New terminology to help prevent accidental nuclear war

By Steven Starr, Robin Collins, Robert Green, and Ernie Regehr

Since the advent of US and Russian nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and early warning systems,  the danger has always existed that a false warning of attack—believed to be true—could cause either nation to inadvertently launch a responsive “retaliatory” strike with its own nuclear forces. Fear of a disarming nuclear strike, especially during a crisis, creates immense pressure to use-or-lose nuclear forces if an attack is detected. Because launch-ready ballistic missiles allow either side to launch a counter-strike before nuclear detonations confirm whether or not the perceived “nuclear attack” is real, the launch of a retaliatory strike would in reality be a preemptive nuclear first-strike, should the warning prove to be false—resulting in accidental nuclear war. This pressure applies to any nation that might develop the ability to launch before detonation; as a result, what the United States and Russia decide to do could conceivably act as a role model for others—depending, of course, on the unique circumstances of each country….[E]scalating tensions between the United States and Russia have increased the need for both nations to address the dangers posed by their launch-ready strategic nuclear weapons. Continue reading at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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