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The Real Nuclear Threat, by Mistake

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Part 1: World War Three, by Mistake 

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe

Part 2: The Real Nuclear Threat 

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.

Compiled by David Culver, Ed., Evergreene Digest 

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Part 1: World War Three, by Mistake 

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe.

Eric Schlosser, the New Yorker

 

Thanks to Evergreene Digest reader/contributor Jay Kvale for this contribution.

http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Schlosser-OnNuclearWarfareByAccident-2-690.jpgA dilemma 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? Photograph by Andy Cross / the Denver Post via Getty 

December 23, 2016 | 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.

Eric Schlosser is an American journalist and author known for investigative journalism, such as in his books Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness, and Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.

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Part 2: The Real Nuclear Threat 

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.

Lawrence M. Krauss, the New Yorker    

http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Krauss_Nuclear-Weapons-320.jpgThe first test of a hydrogen bomb, on Enewetak Atoll, in 1952. Photograph by Los Alamos National Laboratory / the New York Times / Redux

October 13, 2016 | Donald Trump’s candidacy has been a source of anxiety for many reasons, but one stands out: the ability of the President to launch nuclear weapons. When it comes to starting a nuclear war, the President has more freedom than he or she does in, say, ordering the use of torture. In fact, the President has unilateral power to direct the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Cabinet members may disagree and even resign in protest, but, ultimately, they must obey the order of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s all too easy to imagine Trump issuing an ultimate, thermonuclear “You’re fired!” to China, Iran, or another nation—and perhaps to the whole human race.*

Richard Nixon, famously, conducted his foreign policy according to the “madman theory”: he tried to convince enemy leaders that he was irrational and volatile, in an attempt to intimidate them. But this was a potentially useful approach to foreign policy only because it was an act. Trump, on the other hand, genuinely seems to be a man who speaks and acts without significant forethought. He’s also someone who—as his debate performances have shown—responds to slights by lashing out against adversaries irrationally and without thinking about the consequences. And Trump has done little to reassure us about nuclear weapons specifically. He has expressed an affinity for massive bombing, proposing to “bomb the shit” out of oil fields in Iraq to counter isis. During a March interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, he said that he would consider using nuclear weapons in Europe, of all places. More generally, he’s disengaged from the realities of international affairs. In August, Trump vowed that, as President, he would prevent Russia’s Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine—“He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down”—apparently not knowing that Russia is already there. He’s also announced a plan to back out of our current nuclear-weapons accord with Iran without any stated replacement for it. Trump’s ignorance is already dangerous; it becomes even more so with nuclear weapons in the mix.

Lawrence M. Krauss is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and director of its Origins Project. 

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