Sunday, February 12, 2017


Since the break-up of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, general anxiety about nuclear war has lessened, and rightly so. Though the risk of a nuclear wolrd war between yje Unites States and the Russian Federation is much less, other risks have grown.
Three 'nuclear wapen states' have not signed the non-proliferaion treaty and ome has not even acknowledged it has them. Those states are Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel. Two of those are uneasy neighbors with a history of conflict: India and Pakistan. North Korea considers South Korea and the USA its enemies.

According to Brecher & Wilkenfeld the moment that had the largest probability of unleashing a nuclear world war was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. They estimated that probability as around 25%. They saw the primary conflict at the end of the 80s as the Israel-Arab tensions. By the way, SIPRI estimates that today Israel has around 80 nuclear weapons. In the whole world we are over 10,000.

Reading a couple of recent analyses, it seems to me that the three major dangers are:
Use of nuclear weapons by North-Korea against South Korea and the USA.
A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan
A nuclear exchange between the USA and the Russian Federation.

The first seems the least unlikely, but will be by far the smallest. The second will be larger, but even less likely and the third is very unlikely, but may be incomparably larger.

And what about terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon? It will be horrible, but most  milited and unlikely to set off a nuclear war, though it seems nort impossible in the second scenario. And if Islamists would set off a nuclear bomb in or near Israel, that would certainly set off a chain reaction. (Excuse the wording.)

What is probably the most unmanageable factor in creating havoc? Psychopaths, like the pilot flying the passenger plane into a mountain. But nowhere can a bomb be launched by a single individual. Smuggling a device into a city requires fewer people, but seems still a far cry from a lone wolf set-up.

The general consensus among the specialists is that the chance on a nuclear war today is definitively larger than during the Cold War, though most probably not as world-wide as it was envisaged then.

But one large bomb on Israel will destroy so much, that no restraint can be expected in the response. Or one nuclear missile on Seoul or a large Indian city will not go unanswered, if only because you don't know if more are coming.

The UK, France and China have also nuclear weapons, but the chances of them unleashing a nuclear war seem slim.

How to manage this risk? The challenge boils down to: how to avoid the first nuclear explosion?
Read my chapter 10 in 'People Make the World' for a more general analysis.

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