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Tribute by Ernie Regehr: linked here
Murray Thomson was our friend, colleague, and mentor. He had the good fortune to lead a very long, productive, and exemplary life, and some of us had the very good fortune of sharing elements of it with him. The following brief tribute acknowledges his central role in launching the initiative we know as Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and celebrates his life of activism and optimism in the face of the challenges that he felt so deeply. The way in which we truly honor him is to continue to pursue the kind of world that he imagined and never stopped pursuing. Continue reading…
Murray Thomson was relentless in his work for peace. He just never stopped. Even at 96, he was a force to be reckoned with. Only a few days before he died, he phoned to tell me he had some new ideas for nuclear disarmament, and why wasn’t I doing more to implement them? He challenged me all the time, and I was a better person for it. Murray’s contribution to a more peaceful world and particularly to a world freed of nuclear weapons was outstanding. And that is too weak a word. There was nobody else like him. Although his life was filled with peacemaking activities (when he wasn’t playing tennis or chess), I believe his crowning achievement was the creation of Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, an organization composed of more than 1,000 recipients of the Order of Canada calling on Canada to take a worldwide initiative for nuclear disarmament. The peace movement has lost a hero and our only proper response is to redouble our efforts.— Douglas Roche
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): https://www.icrc.org/en/nuclear-ban-treaty-no-to-nukes
The world today needs the promise of a future without fear of annihilation, and this promise is one step closer to becoming a reality with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017
Join us and say no to nuclear weapons.
MILITARY STATEMENTS ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS
“US military leaders would reject illegal order for nuclear strike, senators told,” The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2017
As senators raise concerns about ‘unstable’ Donald Trump’s decision-making, former commander says military is ‘not obligated to follow illegal orders’
Dec. 6, 2014 – Statement by US General (Ret) Lee Butler speaks for a ban on nuclear weapons
Address by General Lee Butler to Canadian Peaceworkers, March 11, 1999, Ottawa.
General Lee Butler, Remarks to National Press Club, Dec. 5, 1996
Joint Statement on Reduction of Nuclear Weapons Arsenals: Declining Utility, Continuing Risks by Generals Lee Butler and Andrew J. Goodpaster, Dec. 4, 1996, National Press Club
Letter to Bill Graham M.P., Chair, Standing Committee on oreign Affairs and International Trade from Lee Butler, General, USAF, Ret., July 1998
Douglas Roche: Church leaders step into political realm to show they’re serious about scrapping nukes. Feb 6, The Hill Times … Roche_HTFeb6,2019
From Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention
Jan 24, 2019
Dear Prime Minister,
We write to urge, in the strongest terms, you and your government to publicly and prominently call on all the parties to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to ensure that it is preserved.
De Rassemblement canadien pour une convention sur les armes nucléaires
Monsieur le Premier Ministre,
Nous vous envoyons cette lettre pour vous exhorter, ainsi que votre gouvernement, à inciter – publiquement et fermement – toutes les parties au Traité de limitation des armes nucléaires à moyenne portée (traité INF) à faire en sorte qu’il soit maintenu.
PDF here/ici: 2018-01-24-CNWCINF Letter to PM
January 31, 2017
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
RE: Canadian Emergency Response Plan
With the Presidency of Mr. Trump, we are urgently seeking your engagement in an emergency response plan to confront the possible use of nuclear weapons by President Trump. He has been quoted as saying “If we have [nuclear weapons], why can’t we use them?” President Trump has joined the small group of “leaders” who claim the right to kill millions of people to protect their country’s interests. It is clear he is a man of little patience, no diplomatic expertise, no military or conflict resolutions skills. His control of “the button” places the global community in grave danger.
We call on you to use your considerable skill in inspiring communications and clear thinking to urgently lessen and eliminate the nuclear threat. We believe you have the capacity to ensure a more secure future for your family and our families, and indeed the global family.
More specifically, we would propose that you personally take these steps:
1. During your first meeting with President Trump, propose a Reykjavik-style bilateral summit between him and President Putin to discuss how they could further reduce nuclear arsenals and work together to pursue global nuclear disarmament.
2. Publicly commend President Xi’s proposal for nuclear disarmament, to press China for CTBT ratification and to actively explore with China ways to pursue nuclear disarmament on an urgent basis.
3. Seek cooperation with like-minded leaders of NATO member states to promote reduced Allied reliance on a nuclear deterrent and to make an active contribution to creating the conditions necessary for a “world without nuclear weapons”.
4. Direct Canadian diplomats to engage in upcoming negotiations on a legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons and in all other processes that will advance nuclear disarmament
5. Strongly support public advocacy on the increased threat of a nuclear weapons exchange and the need for urgent work toward nuclear disarmament.
We recognize the load on you has been heavy but want to assure you that should a nuclear exchange occur, a legacy of environmental agreements and pipelines will be irrelevant. There can be no greater 150th Birthday gift to Canada than one of increased security for Canadians and the global community.
Bev Tollefson Delong
Chairperson, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
This letter has been endorsed by the following groups:
Canadian Peace Initiative(CPI)
Canadian Pugwash Group
Physicians for Global Survival
Religions for Peace Canada
Vancouver Island Peace and Disarmament Network
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nanaimo Chapter
Monsieur le premier ministre, Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires et le Rassemblement canadien pour une convention sur les armes nucléaires s’adressent à vous et à votre gouvernement, en cette crise nucléaire mondiale qui s’intensifie chaque jour, pour vous presser de faire de la désescalade de crise et d’une diplomatie persistante et intensifiée en matière de désarmement, une priorité nationale.
Canada must be clear-eyed about nuclear disarmament
ERNIE REGEHR AND DOUGLAS ROCHE
Globe and Mail
JANUARY 20, 2019
Ernie Regehr is the chairman of Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a project of Canadian Pugwash, and the former executive director of Project Ploughshares. Douglas Roche was a senator from 1998 to 2004, and was the Canadian ambassador for disarmament.
The world is about to lose one of the most important nuclear disarmament agreements ever made – and distressingly, Canada is silent.
The 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, signed by then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan and former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev, marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. It bans the possession, production and flight-testing of ground-launched missiles within the 500-to-5,500 kilometre range and bans launchers for such missiles. Also, it resulted in the elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe, and it was key to building an innovative system of verification, data exchanges, and mutual consultations.
Now, U.S. President Donald Trump has said the United States intends to suspend its participation in early February, leading to its termination six months later. The United States says the Russians are cheating. Russia says the United States is stretching the treaty’s boundaries. The debate over who’s right is what verification procedures and diplomatic talks are all about.
The stakes are very high. Mr. Gorbachev, now in retirement, and George Shultz, who was Mr. Reagan’s secretary of state, have issued a dire warning that “abandoning the INF” would undermine strategic stability and be a step towards an immensely destructive war. Retired senator Sam Nunn and Barack Obama’s former energy secretary Ernest J. Moniz, two giants in the realm of U.S. arms control who now run the Nuclear Threat Initiative, have also warned of a “cascade of negative consequences” if the INF treaty is abandoned. Those risks include the unfettered deployment by Russia of intermediate missiles sparking a new arms race, serious division within NATO, and the undermining of efforts to rally the world to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons and missiles.
The end of the INF also portends the collapse of the U.S.-Russia New START pact, which is due to expire in 2021 unless it is renewed. The United States has signalled it isn’t interested in renewing the one nuclear disarmament pillar left to hold a new outbreak of long-range missiles in check, and the nuclear-armed states are already modernizing their nuclear stocks.
Countries such as Canada must intervene and demand a diplomatic review of INF compliance procedures because we have a big stake in whether the world will lapse into a new nuclear arms race – and that could be where things are headed.
The importance and success of this treaty cannot be in doubt. The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the international organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, warns against “a world ungoverned by treaties constraining actions of states with nuclear weapons,” and concludes that “decades of effort to build an architecture of restraint are unravelling because key lessons from the early years of the Cold War seem to have been forgotten.”
In 2018, both the Group of Seven and NATO summits – two groups that include Canada as a member – declared that the preservation of the INF treaty is a key to Euro-Atlantic and international security. That’s a good start. But we are disappointed that the government of Canada has itself remained inexplicably silent in the face of the Trump administration’s threat to abandon the treaty.
This is not simply a European or U.S.-Russia matter. Canada definitely has a stake in averting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of any nuclear weapon. As the great Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff once said, “No incineration without representation.”
This is not a time for quiet diplomacy. Canada has a voice and stature in the world. We must be heard by those who control our fate of whether we will live or die in a nuclear war. What the world should be witnessing is not the collapse of nuclear arms control treaties, but new agreements to provide for further reductions in deployed and stockpiled nuclear weapons.
Silence is an abrogation of responsibility. We urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to provide bold, public, and insistent leadership, because continued silence won’t do anything to stop the loudest and most tragic explosion.
L’Honorable Chrystia Freeland
Département des Affaires Globales
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
25 octobre 2018
Chère madame la ministre,
Nous vous adressons respectueusement cette lettre qui a pour objet de vous inciter fortement, ainsi que le gouvernement du Canada, à vous objecter publiquement de façon persistante au récent plan de l’Administration Trump de se retirer du Traité USA-Russie concernant les forces nucléaires de portée intermédiaire (INF) et à lancer un appel à maintenir et à revitaliser le contrôle international sur les armes nucléaires et leur prolifération en vue d’un désarmement.
Si nous sommes parfaitement au courant des accusations de Washington envers les violations russes du Traité, nous observons, comme l’a fait un rapport récent de recherches du Congrès américain, que la Russie a de son côté identifié trois programmes militaires américains en cours ou en planification en violation du Traité. La façon de résoudre de telles accusations n’est certes pas en abandonnant des traités d’importance historique, gagnés de haute lutte, tels que l’INF. Nous prions donc le Gouvernement du Canada de se joindre à ses alliés européens pour insister que les États-Unis et la Russie aplanissent leurs différents à une table de négociation en respectant les clauses de désarmement du Traité de non-prolifération. Selon les termes employés par le Ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’Allemagne Heiko Maas, il y va de notre responsabilité collective de ne ménager aucun effort afin de ramener Washington et Moscou à cette table.
La menace d’abrogation du Traité INF repousse le monde vers un danger de basculer. Tous les pays possédant des armes nucléaires étant déjà embarqués dans des programmes coûteux et déstabilisants de “modernisation”, nous craignons que si l’Administration Trump abandonne ce Traité sans une forte réaction négative de la part d’alliés tel que le Canada, il pourrait aussi abandonner le Traité New Start (dont l’expiration sera en février 2021, à moins que les États-Unis et la Russie le prolongent). Cette éventualité mettrait un terme à toute restriction formelle sur les programmes d’armes nucléaires et enclencherait une impensable accélération périlleuse des courses à l’arme nucléaire déjà en cours. Nous vous implorons, ainsi que le gouvernement du Canada, d’agir de toute urgence et avec persistance pour revenir à la pénible mais prudente et incessante tâche diplomatique en vue du contrôle des armes nucléaires et de leur désarmement.
Murray Thomson, OC
David Silcox, CM
Douglas Roche, OC
Ernie Regehr, OC
Président du comité directeur du CNWC
Cc: Le Très Honorable Justin Trudeau, Premier ministre
L’Honorable Andrew Scheer, chef de l’Opposition et du Parti Conservateur
Jagmeet Singh, chef du Nouveau Parti Démocratique
Elizabeth May, cheffe du Parti Vert
L’Honorable Peter Harder, représentant le gouvernement au Sénat
Membres du Comité Permanent de la Chambre des Communes pour les Affaires étrangères et le Développement international
October 25, 2018
The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Dear Minister Freeland,
We write to strongly urge you and your Government to publicly and persistently object to the Trump Administration’s plan to withdraw from the US-Russian Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and to call for maintaining and revitalizing the international nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament regime.
We are well aware of US charges that Russia is in violation of the Treaty, and we also note, as has a recent US Congressional Research Report, that Russia has identified three current and planned US military programs that it charges are or will be in violation of the Treaty. The way to resolve these serious charges is not by abandoning hard won, and in the case of the INF, historically important Treaties. We thus urge the Government of Canada to join with its European allies to insist that the United States and Russia resolve their differences at the negotiating table and by honoring their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, has put it, it is our collective responsibility to leave “no stone unturned in the effort to bring Washington and Moscow back to the table…”
The threatened abrogation of the INF Treaty pushes the world toward a dangerous tipping point. All states with nuclear weapons are already embarked on expensive and destabilizing “modernization” programs. We fear that if the Trump Administration proceeds with abandoning this Treaty without major push back from allies like Canada, it will also abandon the New START Treaty (which will expire in February 2021 if the US and Russia do not extend it). That would end all formal restraints on nuclear weapons programs and would lead to an unthinkably perilous acceleration of the nuclear arms races that are already underway.
We implore you and the Government of Canada to act with urgency and persistence and to stand for a return to the careful, painstaking, and unrelenting diplomacy of nuclear arms control and disarmament.
Murray Thomson, OC
David Silcox, CM
Douglas Roche, OC
Ernie Regehr, OC
Chair, CNWC Steering Committee
Cc: The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister
The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party
Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party
Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party
Rhéal Fortin, Interim Leader of the Bloc Québécoisbr>
The Hon. Peter Harder, the Government’s representative in the Senate
Members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Subject: NATO Summit in Brussels – July 2018
May 25, 2018
Dear Minister Freeland and Ambassador Buck,
Please find enclosed a Statement setting out our recommendations for Canadian action with respect to the upcoming NATO Summit in Brussels. We would very much appreciate receiving your views on these proposals and hearing about your plan for making progress at the Summit. Kindly send your responses to this email and I will ensure their circulation among these (and other concerned) Canadian groups.
This Statement has been endorsed by the following Canadian groups:
Boundary Peace Initiative
B.C. Southern Interior Peace Coalition.
Canadian Federation of University Women
Canadian Pugwash Group
Science for Peace
Religions for Peace Canada
The Rideau Institute
World Federalist Movement – Canada
Thank you for your attention.
Yes, records from the US Air Force, Navy and Department of Energy disclose roughly one serious nuclear weapons accident every year. The Navy alone reports 563 “incidents” between 1965 and 1983.
Here are some commentaries about accidents and near misses:
Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy
A Chatham House Report
Patricia Lewis, Heather Williams, Benoit Pelopias and Sasan Aghlani
The many, many times the world has come close to doomsday, by Steve Meacham
Nuclear Weapon Accidents, by Michael Krepon, 15 APRIL 2014
The Center for Defense of Information reports 62 serious nuclear weapons accidents since 1945. ( “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents”,
by Jaya Tiwari and Cleve J. Gray at http://www.cdi.org/Issues/NukeAccidents/accidents.htm)
See also “Selected Accidents Involving Nuclear Weapons,1950-1993,” Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org.
On July 27, 2001, the UK Ministry of Defense for the first time admitted some details of seven politically sensitive accidents involving British nuclear weapons. In 1992, an inquiry by Ronald Oxburgh, the then MoD chief scientific adviser, found that since 1960 there have been around 20 mishaps. (Source: The Guardian, 27 July 2001)
We do not have a similar accounting from other nuclear weapons states.
20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War
by Alan F. Phillips, M.D.
Ever since the two adversaries in the Cold War, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., realized that their nuclear arsenals were sufficient to do disastrous damage to both countries at short notice, the leaders and the military commanders have thought about the possibility of a nuclear war starting without their intention or as a result of a false alarm. Increasingly elaborate accessories have been incorporated in nuclear weapons and their delivery systems to minimize the risk of unauthorized or accidental launch or detonation. A most innovative action was the establishment of the “hot line” between Washington and Moscow in 1963 to reduce the risk of misunderstanding between the supreme commanders.
Despite all precautions, the possibility of an inadvertent war due to an unpredicted sequence of events remained as a deadly threat to both countries and to the world. That is the reason I am prepared to spend the rest of my life working for abolition of nuclear weapons.
One way a war could start is a false alarm via one of the warning systems, followed by an increased level of nuclear forces readiness while the validity of the information was being checked. This action would be detected by the other side, and they would take appropriate action; detection of the response would tend to confirm the original false alarm; and so on to disaster. A similar sequence could result from an accidental nuclear explosion anywhere. The risk of such a sequence developing would be increased if it happened during a period of increased international tension.
On the American side many “false alarms” and significant accidents have been listed, ranging from trivial to very serious, during the Cold War. Probably many remain unknown to the public and the research community because of individuals’ desire to avoid blame and to maintain the good reputation of their unit or command. No doubt there have been as many mishaps on the Soviet Side.
Working with any new system, false alarms are more likely. The rising moon was misinterpreted as a missile attack during the early days of long-range radar. A fire at a broken gas pipeline was believed to be enemy jamming by laser of a satellite’s infrared sensor when those sensors were first deployed.
The risks are illustrated by the following selections of mishaps. If the people involved had exercised less caution, or if some unfortunate coincidental event had occurred, escalation to nuclear war can easily be imagined. Details of some of the events differ in different sources: where there have been disagreements, I have chosen to quote those from the carefully researched book, “The Limits of Safety” by Scott D. Sagan. Sagan gives references to original sources in all instances.
These examples represent only a fraction of the false alarms that have been reported on the American side. Many probably remain unreported, or are hidden in records that remain classified. There are likely to have been as many on the Soviet Side which are even more difficult to access.
1956, Nov.5: Suez Crisis coincidence.
British and French Forces were attacking Egypt at the Suez Canal. The Soviet Government had suggested to the U.S. that they combine forces to stop this by a joint military action, and had warned the British and French governments that (non-nuclear) rocket attacks on London and Paris were being considered. That night NORAD HQ received messages that:
(i) unidentified aircraft were flying over Turkey and the Turkish air force was on alert
(ii) 100 Soviet MIG-15’s were flying over Syria
(iii) a British Canberra bomber had been shot down over Syria
(iv) the Soviet fleet was moving through the Dardanelles.
It is reported that in the U.S.A. General Goodpaster himself was concerned that these events might trigger the NATO operations plan for nuclear strikes against the U.S.S.R.
The four reports were all shown afterwards to have innocent explanations. They were due, respectively, to:
(i) a flight of swans
(ii) a routine air force escort (much smaller than the number reported) for the president of Syria, who was returning from a visit to Moscow
(iii) the Canberra bomber was forced down by mechanical problems
(iv) the Soviet fleet was engaged in scheduled routine exercises.
1961, Nov.24: BMEWS communication failure.
On the night of 24 November 1961, all communication links went dead between SAC HQ and NORAD. The communication loss cut off SAC HQ from the three Ballistic Missile Early Warning Sites (BMEWS) at Thule (Greenland,) Clear (Alaska,) and Fylingdales (England,). There were two possible explanations facing SAC HQ: either enemy action, or the coincidental failure of all the communication systems, which had redundant and ostensibly independent routes, including commercial telephone circuits. All SAC bases in the United States were therefore alerted, and B-52 bomber crews started their engines, with instructions not to to take off without further orders. Radio communication was established with an orbiting B-52 on airborne alert, near Thule. It contacted the BMEWS stations by radio and could report that no attack had taken place.
The reason for the “coincidental” failure was the redundant routes for telephone and telegraph between NORAD and SAC HQ all ran through one relay station in Colorado. At that relay station a motor had overheated and caused interruption of all the lines.
[NOTE: Long after I wrote this, a reader informed me that he was a technician at Plattsburgh Air Force Base at the time. The order reached that Base as an “Alpha” alert, the highest level, at which nuclear-armed bombers were to fly direct to their targets and bomb, without waiting at the fail-safe point for further orders. Before any bomber could take off the correction arrived making it a third-level “Cocoa” alert, at which the bombers stayed on the runway with engines running and waited for further orders. If even one bomber had taken off, it might have been very difficult to recall it or stop it.]
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS LASTED FOR THE TWO WEEKS 14-28 OCTOBER 1962. MANY DANGEROUS EVENTS TOOK PLACE IN RELATION TO THE CRISIS, SOME OF THEM BECAUSE OF CHANGES MADE TO ENHANCE MILITARY READINESS. ELEVEN HAVE BEEN SELECTED:
1962, Aug.23: B-52 Navigation Error.
SAC Chrome Dome airborne alert route included a leg from the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, SW across the Arctic Ocean to Barter Island, Alaska. On 23 August 1962, a B-52 nuclear armed bomber crew made a navigational error and flew a course 20 degrees too far towards the north. They approached within 300 miles of Soviet airspace near Wrangel island, where there was believed to be an interceptor base with aircraft having an operational radius of 400 miles.
Because of the risk of repetition of such an error, in this northern area where other checks on navigation are difficult to obtain, it was decided to fly a less provocative route in the future. However, the necessary orders had not been given by the time of the Cuban missile crisis in October, so throughout that crisis the same northern route was being flown 24 hours a day.
Aug.-Oct.1962: U2 flights into Soviet airspace.
U2 high altitude reconnaissance flights from Alaska occasionally strayed unintentionally into Soviet airspace. One such episode occurred in August 1962. During the Cuban missile crisis on October of 1962, the U2 pilots were ordered not to fly within 100 miles of Soviet airspace.
On the night of 26 October, for a reason irrelevant to the crisis, a U2 pilot was ordered to fly a new route, over the north pole, where positional checks on navigation were by sextant only. That night the aurora prevented good sextant readings and the plane strayed over the Chukotski Peninsula. Soviet MIG interceptors took off with orders to shoot down the U2. The pilot contacted his U.S. command post and was ordered to fly due east towards Alaska. He ran out of fuel while still over Siberia. In response to his S.O.S., U.S. F102-A fighters were launched to escort him on his glide to Alaska, with orders to prevent the MIG’s from entering U.S. airspace. The U.S. interceptor aircraft were armed with nuclear missiles. These could have been used by any one of the F102-A pilots at his own discretion.
1962, Oct.24: Russian satellite explodes.
On 24 October a Soviet satellite entered its own parking orbit, and shortly afterward exploded. Sir Bernard Lovell, director of the Jodrell Bank observatory wrote in 1968: “the explosion of a Russian spacecraft in orbit during the Cuban missile crisis… led the U.S. to believe that the USSR was launching a massive ICBM attack.” The NORAD Command Post logs of the dates in question remain classified, possibly to conceal reaction to the event. Its occurrence is recorded, and U.S. space tracking stations were informed on 31 October of debris resulting from the breakup of “62 BETA IOTA.”
1962, Oct.25: Duluth intruder.
At around midnight on 25 October, a guard at the Duluth Sector Direction Center saw a figure climbing the security fence. He shot at it, and activated the “sabotage alarm”. This automatically set off sabotage alarms at all bases in the area. At Volk Field, Wisconsin, the alarm was wrongly wired, and the Klaxon sounded which ordered nuclear armed F-106A interceptors to take off. The pilots knew there would be no practice alert drills while DEFCON 3 was in force, and they believed World War III had started.
Immediate communication with Duluth showed there was an error. By this time aircraft were starting down the runway. A car raced from command centre and successfully signalled the aircraft to stop.
The original intruder was a bear.
1962, Oct.26: ICBM Test Launch.
At Vandenburg Air Force Base, California, there was a program of routine ICBM test flights. When DEFCON 3 was ordered all the ICBM’s were fitted with nuclear warheads except one Titan missile that was scheduled for a test launch later that week. That one was launched for its test, without further orders from Washington, at 4 a.m. on the 26th.
It must be assumed that Russian observers were monitoring U.S. missile activities as closely as U.S. observers were monitoring Russian and Cuban activities. They would have known of the general changeover to nuclear warheads, but not that this was only a test launch.
1962, Oct.26: Unannounced Titan missile launch.
During the Cuba crisis, some radar warning stations that were under construction and near completion were brought into full operation as fast as possible. The planned overlap of coverage was thus not always available.
A normal test launch of a Titan-II ICBM took place in the afternoon of 26 October, from Florida towards the South Pacific. It caused temporary concern at Moorestown Radar site until its course could be plotted and showed no predicted impact within the United States. It was not until after this event that the potential for a serious false alarm was realized, and orders were given that radar warning sites must be notified in advance of test launches, and the countdown be relayed to them.
1962, Oct.26: Malmstrom Air Force Base.
When DEFCON 2 was declared on 24 October, solid-fuel Minuteman-1 missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base were being prepared for full deployment. The work was accelerated to ready the missiles for operation, without waiting for the normal handover procedures and safety checks. When one silo and the first missile were ready on 26 October no armed guards were available to cover transport from the normal separate storage, so the launch enabling equipment and codes were all placed in the silo. It was thus physically possible for a single operator to launch a fully armed missile at a SIOP target.
During the remaining period of the Crisis the several missiles at Malmstrom were repeatedly put on and off alert as errors and defects were found and corrected. Fortunately no combination of errors caused or threatened an unauthorized launch, but in the extreme tension of the period the danger can be well imagined.
October 1962: NATO Readiness.
It is recorded that early in the crisis, in order to avoid provocation of the U.S.S.R., British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and NATO Supreme Commander General Lauris Norstad agreed not to put NATO on alert. When the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered DEFCON 3, Norstad was authorized to use his discretion in complying, and Norstad did not order a NATO alert. However, several NATO subordinate commanders did order alerts to DEFCON 3 or equivalent levels of readiness at bases in West Germany, Italy, Turkey, and United Kingdom. This seems to have been largely due to the action of General Truman Landon, CINC U.S. Air Forces Europe, who had on his own initiative started alert procedures on 17 October in anticipation of a serious crisis over Cuba.
October 1962: British Alerts.
When the U.S. SAC went to DEFCON 2, on 24 October, the British Bomber Command was carrying out an unrelated readiness exercise. On 26 October, Air Marshall Cross, CINC of Bomber Command, decided to prolong the exercise because of the Cuba crisis, and later increased the alert status of British nuclear forces, so that they could launch in 15 minutes.
It seems likely that Soviet intelligence would perceive these moves as part of a coordinated plan in preparation for immediate war. They could not be expected to know that neither the British Minister of Defence nor Prime Minister Macmillan had authorized them.
It is disturbing to note how little was learned from these errors in Europe. McGeorge Bundy wrote in “Danger and Survival” (New York: Random House 1988), “the risk [of nuclear war] was small, given the prudence and unchallenged final control of the two leaders.”
1962, Oct.28: Moorestown false alarm.
Just before 9 a.m. on 28 October the Moorestown, New Jersey, radar operators informed the national command post that a nuclear attack was under way. A test tape simulating a missile launch from Cuba was being run, and simultaneously a satellite came over the horizon. Operators became confused and reported by voice line to NORAD HQ that impact was expected 18 miles west of Tampa at 9:02 a.m. The whole of NORAD was alerted, but before irrevocable action had been taken it was reported that no detonation had taken place at the predicted time, and Moorestown operators reported the reason for the false alarm.
During the incident overlapping radars that should have been available to confirm or disagree, were not in operation. The radar post had not received routine information of satellite passage because the facility carrying out that task had been given other work for the duration of the crisis.
1962, Oct.28: False warning due to satellite sighting.
At 5:26 p.m. on 28 October, the Laredo radar warning site had just become operational. Operators misidentified a satellite in orbit as two possible missiles over Georgia and reported by voice line to NORAD HQ. NORAD was unable to identify that the warning came from the new station at Laredo and believed it to be from Moorestown, and therefore more reliable. Moorestown failed to intervene and contradict the false warning. By the time the CINC, NORAD had been informed, no impact had been reported and the warning was “given low credence.”
END OF CUBA CRISIS EVENTS
1962, Nov.2: The Penkovsky False Warning.
In the fall of 1962, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky was working in Russia as a double agent for the CIA He had been given a code by which to warn the CIA if he was convinced that a Soviet attack on the United States was imminent. He was to call twice, one minute apart, and only blow into the receiver. Further information was then to be left at a “dead drop” in Moscow.
The pre-arranged code message was received by the CIA on 2 November 1962.
It was not known at the CIA that Penkovsky had been arrested on 22 October. Penkovsky knew he was going to be executed. It is not known whether he had told the KGB the meaning of the code signal or only how it would be given, nor is it known exactly why or with what authorization the KGB staff used it. When another CIA agent checked the dead drop he was arrested.
1965, November: Power failure and faulty bomb alarms.
Special bomb alarms were installed near military facilities and near cities in the U.S.A., so that the locations of nuclear bursts would be transmitted before the expected communication failure. The alarm circuits were set up to display a red signal at command posts the instant that the flash of a nuclear detonation reached the sensor, and before the blast could put it out of action. Normally the display would show a green signal, and yellow if the sensor was not operating or was out of communication for any other reason.
During the commercial power failure in the NE United States in November 1965, displays from all the bomb alarms for the area should have shown yellow. In fact, two of them from different cities showed red because of circuit errors. The effect was consistent with the power failure being due to nuclear weapons explosions, and the Command Center of the Office of Emergency Planning went on full alert. Apparently the military did not.
1968, Jan.21: B-52 crash near Thule.
Communication between NORAD HQ and the BMEWS station at Thule had 3 elements:
1. Direct radio communication.
2. A “bomb alarm” as described above.
3. Radio Communication relayed by a b-52 bomber on airborne alert.
On 21 January 1968, a fire broke out in the B-52 bomber on airborne alert near Thule. The pilot prepared for an emergency landing at the base. However the situation deteriorated rapidly, and the crew had to bale out. There had been no time to communicate with SAC HQ, and the pilotless plane flew over the Thule base before crashing on the ice 7 miles miles offshore. Its fuel, and the high explosive component of its nuclear weapons exploded, but there was no nuclear detonation.
At that time, the “one point safe” condition of the nuclear weapons could not be guaranteed, and it is believed that a nuclear explosion could have resulted from accidental detonation of the high explosive trigger. Had there been a nuclear detonation even at 7 miles distant, and certainly if one happened nearer the base, all three communication methods would have given an indication consistent with a successful nuclear attack on both the base and the B-52 bomber. The bomb alarm would have shown red, and the other two communication paths would have gone dead. It would hardly have been anticipated that the combination could have been caused by accident, particularly as the map of the routes for B-52 airborne flights approved by the President showed no flight near to Thule. The route had been apparently changed without informing the White House.
1973, Oct.24-25: False alarm during Middle East crisis.
On 24 October 1973, when the U.N. sponsored cease fire intended to end the Arab-Israeli war was in force, further fighting started between Egyptian and Israeli troops in the Sinai desert. U.S. intelligence reports and other sources suggested that the U.S.S.R. was planning to intervene to protect the Egyptians. President Nixon was in the throes of the Watergate episode and not available for a conference, so Kissinger and other U.S. officials ordered DEFCON 3. The consequent movements of aircraft and troops were of course observed by Soviet intelligence. The purpose of the alert was not to prepare for war, but to warn the U.S.S.R. not to intervene in the Sinai. However, if the following accident had not been promptly corrected then the Soviet command might have made a more dangerous interpretation.
On 25 October, while DEFCON 3 was in force, mechanics were repairing one of the Klaxons at Kinchole Air Force Base, Michigan, and accidentally activated the whole base alarm system. B-52 crews rushed to their aircraft and started the engines. The duty officer recognized the alarm was false and recalled the crews before any took off.
1979, Nov.9: Computer Exercise Tape.
At 8:50 a.m. on 9 November 1979, duty officers at 4 command centres (NORAD HQ, SAC Command Post, The Pentagon National Military Command Center, and the Alternate National Military Command Center) all saw on their displays a pattern showing a large number of Soviet Missiles in a full scale attack on the U.S.A. During the next 6 minutes emergency preparations for retaliation were made. A number of Air Force planes were launched, including the President’s National Emergency Airborne Command Post, though without the President! The President had not been informed, perhaps because he could not be found.
With commendable speed, NORAD was able to contact PAVE PAWS early warning radar and learn that no missiles had been reported. Also, the sensors on the satellites were functioning that day and had detected no missiles. In only 6 minutes the threat assessment conference was terminated.
The reason for the false alarm was an exercise tape running on the computer system. U.S. Senator Charles Percy happened to be in NORAD HQ at the time and is reported to have said there was absolute panic. A question was asked in Congress. The General Accounting Office conducted an investigation, and an off-site testing facility was constructed so that test tapes did not in the future have to be run on a system that could be in military operation.
1980, June 3-6: Faulty Computer Chip
The Warning displays at the Command Centers mentioned in the last episode included windows that normally showed
0000 ICBMs detected 0000 SLBMs detected
At 2:25 a.m. on 3 June 1980, these displays started showing various numbers of missiles detected, represented by 2’s in place of one or more 0’s. Preparations for retaliation were instituted, including nuclear bomber crews staring their engines, launch of Pacific Command’s Airborne Command Post, and readying of Minutemen missiles for launch. It was not difficult to assess that this was a false alarm because the numbers displayed were not rational.
While the cause of that false alarm was still being investigated 3 days later, the same thing happened and again preparations were made for retaliation. The cause was a single faulty chip that was failing in a random fashion. The basic design of the system was faulty, allowing this single failure to cause a deceptive display at several command posts.
1995, Jan.25: Norwegian Rocket Incident
This incident is included to illustrate that even now, when the Cold War has been over for years, errors can still cause concern.
On 25 January 1995, the Russian early warning radars detected an unexpected rocket launch near Spitzbergen. The estimated flight time to Moscow was 8 minutes. The Russian President, the Defence Minister and the Chief of Staff were informed. The early warning and the command and control centre switched to combat mode. Within 5 minutes, the computers determined that the missile’s impact would be outside the Russian borders.
The rocket was carrying instruments for scientific measurements. On 16 January Norway had notified 35 countries including Russia that the launch was planned. Information had apparently reached the Russian Defence Ministry, but failed to reach the on-duty personnel of the early warning system.
(See article in Scientific American, November 1997, by Bruce G. Blair, Harold A. Feiveson and Frank N. von Hippel.)
The extreme boredom and isolation of missile launch crews on duty must contribute to occasional bizarre behaviour. An example is reported by Lloyd J.Dumas in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists vol.36, #9, p.15(1980) quoting Air Force Magazine of 17 Nov.71. As a practical joke, a silo crew recorded a launch message and played it when their relief came on duty. The new crew heard with consternation what appeared to be a valid launch message. They would not of course have been able to effect an actual launch under normal conditions, without proper confirmation from outside the silo.
Launch on Warning
There are still thousands of nuclear weapons deployed. At the time of writing (December 2001) Russia and the U.S.A. still have the policy of “Launch on Warning”: that is to say, they plan to launch a salvo of nuclear-armed rockets if the warning systems show that a missile attack appears to be on the way. The retaliatory salvo would be launched before any of the incoming missiles arrived, so it could be launched as a result of a false warning. Thus a nuclear war could start for no military or political reason whatever.
Comment and Note On Probability
The probability of actual progression to nuclear war on any one of the occasions listed may have been small, due to planned “fail-safe” features in the warning and launch systems, and to responsible action by those in the chain of command when the failsafe features had failed. However, the accumulation of small probabilities of disaster from a long sequence of risks add up to serious danger.
There is no way of telling what the actual level of risk was in these mishaps but if the chance of disaster in every one of the 20 incidents had been only 1 in 100, it is mathematical fact that the chance of surviving all 20 would have been 82%, i.e. about the same as the chance of surviving a single pull of the trigger at Russian roulette played with a 6 shooter. With a similar series of mishaps on the Soviet side: another pull of the trigger. If the risk in some of the events had been as high as 1 in 10, then the chance of surviving just seven such events would have been less than 50:50.
BMEWS: Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site
CIA: Central Intelligence Agency
CINC: Commander in Chief
DEFCON: Defence Readiness Condition (DEFCON 5 is the peacetime state; DEFCON 1 is a maximum war readiness).
ICBM: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (land based)
KGB: Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopaznosti (Soviet Secret Police and Intelligence)
NORAD: North American Aerospace Defence Command
PAVE PAWS: Precision Acquisition of Vehicle Entry Phased-Array Warning System
SAC: Strategic Air Command
SIOP: Single Integrated Operational Plan
SLBM: Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile
Britten, Stewart: The Invisible Event, (London: Menard Press, 1983).
Calder, Nigel: Nuclear Nightmares, (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1979)
Peace Research Reviews, vol. ix: 4, 5 (1984); vol. x: 3, 4 (1986) (Dundas, ON.: Peace Research Institute, Dundas).
Sagan, Scott D.: The Limits of Safety, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, (1993).
Alan F. Phillips M.D. 11 January, 1997; Revised January, 2002
Report of Proceedings: August 15, 2017
Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 23-25, 2017
What would happen if a modern nuclear weapon was exploded?
Globally there are now approximately 17,300 nuclear warheads.
(Upated as of early 2013)
United States 7,700
United Kingdom 225
North Korea <10
Estimated Total: 17,300
This total is from the Federation of American Scientists source:
(FAS data is from the Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
and the nuclear appendix in the SIPRI Yearbook.)
This is a decrease from the global high of 70,000 nuclear warheads in 1986.
For updates or comparisons, go to:
SIPRI Media Release of 16 June 2014:
“Nuclear Forces reduced, while modernization continues, says SIPRI“
(Note that where there are discrepancies about numbers, you may wish to check the above sources and compare.)
To view the world Proliferation Status and Warheads (2007) map (a list of countries Possessing Ballistic Missiles, and how many) go to The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace site here
For a graphic idea of the number of nuclear weapons currently in the US arsenal, have a look at the “ball bearing demonstration”: http://truemajority.org/fun/
Have nuclear weapons ever been used?
In Hiroshima, Japan: deaths as of December 1945: 140,000 deaths
deaths calculated as of August 1996: 197,045 deaths
In Nagasaki, Japan: deaths as of December, 1945: 74,000 deaths
In addition, 2,045 nuclear tests have resulted both in deaths and illness for people living in the test area and in serious environmental damage.
In the US alone, there are estimates of 49,000 deaths from radioactive fallout following nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site during the 1950s and 60s.
On the 2013 anniversary of the International Day against Nuclear Testing, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Ukraine,
Mr. Erlan Idrissov, published a comment in Foreign Policy Journal on Aug. 28, 2013 stating:
Kazakhstan initiated the UN resolution that led to the international
community marking August 29 as the day to reflect on nuclear
disarmament issues. The resolution commemorates the closure of the
Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August, 1991. Kazakhstan was
the first country in the world to close a nuclear test site on its
territory. Nearly 500 nuclear explosions took place at Semipalatinsk,
causing untold damage to the environment and the to the health of over
1.5 million people. The power of these explosions was equal to 2,500
atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. The radiation polluted an area
roughly the size of today’s Germany.
a. Global citizens need a promise from the Nuclear Weapon States to eliminate the nuclear weapons they possess.
DONE! This promise was originally given in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT). Under the NPT, all States Parties have agreed as follows:
Article VI: Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
This promise was confirmed in May 2000 at the Review Conference on the NPT. All 187 States Parties to the NPT agreed on 13 practical steps for the implementation of Article VI of the NPT. Step 6 reads as follows:
6. An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-wean States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.
b. Global citizens had to make clear that nuclear weapons are illegal.
In response to a citizens’ action called The World Court Project, the UN General Assembly called upon the International Court of Justice (the “ICJ” or “World Court”) to render an advisory opinion on the legality of the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The , The ICJ advised on July 8, 1996 that:
“…the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law”.
The Court stated it could not reach “…a definitive conclusion as to the legality or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons by a State in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which its very survival would be at stake”.
But the Court said that any use of any weapons is bound by the rules of international humanitarian law. These rules require that the use of any weapon:
This is just a partial list of the rules established by the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions which govern the use of weapons during war.
Thus the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons has, for all practical purposes, been declared illegal by the Court. We ignore that law at the peril of all humanity.
c. Global citizens had to make clear that negotiations on a ban are to begin and be concluded.
DONE! The International Court of Justice in its July 8, 1996 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons examined Art. VI of the NPT and concluded:
Unanimously, There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective control.
Thus all states are obligated to start and conclude negotiations for nuclear disarmament.
The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice:
Canada, IHL and Nuclear Weapons, a Brief History: here
d. The development of international humanitarian law has made even stronger the call for a global legal ban on nuclear weapons.
In 2010, the Swiss and Austrian governments funded work by the Monterey Institute on the implications of international humanitarian law on nuclear weapons. They have published Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons: Examining the Validity of Nuclear Deterrence.
2011, a meeting of international lawyers concluded with the publication of the Vancouver Declaration: Law’s Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World which notes that recent progress in the development of international humanitarian law makes even more imperative work on a global ban on nuclear weapons. That Declaration in part said:
The ICJ’s declaration that nuclear weapons are subject to international humanitarian law was affirmed by the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. In its Final Document approved by all participating states, including the nuclear-weapon states, the Conference “expresses its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and reaffirms the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”
It is unconscionable that nuclear-weapon states acknowledge their obligation to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons but at the same time refuse to commence and then “bring to a conclusion,” as the ICJ unanimously mandated, “negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
In statements made during the 2010 NPT Review Conference, one hundred and thirty countries called for a convention prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons globally. And the Conference collectively affirmed in its Final Document “that all states need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” and noted the “five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which proposes, inter alia, consideration of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification.”
An “absolute evil,” as the President of the ICJ called nuclear weapons, requires an absolute prohibition.
Nuclear weapons convention
Negotiation of an agreement among all states with nuclear weapons which will:
define the process for eliminating nuclear weapons
prohibit further development, stockpiling, use and threat of use
It is anticipated that many elements required to prohibit the development, production, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons and provide for their elimination. will be negotiated within a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
Ambassadors to the United Nations have not started negotiations on a Convention as yet.
A model Convention has been drafted and filed at the United Nations. Commentary on this model Nuclear Weapons Convention (mNWC) can be found at: http://lcnp.org/mnwc/
The revised Model Nuclear Weapons Convention (UN/62/650) is now accessible in the six UN languages on the UN Documents website.
You can go directly to the following language versions:
For further information on the proposed Nuclear Weapons Convention, check out:
International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms
and International Campaign Against Nuclear Arms