The threat of nuclear war puts enough stress on people that anaccidental nuclear war could be the result. With more and more of thesuperpowers defences being controlled by complex computers, the chanceof a malfunction increases as well. Add this to normal human error andgovernmental mistakes and you have a recipe for disaster. For this paper Iwill be describing examples and systems of the United States, as Canadahas no nuclear weapons, and the USA’s information is more readilyavailable than the other nuclear equipped countries.
“Accidental nuclear war” is a term for a very broad subject, withhard to define boundaries. Technical errors, miscalculations andunintended escalation can all lead to inadvertent nuclear war. In the 1950’s a flock of geese was mistaken for a squadron ofRussian bombers, and in 1960 a radar beam reflecting off the moonduplicated a Soviet ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile)(BarbaraMarsh, p.65). Both of these false alarms were detected in time to halt acounter-strike mainly because it was peace time and no one’s fingerpoised over the “button”.
During a crisis, peoples high levels of stresscreate suspicions where there shouldn’t be, and as a result many safeguards are removed that are in place to prevent an accidental launch. It isfeared that under these circumstances it would be quite easy for a flock ofgeese to set off a nuclear war. Another fear is that a smaller nation, suchas recent Korea, could gain control of, and utilize nuclear weapons, andtrigger a war between the super powers. This type is called a catalyticnuclear war.
There are two types of control over the operation of nuclearweapons: positive and negative. Plans implemented in order to preventunauthorized use of the nuclear weapons – mechanical obstacles,electronic locks, prohibitive operational procedures – are designated as’negative controls’. An analogy for negative control could be a fatherkeeping his rifle unloaded, with the safety catch on and locked securely ina gun cabinet so there is little chance that the rifle will be fired byaccident. Similarly there are numerous safeguards in place in order toprevent the nuclear weapons from being fired accidentally. Positive control means making sure that the nuclear missiles can belaunched quickly when the order to fire has been given. This involves thereduction of negative control, and can be the cause for problems. Ananalogy for positive control could be a father, knowing that there is anintruder in the house, having his rifle loaded and ready to fire. Under bothexceptional pressure and apprehension, the rifle could easily be fired byaccident. So when all the safeguards are removed, all it takes is a fewmoments of error to launch an accidental strike.
From 1977 to 1984 there were approximately eleven-hundred falsealarms but only six ever escalated to the point of a Threat AssessmentConference (TAC), in which it is called a serious false alarm. There is thepossibility that a false alarm could take longer to confirm than the decisiontime available, with the end result being the unintentional launch ofmissiles. There is a model that can show the percent possibility of anunresolved false alarm depending on decision time and duration of thecrisis. For example if the decision time is 15 minutes and it takes 2minutes to resolve, during a crisis that goes on for 30 days, then thepercent possibility of accidental launching of ICBM’s is about 0.2%. Butif decision time drops to only 6 minutes then the probability rises to over50% (Wallace, Crissey, Sennot. pp.85-170 ). Another threat related to accidental nuclear war is escaltiativenuclear war, in which a minor situation becomes an all out nuclear war. One scenario could be the escalation of a conventional war in Europe,where the deployment of nuclear weapons along the front line would comeunder the control of field commanders. Under these conditions the”nuclear threshold” could easily be crossed if the field commanders werepressed in any way(Fen Olser Hampson. pp.80-114).
A fully accidental war during a time of peace seems unlikely due tothe amount of negative controls in place to prevent accidental nuclearweapons launch. But there are many people who want the USA to adopt a’launch on warning system’ but Barbara Marsh disagrees with this methodin her thesis on accidental nuclear war, stating that, by her calculation, anaccidental nuclear strike, under the current policy, which requires warnings from both satellites and ground based radar, won’t occur foranother 20,00 years. But under the ‘launch on warning’ system shepredicts that one will occur within the year. One way to lower the need fora quick counter-strike or pre-emptive strike would be to increase thesurvivability of the command centers. Allowing the government to rideout the first strike and take as much time as necessary to consider aresponse, with emphasis on survivability of forces and continuance ofstrict negative control over all nuclear weapons (Bruce Blair.pp35-68).
The facts show that an accidental nuclear war is very unlikely tooccur during normal peace time conditions. The chance does increasesubstantially during a crisis when positive control, the need to respondquickly to attack, outweighs negative control. The major cause for anaccidental nuclear war will in all likelihood not be a malfunctioningcomputer but a management problem, which will require substantiallooking in to and pending efforts in prevention. I believe that the twosuper-powers have shown that they are responsible and have proven thatthey really do mean to disarm, but the vacuum left by their nuclearabsence is being filled with many new faces, with problems of their own.
Cite this The threat of accidental nuclear war
The threat of accidental nuclear war. (2019, Mar 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-threat-of-accidental-nuclear-war/