2016

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.
On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (norad), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

schlosser-onnuclearwarfarebyaccident2
The NORAD headquarters, in Colorado Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL CHELSEY / GETTY
A similar false alarm had occurred the previous year, when someone mistakenly inserted a training tape, featuring a highly realistic simulation of an all-out Soviet attack, into one of norad’s computers. During the Cold War, false alarms were also triggered by the moon rising over Norway, the launch of a weather rocket from Norway, a solar storm, sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds, and a faulty A.T. & T. telephone switch in Black Forest, Colorado.

My book “Command and Control” explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently. “Command and Control” focusses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low—and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war. The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election. On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal. “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?

“The pattern of the use of atomic weapons was set at Hiroshima,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, said in November, 1945, just a few months after the Japanese city’s destruction. “They are weapons of aggression, of surprise, and of terror.” Nuclear weapons made annihilation vastly more efficient. A single bomb could now destroy a target whose elimination had once required thousands of bombs. During an aerial attack, you could shoot down ninety-nine per cent of the enemy’s bombers—and the plane that you missed could obliterate an entire city. A war between two countries with nuclear weapons, like a Wild West shoot-out, might be won by whoever fired first. And a surprise attack might provide the only hope of national survival—especially for the country with an inferior nuclear arsenal.

During the same month that Oppenheimer made his remarks, Bernard Brodie, a political scientist at Yale University, proposed a theory of nuclear deterrence that has largely guided American policy ever since. Brodie argued that the threat of retaliation offered the only effective defense against a nuclear attack. “We must do what we can to reduce the advantage that might accrue to the enemy if he hit first,” Brodie wrote, after the Soviet Union had obtained its own nuclear weapons. Despite all the money spent on building nuclear weapons and delivery systems, their usefulness would be mainly psychological. “What deters is not the capabilities and intentions we have, but the capabilities and intentions the enemy thinks we have,” a classified Pentagon report explained. “The mission is persuasion.”

The fear of a surprise attack and the necessity for retaliation soon dominated the strategic thinking of the Cold War. Every year, technological advances compressed time and added more urgency to decision-making. At a top-secret briefing in 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was told that a Soviet surprise attack on just five targets—the Pentagon, the White House, Camp David, Site R, and High Point, a bunker inside Mount Weather, Virginia—had a good chance of wiping out the civilian leadership of the United States. By striking an additional nine targets, as part of a “decapitation” attack, the Soviet Union could kill America’s military leadership as well. The Soviets might be able to destroy America’s nuclear command-and-control system with only thirty-five missiles. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Kennedy Administration sought ways to maintain Presidential control over nuclear weapons. The Pentagon deployed airborne command posts, better communications and early-warning systems, Minuteman missiles that could be quickly launched, and a large fleet of ballistic-missile submarines.

Many of these elements were put to the test during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a series of misperceptions, miscalculations, and command-and-control problems almost started an accidental nuclear war—despite the determination of both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to avoid one. In perhaps the most dangerous incident, the captain of a Soviet submarine mistakenly believed that his vessel was under attack by U.S. warships and ordered the firing of a torpedo armed with a nuclear warhead. His order was blocked by a fellow officer. Had the torpedo been fired, the United States would have retaliated with nuclear weapons. At the height of the crisis, while leaving the White House on a beautiful fall evening, McNamara had a strong feeling of dread—and for good reason: “I feared I might never live to see another Saturday night.”

Today, the United States has four hundred and forty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, sitting in underground silos scattered across the plains of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The missiles are kept on alert, at all times, ready to take off within two minutes, as a means of escaping a surprise attack. Each missile carries a nuclear warhead that may be as much as thirty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Minuteman III was first deployed in 1970 and scheduled for retirement in the early nineteen-eighties. The age of the weapon system is beginning to show. Most of the launch complexes were built during the Kennedy Administration, to house an earlier version of the Minuteman, and some of the complexes are prone to flooding. The command centers feel like a time capsule of late-twentieth-century technology. During a recent visit to a decommissioned Minuteman site, I was curious to see the big computer still used to receive Emergency Action Messages—launch orders from the President—via landline. The computer is an I.B.M. Series/1, a state-of-the-art machine in 1976, when it was introduced. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” a report by the Government Accountability Office said last May, with some understatement, about a computer that relies on eight-inch floppy disks. You can buy a smartphone with about a thousand times the memory.

The personnel who command, operate, and maintain the Minuteman III have also become grounds for concern. In 2013, the two-star general in charge of the entire Minuteman force was removed from duty after going on a drunken bender during a visit to Russia, behaving inappropriately with young Russian women, asking repeatedly if he could sing with a Beatles cover band at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, and insulting his military hosts. The following year, almost a hundred Minuteman launch officers were disciplined for cheating on their proficiency exams. In 2015, three launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, were dismissed for using illegal drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines. That same year, a launch officer at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for heading a violent street gang, distributing drugs, sexually assaulting a girl under the age of sixteen, and using psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen. As the job title implies, launch officers are entrusted with the keys for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Minuteman III is a relic of the Cold War not only in design but also in its strategic purpose. The locations of the silos, chosen more than half a century ago, make the missile useful only for striking targets inside Russia. The silos aren’t hardened enough to survive a nuclear detonation, and their coördinates are well known, so the Minuteman III is extremely vulnerable to attack. The President would be under great pressure, at the outset of a war with Russia, to “use them or lose them.” The missiles now have two principal roles in America’s nuclear-war plans: they can be launched as part of a first strike, or they can be launched when early-warning satellites have determined that Russian warheads are heading toward the United States. After being launched, a Minuteman III cannot be remotely disabled, disarmed, or called back. From the very beginning of the Minuteman program, the Air Force has successfully fought against adding a command-destruct mechanism, fearing that an adversary might somehow gain control of it and destroy all the missiles mid-flight. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” an Air Force officer told “60 Minutes” a few years ago.

The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack. The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key. “I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”

The launch-on-warning policy became controversial during the nineteen-seventies, once it was publicly known. The hundreds of missiles based on American submarines, almost impossible to find in the depths of the ocean, seemed more than adequate to deter a Soviet attack. During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in 1979, Fred Iklé, a conservative Republican who later became a top Pentagon official during the Reagan Administration, said, “If any witness should come here and tell you that a totally reliable and safe launch-on-warning posture can be designed and implemented, that man is a fool.” The Pentagon repeatedly denied that launch-on-warning was American policy, claiming that it was simply one of many options for the President to consider. A recent memoir, “Uncommon Cause,” written by General George Lee Butler, reveals that the Pentagon was not telling the truth. Butler was the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for all of America’s nuclear weapons, during the Administration of President George H. W. Bush.

According to Butler and Franklin Miller, a former director of strategic-forces policy at the Pentagon, launch-on-warning was an essential part of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (siop), the nation’s nuclear-war plan. Land-based missiles like the Minuteman III were aimed at some of the most important targets in the Soviet Union, including its anti-aircraft sites. If the Minuteman missiles were destroyed before liftoff, the siop would go awry, and American bombers might be shot down before reaching their targets. In order to prevail in a nuclear war, the siop had become dependent on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. Butler’s immersion in the details of the nuclear command-and-control system left him dismayed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, [the siop] was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” Butler concluded. “We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” The siop called for the destruction of twelve thousand targets within the Soviet Union. Moscow would be struck by four hundred nuclear weapons; Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, by about forty.

After the end of the Cold War, a Russian surprise attack became extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, hundreds of Minuteman III missiles remained on alert. The Cold War strategy endured because, in theory, it deterred a Russian attack on the missiles. McNamara called the policy “insane,” arguing that “there’s no military requirement for it.” George W. Bush, while running for President in 2000, criticized launch-on-warning, citing the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” Barack Obama, while running for President in 2008, promised to take Minuteman missiles off alert, warning that policies like launch-on-warning “increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.” Twenty scientists who have won the Nobel Prize, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have expressed strong opposition to retaining a launch-on-warning capability. It has also been opposed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn. And yet the Minuteman III missiles still sit in their silos today, armed with warheads, ready to go.

William J. Perry, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, not only opposes keeping Minuteman III missiles on alert but advocates getting rid of them entirely. “These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Perry wrote in the Times, this September. For many reasons, he thinks the risk of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War. While serving as an Under-Secretary of Defense in 1980, Perry also received a late-night call about an impending Soviet attack, a false alarm that still haunts him. “A catastrophic nuclear war could have started by accident.”

Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, heads the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, teaches at Princeton University, and campaigns against a launch-on-warning policy. Blair has described the stresses that the warning of a Russian attack would put on America’s command-and-control system. American early-warning satellites would detect Russian missiles within three minutes of their launch. Officers at norad would confer for an additional three minutes, checking sensors to decide if an attack was actually occurring. The Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack System collects data from at least two independent information sources, relying on different physical principles, such as ground-based radar and satellite-based infrared sensors. If the norad officials thought that the warning was legitimate, the President of the United States would be contacted. He or she would remove the Black Book from a briefcase carried by a military aide. The Black Book describes nuclear retaliatory options, presented in cartoon-like illustrations that can be quickly understood.

Missiles launched from Russia would give the President about twenty minutes to make a decision, after consultation with the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. The President might have as few as five minutes, if missiles had been launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic. A decision to retaliate at once, to launch Minuteman missiles before they could be destroyed, runs the risk of killing millions of people by mistake. A decision to wait—to make sure that the attack is for real, to take no action until Russian warheads began to detonate in the United States—runs the risk losing the ability of the command-and-control system to order a retaliation. In that desperate situation, with the fate of the world in the balance, the temperament of the President would be less important than the quality of the information being offered by the system. Could you trust the sensors?

At about one-thirty in the morning, on October 23, 2010, fifty Minuteman III missiles deployed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Wyoming, suddenly went offline. Launch officers could no longer communicate with their missiles. The letters “LFDN” appeared on their computer screens: Launch Facility Down. Every so often, an underground control center would lose contact with missiles, briefly. It wasn’t a big deal. But having an entire squadron go down at once—and remain offline—was a highly unusual event. For almost an hour, officers tried to regain communication with the missiles. When it was reëstablished, remotely, by computer—the control centers are miles away from the missiles—closed-circuit-television images from the silos showed that the fifty missiles were still down there. As a precaution, Air Force security officers were dispatched to all the silos in the early-morning hours.

The Air Force denied that someone had hacked into the computer network and disabled the missiles. A subsequent investigation found that a circuit card, improperly installed in a weapon-systems processor, had been dislodged by routine vibration and heat. The misalignment of the circuit card sent messages to the missiles in the wrong timing sequence. The Minuteman III’s complicated launch procedures were designed to allow the missiles to be fired even if some command centers were destroyed, and to prevent rogue officers from firing them without proper authorization. As a result, the fifty missiles in each squadron are connected by coaxial cable to ten control centers, assuring redundancy and enabling one center to veto another’s launch decision. Throughout the day, at designated times, each control center sends a signal to the missiles, checks their status, and receives a reply. By disrupting the time sequence, the misaligned circuit board created a cacophony of signals and blocked all communication with the missiles. The system jammed itself.

Although the Air Force publicly dismissed the threat of a cyberattack on the nuclear command-and-control system, the incident raised alarm within the Pentagon about the system’s vulnerability. A malfunction that occurred by accident might also be caused deliberately. Those concerns were reinforced by a Defense Science Board report in January, 2013. It found that the Pentagon’s computer networks had been “built on inherently insecure architectures that are composed of, and increasingly using, foreign parts.” Red teams employed by the board were able to disrupt Pentagon systems with “relative ease,” using tools available on the Internet. “The complexity of modern software and hardware makes it difficult, if not impossible, to develop components without flaws or to detect malicious insertions,” the report concluded.

In a recent paper for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester, suggested that a nuclear command-and-control system might be hacked to gather intelligence about the system, to shut down the system, to spoof it, mislead it, or cause it to take some sort of action—like launching a missile. And, he wrote, there are a variety of ways it might be done.

During the Cold War, as part of an espionage effort known as Project gunman, Soviet agents managed to tamper with the comb-support bars in sixteen I.B.M. Selectric typewriters at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Mission in Leningrad. Between 1976 and 1984, every keystroke from those typewriters was transmitted by radio to nearby Soviet listening posts. The tampering was so ingenious that it took twenty-five engineers at the National Security Agency (N.S.A.), working six days a week for several months, with X-ray equipment, to figure out how it was done. Today’s integrated circuits contain billions of transistors. As the Defense Science Board notes in its report, a “subversive” chip “could destroy the processor and disable the system by simply shunting power to ground, change the processor output to incorrect results for specified inputs, or allow information leakage to the attackers.” A subversive chip would look identical to a normal one.

The cybersecurity of the Minuteman III, aging and yet still on alert, is also questionable. About five thousand miles of underground cable link the control centers to the missiles, as part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System. The cable mainly traverses privately owned land. “One of the difficult parts about fixing missile cable is . . . that the wires are no longer in production,” a newsletter at Minot Air Force Base explained a few years ago. The wires are copper, like old-fashioned telephone lines, surrounded by pressurized air, so that attempts to tamper with the cable can be detected. But in the early nineteen-seventies, during Operation Ivy Bells, the United States attached recording devices to similar underwater cable used by the Soviet Navy, tapping into it without piercing it. The mission was accomplished using divers and a submarine, at a depth of four hundred feet, in the Sea of Okhotsk. Digging up part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System in the middle of the night, three to eight feet under a farmer’s back yard in Wyoming, would be less challenging. (The Air Force declined to comment on the specific vulnerabilities of the Minuteman III.)

Even if the hardware were pristine, malware could be inserted into the system. During Operation Orchard, in September, 2007, Israel may have hacked into Syria’s early-warning system—either shutting it down completely or spoofing it into displaying clear skies—as Israeli fighters entered Syrian airspace, bombed a nuclear reactor, and flew home undetected. In 2012, the Stuxnet computer worm infiltrated computers running Microsoft Windows at nuclear sites in Iran, collected information about the industrial process there, and then issued instructions that destroyed hundreds of centrifuges enriching uranium. A similar worm could surreptitiously enter a nuclear command-and-control system, lie dormant for years, and then create havoc.

Strict precautions have been taken to thwart a cyberattack on the U.S. nuclear command-and-control system. Every line of nuclear code has been scrutinized for errors and bugs. The system is “air-gapped,” meaning that its networks are closed: someone can’t just go onto the Internet and tap into a computer at a Minuteman III control center. At least, that’s the theory. Russia, China, and North Korea have sophisticated cyber-warfare programs and techniques. General James Cartwright—the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command who recently pleaded guilty to leaking information about Stuxnet—thinks that it’s reasonable to believe the system has already been penetrated. “You’ve either been hacked, and you’re not admitting it, or you’re being hacked and don’t know it,” Cartwright said last year.

If communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by ultra-high-frequency radio signals transmitted by special military aircraft. The ability to launch missiles by radio serves as a backup to the control centers—and also creates an entry point into the network that could be exploited in a cyberattack. The messages sent within the nuclear command-and-control system are highly encrypted. Launch codes are split in two, and no single person is allowed to know both parts. But the complete code is stored in computers—where it could be obtained or corrupted by an insider.

Some of America’s most secret secrets were recently hacked and stolen by a couple of private contractors working inside the N.S.A., Edward Snowden and Harold T. Martin III, both employees of Booz Allen Hamilton. The N.S.A. is responsible for generating and encrypting the nuclear launch codes. And the security of the nuclear command-and-control system is being assured not only by government officials but also by the employees of private firms, including software engineers who work for Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Lord Des Browne, a former U.K. Minister of Defense, is concerned that even ballistic-missile submarines may be compromised by malware. Browne is now the vice-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, where he heads a task force examining the risk of cyberattacks on nuclear command-and-control systems. Browne thinks that the cyber threat is being cavalierly dismissed by many in power. The Royal Navy’s decision to save money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, as the operating system for its ballistic-missile subs seems especially shortsighted. Windows XP was discontinued six years ago, and Microsoft warned that any computer running it after April, 2014, “should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates.” Each of the U.K. subs has eight missiles carrying a total of forty nuclear weapons. “It is shocking to think that my home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the U.K.’s military submarines,” Brown said.

In 2013, General C. Robert Kehler, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the risk of cyberattacks on the nuclear command-and-control system. He expressed confidence that the U.S. system was secure. When Senator Bill Nelson asked if somebody could hack into the Russian or Chinese systems and launch a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead, Kehler replied, “Senator, I don’t know . . . I do not know.”

After the debacle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union became much more reluctant to provoke a nuclear confrontation with the United States. Its politburo was a committee of conservative old men. Russia’s leadership is quite different today. The current mix of nationalism, xenophobia, and vehement anti-Americanism in Moscow is a far cry from the more staid and secular ideology guiding the Soviet Union in the nineteen-eighties. During the past few years, threats about the use of nuclear weapons have become commonplace in Moscow. Dmitry Kiselyov, a popular newscaster and the Kremlin’s leading propagandist, reminded viewers in 2014 that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive dust.” The Kremlin has acknowledged the development of a nuclear torpedo that can travel more than six thousand miles underwater before devastating a coastal city. It has also boasted about a fearsome new missile design. Nicknamed “Satan 2” and deployed with up to sixteen nuclear warheads, the missile will be “capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” an official news agency claimed.

The bellicose pronouncements in Moscow suggest that Russia is becoming a superpower again, modernizing its nuclear arsenal and seeking supremacy over the United States. In fact, Russia’s arsenal is more inferior today and more vulnerable to a surprise attack than it was forty years ago. The Kremlin’s recent propaganda brings to mind some of Nikita Khrushchev’s claims from 1959: “Now we have such a stock of missiles, such an amount of atomic and hydrogen warheads, that if they attack us we could raze our potential enemies off the face of the earth.” The Soviet Union did not have a single intercontinental ballistic missile when Khrushchev made those remarks.

At the moment, Russia has newer land-based missiles than the United States does, but it also has about a hundred fewer. During the Cold War, Russia possessed hundreds of mobile missiles that were hard to spot from satellites; today, it has only a hundred and fifty, which are rarely moved from their bases and more readily detected by satellite. Russia’s ten ballistic-missile submarines now spend most of their time in port, where they are sitting ducks. An American surprise attack on Russian nuclear forces may have the best chance of success since the days of the Kennedy Administration. During the Cold War, as many as five warheads were targeted at each enemy missile to assure its destruction. In an age of cyber warfare, those missiles could be immobilized with just a few keystrokes. The United States Cyber Command—which reports to the U.S. Strategic Command—has been assigned the mission of using “cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure, and weapons capabilities.”

Russia’s greatest strategic vulnerability is the lack of a sophisticated and effective early-warning system. The Soviet Union had almost a dozen satellites in orbit that could detect a large-scale American attack. The system began to deteriorate in 1996, when an early-warning satellite had to be retired. Others soon fell out of orbit, and Russia’s last functional early-warning satellite went out of service two years ago. Until a new network of satellites can be placed in orbit, the country must depend on ground-based radar units. Unlike the United States, Russia no longer has two separate means of validating an attack warning. At best, the radar units can spot warheads only minutes before they land. Pavel Podvig, a senior fellow at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, believes that Russia does not have a launch-on-warning policy—because its early-warning system is so limited.

According to Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, the deficiencies in Russia’s command-and-control system feed the country’s long-standing fears of encirclement by enemies ready to strike. During the twentieth century, Russia was attacked with little warning by both Germany and Japan. “I think the Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike,” Lewis told me recently. “Perhaps some of that is paranoia, but, on the other hand, the United States opened Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, by striking Dora Farm—a failed decapitation strike against Saddam Hussein.” Russia’s fierce opposition to an American missile-defense system in Europe is driven by fear of the role it could play in a surprise attack. During a crisis, Russia’s inability to launch on warning could raise the pressure on a Russian leader to launch without any warning. The logic of a first strike still prevails. As John Steinbruner, a renowned nuclear theorist, explained more than thirty years ago, shooting first “offers some small chance that complete decapitation will occur and no retaliation will follow. . . . [It] is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war.”

Vladimir Putin now wields more power over Russia’s nuclear forces than any leader since Khrushchev. Putin has displayed great boldness and a willingness to take risks in foreign affairs. A surprise attack on the United States, given its nuclear superiority and largely invulnerable ballistic-missile submarines, would probably be suicidal. And yet the alternative might appear worse. Putin has described an important lesson he learned as a young man in Leningrad: “When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first.”

For the past nine years, I’ve been immersed in the minutiae of nuclear command and control, trying to understand the actual level of risk. Of all the people whom I’ve met in the nuclear realm, Sidney Drell was one of the most brilliant and impressive. Drell died this week, at the age of ninety. A theoretical physicist with expertise in quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, he was for many years the deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator and received the National Medal of Science from Obama, in 2013. Drell was one of the founding members of jason—a group of civilian scientists that advises the government on important technological matters—and for fifty-six years possessed a Q clearance, granting him access to the highest level of classified information. Drell participated in top-secret discussions about nuclear strategy for decades, headed a panel that investigated nuclear-weapon safety for the U.S. Congress in 1990, and worked on technical issues for jason until the end of his life. A few months ago, when I asked for his opinion about launch-on-warning, Drell said, “It’s insane, the worst thing I can think of. You can’t have a worse idea.”

Drell was an undergraduate at Princeton University when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed. Given all the close calls and mistakes in the seventy-one years since then, he considered it a miracle that no other cities have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon—“it is so far beyond my normal optimism.” The prospect of a new cold war—and the return of military strategies that advocate using nuclear weapons on the battlefield—deeply unnerved him. Once the first nuclear weapon detonates, nothing might prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control. “We have no experience in stopping a nuclear war,” he said.

During the recent Presidential campaign, the emotional stability of the Commander-in-Chief became an issue, with some arguing that a calm disposition might mean the difference between peace on Earth and a nuclear apocalypse. The President of the United States has the sole power to order the use of nuclear weapons, without any legal obligation to consult members of Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ideally, the President would never be short-tempered, impulsive, or clinically depressed. But the mood of the Commander-in-Chief may be irrelevant in a nuclear crisis, given the current technological constraints. Can any human being reliably make the correct decision, within six minutes, with hundreds of millions of lives at stake?

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin confront a stark choice: begin another nuclear-arms race or reduce the threat of nuclear war. Trump now has a unique opportunity to pursue the latter, despite the bluster and posturing on both sides. His admiration for Putin, regardless of its merits, could provide the basis for meaningful discussions about how to minimize nuclear risks. Last year, General James Mattis, the former Marine chosen by Trump to serve as Secretary of Defense, called for a fundamental reappraisal of American nuclear strategy and questioned the need for land-based missiles. During Senate testimony, Mattis suggested that getting rid of such missiles would “reduce the false-alarm danger.” Contrary to expectations, Republican Presidents have proved much more successful than their Democratic counterparts at nuclear disarmament. President George H. W. Bush cut the size of the American arsenal in half, as did his son, President George W. Bush. And President Ronald Reagan came close to negotiating a treaty with the Soviet Union that would have completely abolished nuclear weapons.

Every technology embodies the values of the age in which it was created. When the atomic bomb was being developed in the mid-nineteen-forties, the destruction of cities and the deliberate targeting of civilians was just another military tactic. It was championed as a means to victory. The Geneva Conventions later classified those practices as war crimes—and yet nuclear weapons have no other real use. They threaten and endanger noncombatants for the sake of deterrence. Conventional weapons can now be employed to destroy every kind of military target, and twenty-first-century warfare puts an emphasis on precision strikes, cyberweapons, and minimizing civilian casualties. As a technology, nuclear weapons have become obsolete. What worries me most isn’t the possibility of a cyberattack, a technical glitch, or a misunderstanding starting a nuclear war sometime next week. My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, some day, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.

Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” from 2013, and the producer of the documentary “Command and Control,” from 2016.

A first look at a 21st century disarmament movement

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 19, 2016 at 11:49 pm

John Carl Baker, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 16, 3016

John Carl Baker is a Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow at the Ploughshares Fund, where he works as political engagement strategist. Baker holds a doctorate in cultural studies, and his work focuses on disarmament movements, late Cold War culture, and critical theory. His current book project examines the intersection between the nuclear freeze movement and the transition to neoliberalism in the United States.
With Donald Trump set to ascend to the presidency, many in the disarmament and nonproliferation community are deeply concerned and searching for a path forward. The comparisons to the election of Ronald Reagan are not perfect, but they do contain at least one kernel of truth. Just as in the early 1980s, those who seek to eliminate nuclear risk today feel left out in the cold—and they are understandably frightened. Much like Reagan’s loose talk about nuclear war, the thought of Trump’s finger on the button sends chills down the spines of experts and laypeople alike.

It is not surprising then that some are floating the possibility of a revived disarmament movement as a counterbalance to the incoming Trump administration, which seems primed to continue and perhaps even accelerate the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal. Here in the Bulletin, Frank von Hippel recently wondered whether a millennial-led “general citizen uprising” against Trump’s policies might include a disarmament component. This is certainly a possibility. But if the “new generation of nuclear disarmament activists” he foresees actually emerges, what might it look like when compared to, say, the nuclear freeze movement of the Reagan era?

In my view, a 21st century disarmament movement will be–and should be–distinct from the freeze in three main ways. It will be intersectional, it will be digital, and it will be confrontational.

The nuclear freeze movement accomplished a great deal in its brief existence. It challenged the Reagan administration to temper its rhetoric and engage with the Soviets. Along with other peace movements around the globe, it helped bring the world back from the brink of nuclear war. These achievements made the joint weapons reductions of the late Cold War possible, and for that we owe the freeze movement a debt of gratitude. But the movement was not without its faults. It presented the freeze policy as a common denominator around which everyone from dissident Republicans to radical leftists could rally and consciously cultivated a public image that was politically moderate and middle class. In theory the freeze movement was a big tent that welcomed all comers, but in practice it tended to be white, affluent, and strangely cordoned off from other activist causes.

A contemporary movement will not be nearly as exclusionary and single-issue oriented. While there are clearly targeted forms of activism today—against police violence, economic inequality, and climate change, to name just a few—no sharp line exists between them, and they are constantly making connections with one another. Black Lives Matter activists point out the links between economic inequality and over-policing, while environmental advocates discuss the disproportionate impact of climate upheavals on people of color and the poor.

Social movements today are foundationally intersectional, and a new disarmament movement will be too. It may emphasize the trade-off between social spending and defense spending, or criticize the orientalist quality of much nonproliferation discourse. It may note the racist and environmentally destructive history of nuclear testing, or draw attention to male domination of the national security sphere. A new movement will face the exclusionary qualities of disarmament activism head-on and replace them with a firm emphasis on diversity and cross-issue collaboration. A revived disarmament movement will acknowledge that its goal cannot take primacy over other struggles but can come to fruition in and through them. Much like the other new social movements, it will see itself as one element in an overarching global push for democracy, civil rights, and economic justice.

Media forms have historically played a significant role in promoting the disarmament cause. In the Reagan era, films about nuclear war proliferated, and activists seized upon them as a way of galvanizing the public against the arms race. These texts were “mass media” in the truest sense of the term. They were delivered instantaneously to huge audiences, who experienced them collectively, whether in the movie theater or the family living room. On one evening in 1983, a stunning 100 million people watched the TV movie The Day After, which portrayed the impact of a nuclear war on a Midwestern community in the United States. In the weeks before and after the film was broadcast, it spurred a nationwide discussion on the dangers of nuclear weapons. The film kept the freeze issue in the public eye and presented an enormous organizing opportunity, which activists were more than happy to exploit.

Mass media are still with us, of course, but a 21st century disarmament movement will likely take a more decentralized, digital approach to media engagement and popular mobilization. Social media has already played an enormous role in organizing new social movements (particularly Black Lives Matter), and a new disarmament movement would no doubt follow suit. Indeed, organizations like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) are already using digital media forms as a cornerstone of their activism. During the recent UN First Committee session, ICAN and its coalition used Twitter to engage in instantaneous critiques of the nuclear-armed states, calling them out for their hypocrisy and underhandedness in trying to scuttle the ban treaty. They did this not only through expert analysis, but also through appropriately biting humor—sometimes delivered via internet memes. Mainstream US media have been remarkably uninterested in the UN ban treaty discussions, but through digital platforms like Twitter, groups like ICAN are disseminating the latest news, pushing back against the claims of the nuclear-armed states and encouraging newcomers to get involved in the issue. Their success at the international level may provide a model media strategy for a new US movement.

The third and most distinctive quality of a 21st century disarmament movement is that it will be confrontational, a major departure from the freeze in both tactics and strategy. From its inception, the freeze movement defined itself in opposition to radical politics and unilateral disarmament, hence its emphasis on bilateralism, verifiability, and traditional civic participation. It’s true that the freeze engaged in public demonstrations and protest marches (most notably the June 1982 Central Park rally of 750,000 people), but its primary form of political engagement was the ballot box. It eschewed most forms of direct action in favor of state and local ballot initiatives calling for the institution of a bilateral freeze on the testing, deployment, and production for nuclear weapons. These initiatives clearly expressed opposition to the status quo but were non-binding; the hope was that Congress would take up the issue, which it eventually did, with mixed results. The point here is that the freeze movement sought a kind of accommodation with the powers-that-be. This was evident in the policy itself, designed to be non-threatening and bipartisan, and in the freeze’s inoffensive, even patriotic model of political participation: localized voting, public education, grassroots legislative pressure.

Today’s social movements, while not antagonistic to voting and, say, writing your congressperson, do not regard these activities as the end-all-be-all of political participation. They place a much stronger emphasis on protest in its varying forms: rowdy demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience, the reclamation of public space.

The 21st century is the time of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Fight for $15, and it seems likely that a renewed disarmament activism will take a cue from these movements’ confrontational tactics. Today, the dominant style of protest does not passively ask to be heard, but demands it, by actively challenging an injustice at its source. There is of course a long history of peaceful direct action in the disarmament movement, and activists may revive this tradition in the coming years. The US nuclear weapons complex, spread out over multiple sites across the country, certainly provides ample opportunity for disruptive—but peaceful—protest. Thinking intersectionally, though, activists may focus their ire on the defense corporations of the “nuclear enterprise,” who receive billions from the federal government at a time when many Americans feel economically left behind. So far, inequality activists have not stressed the trade-off between defense spending and social spending. But with the US set to spend $1 trillion modernizing its nuclear arsenal, and Trump adding numerous critics of social welfare programs to his administration, there is significant potential for cross-issue mobilization.

The freeze movement was reluctant to make broader political connections and engage in direct action for fear of being tarred as unserious and left wing. Whether this choice was correct in the early 1980s is open for debate. But today, a raucous intersectionality–digitally savvy but materially focused–seems absolutely essential for preventing a new arms race. This 21st century movement will look radically different from the freeze. Its form will pose a challenge not only to Donald Trump and nuclear modernization but to those of us in the arms control community who sometimes value subdued professionalism over committed action. Still, we should welcome it. A renewed movement will give a much-needed injection of youthful excitement to the issue of nuclear arms control and will help turn the slow drip of progress over the past 30 years into a flood of momentous change. It happened before, and it can happen again.

UN: Threat of a Hacking Attack on Nuclear Plants Is Growing

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, War on December 17, 2016 at 3:58 am

By The Associated Press, December 15, 2016

UNITED NATIONS — The “nightmare scenario” is rising for a hacking attack on a nuclear power plant’s computer system that causes the uncontrolled release of radiation, the United Nations’ deputy chief warned Thursday.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a Security Council meeting that extremists and “vicious non-state groups” are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction “and these weapons are increasingly accessible.”

Non-state actors can already create mass disruption using cyber technologies — and hacking a nuclear plant would be a “nightmare scenario,” he said.

The open council meeting focused on ways to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by extremist groups and criminals. Members unanimously approved a resolution to strengthen the work of the council committee monitoring what countries are doing to prevent “non-state actors” from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction, known as WMDs.

Eliasson said there are legitimate concerns about the security of stockpiles of radioactive material suitable for making nuclear weapons but that are outside international regulation.

In addition, he said, “scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons.”

“And emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a WMD,” Eliasson said.

He said the international community needs robust defenses to stay ahead of this technological curve. “Preventing a WMD attack by a non-state actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses,” Eliasson said.

U.N. disarmament chief Kim Won-soo said the new resolution recognizes “the growing threats and risks associated with biological weapons” and the need for the 193 U.N. member states, international groups and regional organizations to step-up information sharing on these threats and risks.

Kim said it is important that the Security Council keep up its focus on preventing deadly weapons from getting into the hands of extremists and criminals, but it also needs to study how to respond if prevention fails.

“The consequences of an attack would be disastrous and we must be prepared,” he said.

Eliasson said that “a biological attack would be a public health disaster,” but that there is no global institution capable of responding.

Brian Finlay, president of the Stimson Center in Washington, which has been supporting the work of the Security Council committee since 2004, said the resolution requiring all countries to take action to prevent non-state actors from getting WMD “has provided a near unprecedented rallying point for global efforts to prevent terrorist acquisition of these weapons.”

But challenges remain, he said, citing a steady increase in nuclear, biological and chemical incidents around the globe, “including notably by non-state actors.” He also cited growing access to the internet and potentially illegal technology transfers, saying there is “evidence that terrorist groups with regional or global ambitions continue to seek weapons of mass destruction.”

He called for civil society, industry and the general public to support the campaign against the growing threat of the world’s most dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands.

If nuclear war broke out, where’s the safest place on Earth?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 17, 2016 at 3:49 am

By Dr. Becky Alexis Martin and Thom Davies, The Guardian, December 15, 2016

The recent death of Fidel Castro – a man synonymous with the threat of nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis – has reminded us how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.

We are safer now than perhaps any time in our history. Let’s take the cheery topic of violent death, for example. In most of the world, murder rates are falling along with other violent crimes. A recent UN study reported that homicide rates in North America, Europe and Asia have been declining for last 15 years, and wars have also become less deadly when compared to conflicts in the 20th century. Even contemporary atrocities in the Middle East do not compare to the industrial genocide of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. Research by the Early Warning Project for example, has shown a clear decline in mass killings in wars and conflicts since 1992.
Despite gruesome on-going conflicts, as a planet we are arguably living in the most peaceful time in human history. On the surface, that goes for nuclear threats too. Nuclear bunkers have been turned into nightclubs, civil defence has become an interesting historical curiosity, and the five countries of the “nuclear club” have successfully adhered to major international treaties that ban making and testing nuclear weapons for over two decades.

A mutually-assured obsession
Recently however, the atomic landscape has begun to shift. North Korea has undertaken a series of nuclear tests, including its fifth and largest detonation in September 2016, and the UN Security Council will soon be implementing sanctions, which could have wide-reaching consequences. Although the vast majority of UN member states voted in favour of a ban on nuclear weapons, there are increased tensions between NATO and Russia, continuing volatility between India and Pakistan, and new nuclear nightmares and geopolitical scenarios that never existed during the halcyon days of the Cold War.

Ex-Pentagon chief William Perry claimed this year that nuclear destruction is a bigger risk today than during the 70s and 80s. The shock election of Donald Trump, described by US military officers as ‘easily baited and quick to lash out’, has also revived our atomic anxiety. With Donald soon to be in sole command of 7,000 nuclear warheads, are we one step closer to nuclear annihilation?

Being the cheerful optimists that we are, we decided to explore how attitudes have changed towards nuclear deterrence, the current emotional geopolitics attached to nuclear weapons, and to consider what would happen in the basically impossible scenario that an instantaneous and multilateral nuclear war occurs in 2017.
Emotional geopolitics
So what is it about nuclear weapons that provoke such a strong emotional response? One only has to look at the debates over Trident renewal this year to see how nuclear issues can still incite such passion, anger and hostility. Global society has constructed a norm against the use of nuclear arms, but like any human construction, it can be repurposed. The idea that nuclear weapons have a unique psychological effect emerged following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2. Since then, nuclear things have possessed an exceptional political power, and atomic bombs became the ultimate taboo weapon.

When the British Government published its infamous September Dossier in 2002 to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, they drew upon the powerful stigma of nuclear weapons, by including an atomic threat among a long list of – now debunked – reasons to invade. Though other weapons of war can be equally damaging, they do not hold the same emotional stigma as ‘The Bomb’. Even gas – rightly stigmatized after WW1 – has recently been deployed against civilians in Syria with little military backlash. It is doubtful that Obama’s weak response to this outrage would have been so anodyne (remember the ‘red line’, anyone?) if the Syrian Army had used tactical nukes.

But what would happen if there was a nuclear war today? We thought there was one way to find out – by modelling a simultaneous and multilateral contemporary nuclear apocalypse, to look at the safe places that emerge, and consider the meaning of it. We modelled one possible scenario for January 20th 2017, which just happens to be Donald Trump’s inauguration date.

We looked at the current international nuclear stockpile of the ten nuclear states for guidance, and considered the likelihood of conflict with other nations, to create a ranking of risk trajectories. Combining this with numerical weather prediction data enabled us to gain an approximate idea of what could happen if we had an all-out nuclear war. The modelled output of our crude atomic plaything produced fallout across the world, which would eventually plunge us into a nuclear winter.

So where is the safest place?
Our computer modelling shows that should atomic annihilation be on the cards, one of the safest places to live would be Antarctica. Not only is this sub-zero continent miles from anywhere, it was also the sight of the world’s first nuclear arms agreement in 1959. The Antarctic Treaty banned the detonation of all nuclear weapons and dedicated this frozen landscape as a space for peaceful research. But who’d want to live there? It wouldn’t be the first time polar regions have been used as nuclear hideouts: in perhaps the coolest mission of the Cold War, codenamed ‘Project Iceworm’, a huge nuclear base was secretly buried deep within the Arctic Circle. Known as “the city under the ice”, this vast bunker, which is now full of abandoned toxic waste and radioactive coolant, will soon be disentombed from its frozen lair as the icecaps continue to melt. So if Antarctica doesn’t take your fancy, where else?

Another option would be Easter Island in the South Pacific, over 2000 miles from South America. While spending time here as the rest of the world burns, you could check out the massive mysterious statues, known as Mo‘ai. These monoliths were carved by ancient Polynesians who cut down all the trees on the island in order to move these giant stone figures. Sadly, as Jared Diamond writes in his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’, this deforestation turned the isolated island into an ecological ruin. What better place to ponder the hamstrung future of mankind than an island that encapsulates our ability to kill ourselves through damaging our environment?

 
If Easter Island’s barren landscape sounds too depressing, why not try the archipelagos of Kiribati or the Marshall Islands? These remote and sunny island chains come complete with tropical beaches and are surrounded by 750,000 square miles of ocean. Once the home to much of the historical nuclear weapons testing, it is somehow poignant that sites that were previously peppered with fallout could be the safest places on earth during our hypothetical nuclear apocalypse.

Whist we have geologically defined our atomic Anthropocene by our nuclear weapons testing, the future of humanity and the fabric of the planet is now being tested and moulded by pollution and climate change. Perhaps now it is time to reconsider the emotional connections that we have designated to nuclear weapons, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to think ourselves beyond the psychology of atomic apocalypse, if humanity is to survive.

Dr Becky Alexis-Martin is based at the University of Southampton, Dr Thom Davies is based at the University of Warwick.