Armageddon it


January appears to be statistically the month when Mankind was closest to experiencing Nuclear Armageddon. Indeed, as revealed in a recent article by The Guardian, on Jan 24, 1961 a B-52 broke apart in flight which led to the near detonation of an H-Bomb near Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Accidental nuclear “bombs away” happened again when a B-52 crashed along the coast of Spain in January 1966, and another one by the seashore of Greenland in January 1968. (Until that date, Washington used to keep B-52s with nuclear weapons flying around the clock, just in case…) This later incident left several nukes unrecovered somewhere deep into the ice sheet. The list of known incidents involving nuclear weapons is actually pretty extensive and terrifying.

In Sept. 2007, one B-52 flew across the central United States with six armed nuclear missiles, which forced both the Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff to resign. The confidence into strategic force staff was also tarnished last May, when Air Force Commanders were temporally stripped of their authority to control and launch nuclear-armed Minuteman III missiles after an inspection. No later than last week, Vice Admiral Giardina, No 2 at the US Strategic Command, was also suspended for possible involvement in illegal gambling. Cherry on top, the previous head of Strategic Command, Gen. James Cartwright, is under a DoJ investigation for leaking classified information to the press.

However, if unintentional behaviors or events are frightening, what to say about intentional ones? Back in 2009, Nicholas Thomson, in Wired Magazine, revealed the Russian “Perimeter” system, designed to be an “autonomous nuclear strike back capability” in case a NATO led first strike would have vaporized all commanding officers… In case of nuclear doomsday, Moscow made its choice: no “man in the loop”!

But on the other side, things were also pretty radical, as shown in a both scary and hilarious article titled “Armageddon 2”, signed by Nonproliferation expert Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in California. Dr. J. Lewis recalls that in the 60’s, Edward Teller, a Project Manhattan labbie A.K.A. Dr. Strangelove, once pushed forward the idea of a 10,000 megaton bomb, called “Backyard” (because you do not need any vector for a strike since it will wipeout the entire planet). So after the cold war era, he and other smart, creative and peaceful people qualified by Dr. Lewis as “weaponeers”, had the idea to use nukes as powerful as Backyard to… protect the Earth, instead of destroying it! In that respect, the arms control wonk warns about the silliness of a recent partnership between the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) and the Russian State Atomic Energy Organization (ROSATOM) concerning, among other things, defense against asteroids. Apparently the joint plan is simply to nuke the outer space threat with a more than 1 megaton bomb! Anyway, times are changing. Another set of revealed incidents coupled with political initiative such as the one of an independent Scotland that would ban nuclear arsenals from its territory could impulse a debate.