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News Nuclear war still a threat?

  1. Jun 11, 2012 #1
    The Cold War ended 20 years ago, but I still wonder: is nuclear war still a danger to mankind? How likely is it that we'll experience a nuclear war in, say, the next 20 years? I mean, it seems like there are a lot of situations that can quickly get out of hand and lead to one.

    1.) A war in Iran
    2.) Georgia joins NATO then gets invaded by Russia
    3.) A war with China
    4.) India-Pakistan
    5.) An end-times fundamentalist like Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin gets his/her hands on a nuclear arsenal.

    Am I just being paranoid or are these valid concerns?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2012 #2
    They're certainly concerns, imo. Pakistan and Iran are question marks. But it would be national suicide for either of them to launch any sort of nuclear attack.

    The vetting process for getting elected to the US presidency is pretty thorough, imo. So, it doesn't seem likely to me that the US is going to elect a loose cannon -- at least not one loose enough to start a nuclear war.

    It's extremely unlikely that Iran would do a preemptive nuclear strike (on Israel). But having nuclear weapons would increase Iran's bargaining power wrt certain international considerations, so it seems to be in the interest of the US and Israel to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear military capability.

    It's sometimes argued that it's the significant nuclear military capability of NATO allies that has kept things from getting too out of hand. Then again, it seems that a nuclear-armed Iraq would probably not have been preemptively invaded by the US.

    Anyway, regarding your concern, imo it's extremely unlikely that there will be a nuclear war in the next 20 years.
  4. Jun 11, 2012 #3
    To address your concerns:

    1.) Even when/if Iran gets the nuke, it isn't clear if they'll have a launch platform capable of reaching the US. Their main target actually is not us, and not Israel, but more likely their Sunni Arab rivals. Even so, their potential nuclear threat to the region is very serious and very real.

    2.) I don't think this scenario is quite as likely. Russia already had its fun with Georgia, and I don't think we will see a repeat of this.

    3.) This is considerably more likely than I think many people realize. Their long term agenda is to re-establish a sino-centric system of dominance over their neighbors, and now we're seeing this in their bullying of their neighbors in the South China Sea. In fact the situation with the Phillipines is most instructive, the only reasons that hasn't already escalated into a shooting war is because we have a mutual defense treaty with the Phillipines and an overwhelmingly powerful military machine that can enforce it. But this situation will not hold. It's an unfortunate tendency for them to overplay their hand whenever they think they have an advantage, no matter how short term, fleeting or nonexistent it might be. When they think we are too weak, whether it be in means, in will or both, they will test our treaty obligations and then things will get interesting.

    4.) These guys came very close to a shooting war a couple of times since Pakistan developed it's nukes. The potential is there for sure, just for the traditional reasons. Now add to that China. In the context of a broader war with China, we could potentially see them go to war with each other again. Also in light of Pakistan's continueing instability, it's possible for Islamic radicals to eventually sieze power and decide to have that "final showdown", this is an area to be concerned over for sure.

    5.) Fortunately unlike Pakistan our military isn't riddled with end of days whackjobs and has much better control over our arsenal, as well as more sane people with their fingers on the button.

    So in short, you are right to be concerned about several of these. The next 10 years will be quite interesting indeed.
  5. Jun 11, 2012 #4
    Really? I mean, just the fact that Sarah Palin actually came relatively close to the nuclear arsenal or the fact that Michele Bachmann was NOT promptly laughed off the national stage makes me doubt this.

    But how do we know this will continue to happen in the future?
  6. Jun 11, 2012 #5
    How do we know that for sure? And even if you're right, how do we know this whole situation over a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic won't escalate. Some Russian generals have already threatened pre-emptive strikes against those missile defense sites. Others have warned that situations in countries close to Russia could go nuclear.

    Really? I've heard that Christian fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalist evangelism has been a big problem in the armed forces. Just recently, it was revealed that people were introducing Christian themes into the nuclear ethics courses in the Air Force. And, like I said earlier, the fact that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann weren't promptly and soundly laughed off the national stage concerns me.

    So in short, you are right to be concerned about several of these. The next 10 years will be quite interesting indeed.[/QUOTE]
  7. Jun 12, 2012 #6
    Anyone else have any feedback? I'm actually freaking out quite a bit over this.
  8. Jun 12, 2012 #7
    Another thing that could set off a nuclear war: an accident. You know, someone in a command center thinks he sees an incoming nuclear missile on the radar screen, where it's really just a flock of geese.

    The point is, I've just been freaking out a lot about this recently.
  9. Jun 12, 2012 #8


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  10. Jun 12, 2012 #9
    Have you watched the movie crimson tide .

  11. Jun 12, 2012 #10
    A single nuclear strike by a rogue state or terrorist group is possible and would put POTUS in a terrible quandary. Suppose North Korea fired a missile with a small (Hiroshima size) warhead that hit Seoul killing approx 80,000 people. Given that NK is not a credible threat to the USA would POTUS be justified in destroying Pyongyang (pop approx 3 million), if the US took no action would Iran take the risk of dropping a bomb on the old enemy Iraq?
    I don't think that the type of nuclear Armageddon that threatened the world on the late 20th centaury is likely, but with India and Pakistan increasing their nuclear arsenals and China just a few minutes by ICBM from either of them who knows.
  12. Jun 12, 2012 #11
    No. Those 3 million people had very little to do with it, and destroying Pyongyang would be ridiculously excessive (unfortunately, some military leaders may think differently). The US Military can bring NK to its knees in a matter of days, *without* using nukes that kill most of the population.
  13. Jun 12, 2012 #12


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    I doubt that nuclear war between nuclear power nations (or allies of) will happen (though obviously I can never be absolutely certain). Even a genocidal tyrant can understand mutually assured destruction or failing that how the international community would react. Also the tactics of warfare have changed quite a bit over the last 50 years or so, now mass murder of civillians is widely condemned and instead armies aim for precision strikes of key installations and targets. With increasingly sophisticated weaponary (targetting, drones etc) I expect this trend to continue.

    In terms of mass murder I'd be more concerned about some nutter group like Aum Shinrikyo managing to get hold of bio/chemical weapons. The tools for creating these are getting better and cheaper, a big concern surrounding the so-called biohacker movement is that given a few grands worth of reconditioned lab equipment, some protocols and a little technical know-how something truly deadly could be cooked up in someone's kitchen. I'm not saying that this is particularly likely either, but if I was going to worry about weapons of mass destruction being used I'm more likely to worry about future potential for bioterrorism than nuclear war.
  14. Jun 12, 2012 #13


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    you mean, like "love thy neighbour", and "turn the other cheek" ?

    yes, i can see how that would be a problem if you're trying to fight a nuclear war! :redface:
  15. Jun 12, 2012 #14


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    Obviously it depends on the teachings but as the bible is full of worrying characters regularly performing genocide I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it is a problem. Especially as there are a huge variety of religious justifications to mass murder of your enemies.
  16. Jun 12, 2012 #15
    MAD worked during the cold war only because everyone with a finger on the button was intelligent and reasonable enough to know that whoever pushes the button first will also be destroyed.

    We have another threat today in that we can no longer count on intelligence and reason. Apocalyptic thinking has become common in the right wing fundamentalist versions of all three monotheistic religions. This would cause one to believe that he could start a war that he could not possibly win because his god would then come down and win it for him. All he has to do is to demonstrate his faith by getting the war started. The current president of Iran has often demonstrated his belief in this idea on public speeches and in writing, as have other extremists from that part of the world. Our saving grace with reguard to Iran is that the president is controlled by a religious committee that does not hold to this doctrine.

    So all we need is for an apocalyptic radical to get control of a bomb and we can expect him to use it, probably delivered in a backpack by a suicidal bomber.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2012
  17. Jun 12, 2012 #16
    They wouldn't dare, both of these nations are full NATO members whereas Georgia was not. Doing that would incite a continent wide war against them. Given the apalling decay in their conventional forces in the last 20 years they won't be able to win. And as for them having another adventure with Georgia, I don't know for sure. But even if they did it wouldn't escalate beyond that.

    Good point. Although I would still have some faith in the integrity of our institutions.

    You shouldn't freak out, just know what the risks are and make some simple preparations. Not running for the hills or anything like that, just some extra non-perishable food and bottled water. Which is really something you should have anyway for different potential disasters.

    As I recall the deal we made was they would be under our nuclear umbrella in exchange for them not developing their own nuclear bombs. That would mean if North Korea nuked them, we would have to respond in kind, likely by flattening Pyongyang. Besidesm Pyongyang is where the regimes supporters are.
  18. Jun 12, 2012 #17
    I think nuclear bombs are used in defense, & used offensively as a threat. I can't see a country thinking it would be a good idea to strike preemptively with a nuclear bomb.

    If you have decision making powers regarding the use of nuclear bombs, certainly game theory, or some form of is considered.

    With that I don't think there is a nuclear bomb threat from any state, "pirate" / terrorist is different and unpredictable from this arm chair.
  19. Jun 12, 2012 #18
    I don't really care what the 'deal' is. The fact of the matter is that a. the majority of those people would have absolutely nothing to do with such a nuclear strike NOR do they have anything to do with this deal you speak of, and b. the US can easily smash the NK government (i.e. those who were responsible for the strike) into pulp *without* murdering most of its citizens. IMO, retaliating by flattening Pyongyang would be barbaric.
  20. Jun 12, 2012 #19


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    The likelihood of the latter IMO is exceedingly low. Building and delivering a nuclear weapon requires a large, well funded, technically specialised industry. If a terrorist were to sit back and try to plan how to perform mass murder they are far more likely to choose chemical/bio attack, persistant bombings in urban areas or multiple hijacking/crashing of planes into built up areas. All of these things are far easier than trying to build and launch a nuclear weapon, caveat being that something like a dirty/radiation bomb might be possible though I'm not sure how realistic it would be to assume they could get their hands on radioactive waste.
  21. Jun 12, 2012 #20


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    100% agreed. Mass murder of civilians because their government/military mass murdered civilians in your country is about as ethical as slaughtering a family because one of them was a serial killer who killed most of yours.
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