Thursday, September 09, 2010

Civil Defense

Have you ever considered the possibility of a Cold-War style nuclear exchange? If you have done any study on the subject, you will know you need two types of protection: blast protection, and fallout protection. Some structures provide great blast protection, but do nothing for you fallout-wise; other structures would provide great fallout protection, but would be destroyed in the vicinity of the blast.
A little more searching would lead you to the American Civil Defense initiative begun in earnest by President John F Kennedy. This involved identifying and actually stocking fallout shelters for use by the American public. I remember in the late 80s/early 90s seeing the "Fallout Shelter" signs still remaining on certain public buildings, even though the program had been pretty much ended under President Jimmy Carter.
Modern conventional wisdom says a nuclear exchange would be unsurvivable, so why prepare? Modern experts tend to laugh at the old "Bert the Turtle" public service cartoon that advises people to "duck and cover" in the event of nuclear attack. However, it should be noted that "duck and cover" is, in actuality, an excellent immediate response.
I cannot say for sure whether this new fatalist position is an attempt to push harder for the eradication of nuclear weapons or not. Nonetheless, it does no good to the average citizen.
The idea that the fall of the Soviet Union ended the threat of all-out thermonuclear war is naive. Both the US and Russia maintain thousands of nuclear missiles at the ready, all tied to a "Launch on Warning" system that directs the respective leaders to initiate a counterattack upon warning of a nuclear strike from the other side.
The dangers of this arrangement were made strikingly clear in January of 1995. Scientists in Norway launched a rocket to put a research satellite into space. Despite following international protocol and notifying all governments ahead of time, this information -somehow- did not reach Moscow.
The launch of this rocket and its subsequent tack into what would be the approximate trajectory of a US Minuteman missile directed at Russia resulted in the "nuclear briefcase" being brought Russian President Boris Yeltsin. His key was inserted and turned to on. Internal Russian protocol gave him a maximum of 10 minutes to launch an all-out retaliatory nuclear strike against the US.
Fortunately for our world, he waited, and they were able to confirm the intent of the rocket and back down.
It's 2010, and although the Russians reviewed and improved their procedures in the wake of this incident, the launch-on-warning system is still in place. How easy would it be for a terrorist to launch a dud missile and trick the Russian government into thinking the US had launched a pre-emptive nuclear attack?
And why is it that we discount the possibly of Russia launching an intentional nuclear attack on the US? We didn't do ourselves any favors, after the fall of the USSR, in our reckless expansion of NATO. Neither have we scored any brownie points by camping our military in their backyard--Central Asia. Nor are we lessening the tension by increasingly signalling a willingness to pre-emptively strike Iran, a Russian and Chinese ally, with nuclear weapons.
Do you understand the nuclear posture of the US at this point in time? Our military is fully committed to use of nuclear weapons on a pre-emptive basis. They justify this by their intent to use only "tactical" nukes. In our government's and our military's eyes, tactical nukes are, for all intents and purposes, really just extra-bad-ass conventional weaponry. I know this is an over-simplification but it is not far from the truth. In the use of tactical nukes, no additional considerations are made that aren't already made with massive conventional weapons such as MOABs or daisy-cutters.
The potential for nuclear escalation is high in such a scenario where the US has in fact utilized tactical nukes. You start with tens of kilotons, then someone escalates to hundreds of kilotons, then somebody pulls out the megatonnage and guess where we are at? Back to all the nightmares of the Cold War.
What of treaties such as SALT and START? Do we trust Russia? Are you aware that even by the official numbers, Russia has twice as many active nuclear warheads as the US?
Do you think our national leaders are not aware of this? We can talk potential all day but we may never know the game that is being played on high behind closed doors.
This is one major reason why war with Iran is such a scary proposition. Whose side do you think Russia will take?
The need for Civil Defense is higher than ever. Why we abandoned this national need I'll never understand.

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