The United States and Russia may stage a nuclear war under false indications of enemy attack as both nations keep nuclear weapons on high-trigger alert, a former commander of U.S. nuclear forces said. Fifty percent of both U.S. and Russia’s strategic arsenals comprise approximately hundreds of missiles carrying nearly 1,800 warheads ready to fly at a moment’s notice, military experts are one in saying.
Nuclear weapons from Cold War era
Former U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James E. Cartwright, and other military experts were one in saying that that U.S. and Russia, major nuclear antagonists, fell short of meeting the standards of sound and responsible handling of their strategic arsenals. While both sides argue that their nuclear weapons are kept at bay for deterrence purposes, both nations are also acting under the impression that each of them may launch an unperceived nuclear attack. As a result, the U.S. and Russia kept developing strategic arsenals, respectively, producing tens of thousands of weapons on each side.
“Both sides feared that a ‘decapitating’ strike could prevent them from striking back after absorbing an attack. In an attempt to avoid decapitation, both undertook some of the riskiest projects of the Cold War,” Cartwright wrote in a report titled De-alerting and Stabilizing The World’s Nuclear Force Postures.
Both U.S. and Russia “put their nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert and prepared to launch them after incoming warheads were detected by early warning satellites and ground radar but before the warheads arrived,” the report said.
This behavior may cause for any of the two nations launching a nuclear war anytime on the basis of false alarm and information.
“As a consequence, both sides ran the risk of launching on false indications of enemy attack – and indeed false alarms have brought both close to mistaken launch on numerous occasions. The short timelines of just a few minutes for detecting and assessing an attack, briefing the top leaders, picking a response option, and implementing the option reduced decision-making on both sides to a checklist-driven rote enactment of a prepared script that could too easily have collapsed in confusion or led to a mistaken or unauthorized launch,” the report stated.
Cartwright, together with Global Zero and a commission of military experts, is now calling for U.S. and Russia to end their practice of keeping nuclear weapons on high-trigger alert. Cartwright and Global Zero Co-founder Dr Bruce Blair is proposing an urgent agreement between the United States and Russia to begin a phased stand-down of their high-alert strategic forces and a longer-term global agreement requiring all nuclear weapons countries to refrain from putting nuclear weapons on high alert.
“Urgent action is needed because of heightened tensions between the United States and Russia, ongoing geopolitical and territorial disputes involving other nuclear countries that could escalate, and an emerging global trend toward placing nuclear weapons on high alert,” Cartwright and the commission said.
Nuclear war may be launch through a cyber attack
Cartwright is also calling for the U.S. to put greater attention on cyberthreats, especially threats coming from a hostile nation-state.
“The sophistication of the cyberthreat has increased exponentially. It is reasonable to believe that that threat has extended itself into nuclear command and control systems. Have they been penetrated? I don’t know. Is it reasonable technically to assume they could be? Yes,” Cartwright said during an interview with the Politico.
“These weapons that are on alert are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked or [the systems] indicate something that is not true in a situation where you only have a few minutes to make a decision,” said Cartwright.
“In a tense military-political situation, like the one that exists currently as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, the probability of making erroneous decisions increases. That is why at the present time it would be necessary for the presidents of Russia and the U.S. to formally renounce the launch-on-warning form,” said retired Russian Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, former director of Research Institute No. 4 in the Russian Ministry of Defense and a member of the Global Zero commission.
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