Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Human Cost of Nuclear Brinksmanship

Let's open this posting with this video:

Plan A is a project developed by Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security, a program that conducts technical, scientific and policy research and analysis to advance global peace.  SGS was founded in 1974 by physicists in Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Science and has:

"…worked on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and nuclear power. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded academic programs focused on technical and policy studies on nuclear issues in the world. In the past decade it also has advanced policy on biosecurity issues. SGS engages effectively and creatively with these long-standing policy issues that remain to resolved and tracks emerging challenges from disruptive technologies with the potential to transform global security. These include new biotechnologies, information and communications technologies, autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence, and space-based systems."

Plan A is a new simulation that looks at what an escalating war between the United States and Russia would look like using real world nuclear force deployment data, targets and estimates of fatalities.  The number fatalities and casualties that would occur in each phase of the war as it evolves from a tactical war to a strategy where cities are specifically targeted are determined using data from Nukemap, an online tool that provides users with casualty estimates for various nuclear weapon scenarios at any location in the world. 

Let's look at some details about the Plan A simulation.  In this simulation, a conventional war between the United States and Russia starts the conflict which then evolves through four stages:

Stage 1 - Nuclear Warning Shots - Russia launches a "nuclear warning shot" using a low-yield or tactical weapon fired from Kaliningrad  to which the United States responds with a single tactical nuclear weapon air strike against Kaliningrad.  For your information, here is a definition of the two types of nuclear weapons; tactical (or non-strategic) nuclear weapons and strategic nuclear weapons according to the U.S. Department of Defense:

“Non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons refer to nuclear weapons designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations. This is opposed to strategic nuclear weapons, which are designed to be used against enemy cities, factories, and other larger-area targets to damage the enemy’s ability to wage war”

These larger-area targets can also include an enemy's ICBM silos and its bomber forces.

Here is a definition of nonstrategic nuclear forces from the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

"Those nuclear-capable forces located in an operational area with a capability to employ nuclear weapons by land, sea, or air forces against opposing forces, supporting installations, or facilities. Such forces may be employed, when authorized by competent authority, to support operations that contribute to the accomplishment of the commander’s mission within the theater of operations.”

It is important to note that the yield of a nuclear weapon does not define it as a tactical or strategic weapon since some tactical weapons have high yields and some strategic weapons have low yields.

Here is a list of American tactical nuclear weapons and their platforms:

The United States has an estimated 230 tactical nuclear weapons today, down from 9,000 in 1989.  While Russia does not specify the number of tactical nuclear weapons in its arsenal, estimates suggest that they have roughly 1,830 nuclear weapons down from between 13,000 and 22,000 in 1991.  The Russian Air Force has an estimated 530 weapons, the Russia Navy has 820 weapons, the Russian Army has between 80 and 100 weapons and the air/missile/coastal defense system has 380 weapons.  

Stage 2 - The Tactical Plan - According to the simulation, Russia and NATO up the ante with tactical strikes against advancing troops.  In the simulation, Russia would fire 300 tactical nuclear weapons which would destroy most of Europe and NATO would respond with 180 aircraft-delivered tactical nuclear weapons, a response that would decimate soldiers, their tanks and their fortified positions.  Over a three hour period, there would be 2.6 million casualties with civilians either killed outright or exposed to lethal levels of radiation.

Stage 3 - The Counterforce Plan - NATO launches 600 submarine and United States-based strategic nuclear weapons at Russia's nuclear arsenal and Russia would respond by launching missiles from its silos, mobile launchers and submarines.  In a 45 minute period, there would be 3.4 million casualties.

Stage 4 - The Countervalue Plan - In the final stage of the simulation and with the aim of inhibiting the other side's recovery (i.e denial), both Russia and NATO launch strategic nuclear weapons toward the 30 most populous and economically important cities in each country, targeting each city with five to ten warheads depending on the size of the city.  In a three hour period, total casualties would reach 85.3 million.

In total, the five hour battle would result in 34.1 million deaths and 57.4 million injuries for a total of 91.3 million casualties.  The world would also continue to suffer after the conflict was over; radiation would continue to kill civilians and there would be an impact on the earth's climate that would cause more deaths as famine and a refugee crisis occur.

While our elected leaders play games, we are the ones that will pay the ultimate price for their brinksmanship while they huddle in underground bunkers.


  1. Do you know the threshold number of nuclear explosions that are required to trigger a nuclear winter?

  2. Nice, China takes over... because there will be Africa, Southeast Asia & Australia, South America, India, maybe some good parts of Canada. Way to cut your legs America.