5 Terrible Ways That a Nuclear War Might Actually Happen

5 Terrible Ways That a Nuclear War Might Actually Happen

Tom Nichols

Security, Europe

By US gov - US gov, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1997496

No joke.

Key point: There have been too many nuclear war close calls for comfort and humanity must learn from them.

Nuclear war, the exchange of nuclear weapons between two or more states in open conflict. It’s unthinkable. It can’t happen.

Right?

Wrong.

Of course, nuclear war is extremely unlikely. Although the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has placed the hands of its famous clock at five minutes to midnight, that doesn’t mean very much and never has. The fact of the matter is that world nuclear inventories, led by reductions in the United States and Russia, have never been lower, and none of the major powers expects a nuclear conflict in the way they did during the Cold War. To crib a line from Captain Jack Sparrow, however, nuclear war is not impossible, it’s improbable, and a nuclear war could take place in more ways than you might think, sparked by any number of occurrences from a pure accident to an intentional strike.

Editor’s Note: Please also take a look at Tom Nichols recent piece Welcome to Russian Nuclear Weapons 101.

I’m going to focus here on a war that could involve the United States and its allies on one side, and Russia or China on the other. Nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, or between a future nuclear-armed Iran and Israel, is unlikely but far easier to imagine than a global nuclear conflict. Indeed, this is one reason Americans don’t think about nuclear war very much anymore: they think it will happen somewhere else. (If a regional limited war takes place, however, you’ll know it: even a small exchange of nuclear weapons will create a global environmental catastrophe that will dwarf Chernobyl or Fukushima.)

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