The military conflict in eastern Ukraine will just not subside; Russian-American relations have hit a new low. Meanwhile, talk of a Cold War revival has been spreading like a desert blaze on a blustery day. During the Cold War, the arms race between America and the Soviet Union yielded a stockpile of enough nuclear firepower to obliterate the entire world, and now, due to developments in the Ukraine situation, the two countries are like fire and ice again. Cooperation in nuclear arms reduction and proactivity in reforming each country’s triggering mechanism policies are not what they used to be. Nuclear war now seems to be right at our very doorstep, making the whole situation indistinguishable from that of the Cold War at its zenith.
Global Zero, a group of experts made up of retired high-ranking military officers from nuclear-armed countries pushing for nuclear disarmament, has drafted a report calling for the elimination of high-tech nuclear weaponry that can be launched instantly, with the aim of ending the threat of cyber attacks accidentally launching nuclear warheads.
Cyber attacks on the Rise
Former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired four-star Gen. James Cartwright concurred wholeheartedly with a proposal stressing that a great many of Russian and American nuclear warheads built between the 1950s and the 1980s have faulty alert systems. Beyond that, with the ever-increasing number and sophistication of online hacks, in theory it is possible for the control system to be cracked. Not long ago, the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the United States Department of Energy, agreed tacitly with a senator’s sentiment that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of nuclear control systems being hacked into.
Global Zero co-founder Bruce Blair stated that the most serious incident of recent times occurred in 1979. At the time, national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski sent a telegram to President Carter, claiming that a Soviet nuclear strike had been detected by the reporting system, but it was ultimately found to have been caused erroneously by a computer chip glitch.
Similar incidents occurred in the former Soviet Union. In 1983, Soviet-made satellites detected American intercontinental ballistic missiles headed for Soviet territory. A Russian high official was doubtful and notified his superior that it was a false alarm on the grounds that if America were to really launch an attack, it would never consist of just five missiles. After the incident, it was proven the official made the correct call, as solar rays in the high stratosphere had misled the early warning system.
The media are rife with scandal involving negligence on the part of members of the U.S. nuclear forces, which is in itself a reflection of America’s seemingly daily reduction in spending on nuclear security. The situation in Russia is virtually identical. It’s like a zero sum game. The destructive power and degree of complexity of cyber attacks are growing, while Russia and the U.S. have not taken any proactive steps to increase nuclear security. Yet most of the nuclear weapons have been set continuously to high alert without change, because to assert that a nuclear warhead could be set off by mistake is definitely not reds-under-the-beds talk. Gen. Cartwright has strongly advocated for elongating the activation time for nuclear armaments, while President Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize based on his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, has been utterly mute on the subject. Could this be a case of Lord Ye's love of dragons?*
Russian-U.S. relations are deadlocked due to the Ukraine situation, resulting in a vicious cycle of playing tit for tat. America has been clicking its tongue and wagging a hoity-toity finger at Russia claiming it has broken the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by threatening the Eurozone with short-range missiles, while Russia may, perhaps, actually be impelled to treat nuclear deployment as a real retaliatory threat. Having lowered precautionary standards to the nth degree already, it’s like Obama and Putin are locked in a mad game of “ride the wild tiger,” but whoever dismounts is a chicken, literally forcing them to set their white knuckles squarely atop the red button while the rest of the world plays with nuclear fire and brimstone right along with them.
*Editor’s note: This is a reference to the Chinese proverb meaning one professes love for something he fears.