The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?


Some time around 2010 Eric Schlosser became convinced that the god-like titans who he thought protected his childhood from the Red Menace had feet of clay. He didn't realign his understanding; he wrote a "the sky is falling" book and spent the next four years trying to convince the world that the nuclear spectre he grew up fearing was still the most important thing you should freak out about right fucking now.

He hasn't added anything to the mix since.

Here's the thing about nuclear armageddon - the Russians love their children, too. Russia would like to be a world superpower again, but it'd rather get a good price on its oil than send troops to die somewhere in the name of Mother Russia. We lasted 40 years of finger-on-the-trigger, "we will bury you/Evil Empire" rhetoric in an era where it took a Red Phone to communicate with the other guy. Now? Now we got frickin' Twitter.

Every example Schlosser cares to cite is an example of computers doing something dumb and humans going "...but I'm almost positive the Americans have no reason to end the world right now. Surely there must be a mistake." These are not sophisticated systems we're talking about. Contrary to what everyone wants to believe, just because we can end the world in 30 minutes or less doesn't mean the world is going to end in 30 minutes or less.

posted by camarillobrillo: 938 days ago