No scenario for escalation inevitable incentives for conflict minimization



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Global Threats/Random Wars




Accidental Launch

No scenario for escalation -- inevitable incentives for conflict minimization.


Quinlan, 9 - distinguished former British defence strategist, former Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the British Ministry of Defence, Prof. @ Wimbledon College and Merton College, Oxford. Director of the Ditchley Foundation, (Sir Michael, Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems, Prospects, 2009, Pg. 67-69, Google Books)//AH

It was occasionally conjectured that nuclear war might be triggered by the real but accidental or unauthorized launch of a strategic nuclear-weapon delivery system in the direction of a potential adversary. No such launch is known to have occurred in over sixty years. The probability of it is therefore very low. But even if it did happen, the further hypothesis of its initiating a general nuclear exchange is far-fetched. It fails to consider the real situation of decision-makers, as pages 63-4 have brought out. The notion that cosmic holocaust might be mistakenly precipitated in this way belongs to science fiction. One special form of miscalculation appeared sporadically in the speculations of academic commentators, though it was scarcely ever to be encountered—at least so far as my own observation went—in the utterances of practical planners within government. This is the idea that nuclear war might be erroneously triggered, or erroneously widened, through a state under attack misreading either what sort of attack it was being subjected to, or where the attack came from. The postulated misreading of the nature of the attack referred in particular to the hypothesis that if a delivery system—normally a missile—that was known to be capable of carrying either a nuclear or a conventional warhead was launched in a conventional role, the target country might, on detecting the launch through its earlywarning systems, misconstrue the mission as an imminent nuclear strike and immediately unleash a nuclear counter-strike of its own. This conjecture was voiced, for example, as a criticism of the proposals for giving the US Trident SLBM, long associated with nuclear missions, a capability to deliver conventional warheads. Whatever the merit of those proposals (it is not explored here), it is hard to regard this particular apprehension as having any real-life credibility. The flight time of a ballistic missile would not exceed about thirty minutes, and that of a cruise missile a few hours, before arrival on target made its character—conventional or nuclear—unmistakable. No government will need, and no non-lunatic government could wish, to lake within so short a span of time a step as enormous and irrevocable as the execution of a nuclear strike On the basis of early-warning information alone without knowing the true nature of the incoming attack. The speculation tends moreover to be expressed without reference either to any realistic political or conflict-related context thought to render the episode plausible, or to the manifest interest of the launching country, should there be any risk of doubt, in ensuring—by explicit communication if necessary—that there was no misinterpretation of its conventionally armed launch. It may be objected to this analysis that in the cold war the two opposing superpowers had concepts of launch-on-warning. That seems to be true, at least in the sense that successive US administrations declined to rule out such an option and indeed included in their contingency plans both this and the possibility of launch-under-attack (that is launch after some strikes had been suffered and while the sequence of them was evidently continuing). The Soviet Union was not likely to have had more relaxed practices. But the colossal gravity of activating any such arrangements must always have been recognized. It could have been contemplated only in circumstances where the entire political context made a pre-emptive attack by the adversary plainly a serious and imminent possibility, and where moreover the available information unmistakably indicated that a massive assault with hundreds or thousands of missiles was on the way. That was a scenario wholly unlike that implicit in the supposition that a conventional missile attack might be briefly mistaken for a nuclear one. The other sort of misunderstanding conjectured—that of misreading the source of attack—envisaged, typically, that SLBMs launched by France or the United Kingdom might erroneously be supposed to be coming from US submarines, and so might initiate a superpower exchange which the United States did not in fact intend. (An occasional variant on this was the notion that 'triggering' in this way might actually be an element in deliberate French or UK deterrent concepts. There was never any truth in this guess in relation to the United Kingdom, and French thinking is unlikely to have been different.) The unreality in this category of conjecture lay in the implication that such a scenario could develop without the US government making the most determined efforts to ensure that Soviet (or now Russian) leaders knew that the United States was not responsible for the attack, and with those leaders for their part resorting, on unproven suspicion, to action that was virtually certain to provoke nuclear counter-action from the United States. There used occasionally to be another speculation, that if the Soviet Union suffered heavy nuclear strikes known to come from France or the United Kingdom, it might judge its interests to be best served by ensuring that the United States did not remain an unscathed bystander. But even if that were somehow thought marginally less implausible, it would have been a different matter from misinterpretation of the initial strike. As was noted earlier in this chapter, the arrangements under which nuclear-weapon inventories are now managed are in several important respects already much less open to concern than they were during much of the cold war. Worries voiced more recently sometimes relate to 'cyber-attack'—hostile interference, whether by states or by other actors such as terrorists, with information systems used in the control of armouries. It is highly unlikely, though details are (again understandably) not made public, that regular reviews of control arrangements are oblivious to any such risks. Perceptions of them do however reinforce the already-strong case that whatever arrangements still remain in place for continuous high readiness to launch nuclear action at short notice should be abandoned. Chapter 13 returns to this.

Safeguards prevent any accidental or unauthorized launch.


Williscroft, 12 – Member of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Phd @ graduated from University of Washington in Marine Physics and Meteorology. (Robert G., “Accidental Nuclear War,” Originally published in 1993, updated in 2012, http://www.argee.net/Thrawn%20Rickle/Thrawn%20Rickle%2032.htm)//AH

Is there a realistic chance that we could have a nuclear war by accident? Could a ballistic submarine commander launch his missiles without specific presidential authorization? Could a few men conspire and successfully bypass built-in safety systems to launch nuclear weapons? The key word here is “realistic.” In the strictest sense, yes, these things are possible. But are they realistically possible? This question can best be answered by examining two interrelated questions. Is there a way to launch a nuclear weapon by accident? Can a specific accidental series of events take place—no matter how remote—that will result in the inevitable launch or detonation of a nuclear weapon? Can one individual working by himself or several individuals working in collusion bring about the deliberate launch or detonation of a nuclear weapon? We are protected from accidental launching of nuclear weapons by mechanical safeguards, and by carefully structured and controlled mandatory procedures that are always employed when working around nuclear weapons. Launching a nuclear weapon takes the specific simultaneous action of several designated individuals. System designers ensured that conditions necessary for a launch could not happen accidentally. For example, to launch a missile from a ballistic missile submarine, two individuals must insert keys into separate slots on separate decks within a few seconds of each other. Barring this, the system cannot physically launch a missile. There are additional safeguards built into the system that control computer hardware and software, and personnel controls that we will discuss later, but—in the final analysis—without the keys inserted as described, there can be no launch—it’s not physically possible. Because the time window for key insertion is less than that required for one individual to accomplish, it is physically impossible for a missile to be launched accidentally by one individual. Any launch must be deliberate. One can postulate a scenario wherein a technician bypasses these safeguards in order to effect a launch by himself. Technically, this is possible, but such a launch would be deliberate, not accidental. We will examine measures designed to prevent this in a later column. Maintenance procedures on nuclear weapons are very tightly controlled. In effect always is the “two-man rule.” This rule prohibits any individual from accessing nuclear weapons or their launch vehicles alone. Aside from obvious qualification requirements, two individuals must be present. No matter how familiar the two technicians may be with a specific system, each step in a maintenance procedure is first read by one technician, repeated by the second, acknowledged by the first (or corrected, if necessary), performed by the second, examined by the first, checked off by the first, and acknowledged by the second. This makes maintenance slow, but absolutely assures that no errors happen. Exactly the same procedure is followed every time an access cover is removed, a screw is turned, a weapon is moved, or a controlling publication is updated. Nothing, absolutely nothing is done without following the written guides exactly, always under two-man control. This even applies to guards. Where nuclear weapons are concerned, a minimum of two guards—always fully in sight of each other—stand duty. There is no realistic scenario wherein a nuclear missile can be accidentally launched...ever...under any circumstances...period!
Multiple safeguards prevent accidents, and worst case, a weapon would just explode in the ocean.

Slocombe ‘9


[Walter, senior advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and a former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, he is a four-time recipient of an award for Distinguished Public Service and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, “De-Alerting: Diagnoses, Prescriptions, and Side-Effects,” Presented at the seminar on Re-framing De-Alert: Decreasing the Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapons Systems in the US-Russia Context in Yverdon, Switzerland, June 21-23]

Let’s start with Technical Failure – the focus of a great deal of the advocacy, or at least of stress on past incidents of failures of safety and control mechanisms.4 Much of the “de-alerting” literature points to a succession of failures to follow proper procedures and draw from that history the inference that a relatively simple procedural failure could produce a nuclear detonation. The argument is essentially that nuclear weapons systems are sufficiently susceptible of pure accident (including human error or failure at operational/field level) that it is essential to take measures that have the effect of making it necessary to undertake a prolonged reconfiguration of the elements of the nuclear weapons force for a launch or detonation to be physically possible. Specific measures said to serve this objective include separating the weapons from their launchers, burying silo doors, removal of fuzing or launching mechanisms, deliberate avoidance of maintenance measures need to permit rapid firing, and the like. . My view is that this line of action is unnecessary in its own terms and highly problematic from the point of view of other aspects of the problem and that there is a far better option that is largely already in place, at least in the US force – the requirement of external information – a code not held by the operators -- to arm the weapons Advocates of other, more “physical,” measures often describe the current arrangement as nuclear weapons being on a “hair trigger.” That is – at least with respect to US weapons – a highly misleading characterization. The “hair trigger” figure of speech confuses “alert” status – readiness to act quickly on orders -- with susceptibility to inadvertent action. The “hair trigger” image implies that a minor mistake – akin to jostling a gun – will fire the weapon. The US StratCom commander had a more accurate metaphor when he recently said that US nuclear weapons are less a pistol with a hair trigger than like a pistol in a holster with the safety turned on – and he might have added that in the case of nuclear weapons the “safety” is locked in place by a combination lock that can only be opened and firing made possible if the soldier carrying the pistol receives a message from his chain of command giving him the combination. Whatever other problems the current nuclear posture of the US nuclear force may present, it cannot reasonably be said to be on a “hair trigger.” Since the 1960s the US has taken a series of measures to insure that US nuclear weapons cannot be detonated without the receipt of both external information and properly authenticated authorization to use that information. These devices – generically Permissive Action Links or “PALs” – are in effect combination locks that keep the weapons locked and incapable of detonation unless and until the weapons’ firing mechanisms have been unlocked following receipt of a series of numbers communicated to the operators from higher authority. Equally important in the context of a military organization, launch of nuclear weapons (including insertion of the combinations) is permitted only where properly authorized by an authenticated order. This combination of reliance on discipline and procedure and on receipt of an unlocking code not held by the military personnel in charge of the launch operation is designed to insure that the system is “fail safe,” i.e., that whatever mistakes occur, the result will not be a nuclear explosion. Moreover, in recent years, both the US and Russia, as well as Britain and China, have modified their procedures so that even if a nuclear-armed missile were launched, it would go not to a “real” target in another country but – at least in the US case - to empty ocean. In addition to the basic advantage of insuring against a nuclear detonation in a populated area, the fact that a missile launched in error would be on flight path that diverged from a plausible attacking trajectory should be detectable by either the US or the Russian warning systems, reducing the possibility of the accident being perceived as a deliberate attack. De-targeting, therefore, provides a significant protection against technical error. These arrangements – PALs and their equivalents coupled with continued observance of the agreement made in the mid-90s on “de-targeting” – do not eliminate the possibility of technical or operator-level failures, but they come very close to providing absolute assurance that such errors cannot lead to a nuclear explosion or be interpreted as the start of a deliberate nuclear attack.6 The advantage of such requirements for external information to activate weapons is of course that the weapons remain available for authorized use but not susceptible of appropriation or mistaken use.

More ev -- tons of safeguards.


Mroz, 9 - President and CEO at the EastWest Institute, graduate studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, M.A. at Northeastern University, B.A. at University of Notre Dame. (John E., “Reframing Nuclear De-Alert Decreasing the operational readiness of U.S. and Russian arsenals” 2009, http://www.ewi.info/reframing_dealert)//AH

Russian opponents of de-alerting assert that neither country’s systems are targeted at the other; in fact, highalert levels have not prevented the two countries from building a strategic partnership. Nuclear weapons are under strict technical and organizational control, which excludes the possibility of accidental or unauthorized use. “The issue of the possibility of an ‘accidental’ nuclear war itself is hypothetical. Both states have developed and implemented constructive organizational and technical measures that practically exclude launches resulting from unauthorized action of personnel or terrorists. Nuclear weapons are maintained under very strict system of control that excludes any accidental or unauthorized use and guarantees that these weapons can only be used provided that there is an appropriate authorization by the national leadership.”10 Furthermore, the two countries have taken bilateral steps to reduce nuclear risk. These include the 1963 Hot Line, the 1971 agreement on measures to reduce the threat of nuclear war, the agreements on pre-launch notification of ballistic missile tests and on Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, as well as the 1998 and 2000 agreements on the establishment of Joint Center for the Exchange of Data from Early Warning Systems and Notification of Missile Launches (JDEC). The JDEC could not be operationalized due to a number of objective and subjective difficulties, including secrecy-related issues. Nonetheless, the concept remains potent. Apart from bilateral exchange of information, ballistic missile and satellite-launch-vehicle (SLV) launches of third parties could be covered by the JDEC.



No accidental/unauthorized launch.


Quinlan, 9 - distinguished former British defence strategist, former Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the British Ministry of Defence, Prof. @ Wimbledon College and Merton College, Oxford. Director of the Ditchley Foundation, RIP (Sir Michael, Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems, Prospects, 2009, Pg. 67-69, Google Books)//AH

Ensuring the safety and security of nuclear weapons plainly needs to be taken most seriously. Detailed information is understandably not published, but such direct evidence as there is suggests that it always has been so taken in every possessor state, with the inevitable occasional failures to follow strict procedures dealt with rigorously. Critics have nevertheless from time to time argued that the possibility of accident involving nuclear weapons is so substantial that it must weigh heavily in the entire evaluation of whether war-prevention structures entailing their existence should be tolerated at all. Two sorts of scenario are usually in question. The first is that of a single grave event involving an unintended nuclear explosion—a technical disaster at a storage site, for example, or the accidental or unauthorized launch of a delivery system with a live nuclear warhead. The second is that of some event—perhaps such an explosion or launch, or some other mishap such as malfunction or misinterpretation of radar signals or computer systems—initiating a sequence of response and counter-response that culminated in a nuclear exchange which no one had truly intended. No event that is physically possible can be said to be of absolutely zero probability (just as at an opposite extreme it is absurd to claim, as has been heard from distinguished figures, that nuclear-weapon use can be guaranteed to happen within some finite future span despite not having happened for over sixty years). But human affairs cannot be managed to the standard of either zero or total probability. We have to assess levels between those theoretical limits and weigh their reality and implications against other factors, in security planning as in everyday life. There have certainly been, across the decades since 1945, many known accidents involving nuclear weapons, from transporters skidding off roads to bomber aircraft crashing with or accidentally dropping the weapons they carried (in past days when such carriage was a frequent feature of readiness arrangements—it no longer is). A few of these accidents may have released into the nearby environment highly toxic material. None however has entailed a nuclear detonation. Some commentators suggest that this reflects bizarrely good fortune amid such massive activity and deployment over so many years. A more rational deduction from the facts of this long experience would however be that the probability of any accident triggering a nuclear explosion is extremely low. It might be further noted that the mechanisms needed to set off such an explosion are technically demanding, and that in a large number of ways the past sixty years have seen extensive improvements in safety arrangements for both the design and the handling of weapons. It is undoubtedly possible to see respects in which, after the cold war, some of the factors bearing upon risk may be new or more adverse; but some are now plainly less so. The years which the world has come through entirely without accidental or unauthorized detonation have included early decades in which knowledge was sketchier, precautions were less developed, and weapon designs were less ultra-safe than they later became, as well as substantial periods in which weapon numbers were larger, deployments more widespread and diverse, movements more frequent, and several aspects of doctrine and readiness arrangements more tense. Similar considerations apply to the hypothesis of nuclear war being mistakenly triggered by false alarm. Critics again point to the fact, as it is understood, of numerous occasions when initial steps in alert sequences for US nuclear forces were embarked upon, or at least called for, by indicators mistaken or misconstrued. In none of these instances, it is accepted, did matters get at all near to nuclear launch—extraordinary good fortune again, critics have suggested. But the rival and more logical inference from hundreds of events stretching over sixty years of experience presents itself once more: that the probability of initial misinterpretation leading far towards mistaken launch is remote. Precisely because any nuclear-weapon possessor recognizes the vast gravity of any launch, release sequences have many steps, and human decision is repeatedly interposed as well as capping the sequences. To convey that because a first step was prompted the world somehow came close to accidental nuclear war is wild hyperbole, rather like asserting, when a tennis champion has lost his opening service game, that he was nearly beaten in straight sets. History anyway scarcely offers any ready example of major war started by accident even before the nuclear revolution imposed an order-of-magnitude increase in caution.
More ev -- their authors wildly overestimate the likelihood.

Quinlan, 5 - distinguished former British defence strategist, former Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the British Ministry of Defence, Prof. @ Wimbledon College and Merton College, Oxford. Director of the Ditchley Foundation, RIP (Sir Michael, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons” 2005, http://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/WHP41_QUINLAN.pdf)//AH

The safety of nuclear weapons needed to be, and at least in the Western setting consistently was, taken most seriously. Critics have nevertheless from time to time argued that the possibility of accident involving nuclear weapons is so substantial that it must weigh heavily in the entire evaluation of whether war-prevention structures entailing their existence should be tolerated. Two sorts of scenario are customarily in question. The first is that of a single grave event involving an unwanted nuclear explosion—a technical disaster at a storage site, for example, or the launch (accidental or unauthorised) of a delivery system with a nuclear warhead. The second is that of some event—perhaps such an explosion or launch, or some other mishap such as radar or computer malfunction—initiating a sequence that culminated in a nuclear exchange which no-one had truly intended. No event that is physically possible can be said to be of absolutely zero probability (just as at an opposite extreme it is nonsensical to claim that nuclear-weapon use can be `guaranteed' To happen in the next half-century having not happened in the past one). But human affairs cannot be managed to the standard of either zero or total probability; we have to assess levels between those theoretical limits and weigh their reality and implications against other factors, in security planning as in everyday life. There have certainly been, in over fifty years since the Second World War, many accidents involving nuclear weapons, from transporters skidding off roads to strategic bombers crashing with or losing the weapons they carried (in past days when such carriage was a frequent feature of readiness arrangements). A few of these accidents may have released into the nearby atmosphere highly toxic material. None however has entailed a nuclear explosion. Some commentators suggest that this reflects remarkable good fortune amid such massive activity and deployment over so long. A more rational deduction from the facts of this experience would however be that the probability of any accident's triggering a nuclear explosion is extremely low. It might be further noted that the mechanisms needed to set off such an explosion are highly complex; and that in a large number of ways the half-century has seen extensive improvements in safety arrangements. It is undoubtedly possible to see respects in which, after the Cold War, some of the factors bearing upon risk may be new or more adverse; but some are plainly less so. The half-century we have come through entirely without accidental explosion included early years in which knowledge was sketchier, weapon design less safety-oriented and precautions less developed than they later became, as well as years in which weapon numbers were larger, deployments more widespread and alert arrangements more tense. Similar considerations apply to the hypothesis of war being mistakenly triggered by false alarm or misunderstanding. Critics again point to the fact, as it is understood, of numerous occasions when initial steps in alert sequences for US nuclear forces were embarked upon, or at least called for, by indicators mistaken or misinterpreted. In none of these instances, it is accepted, did matters get at all near to nuclear launch—more good fortune, the critics have suggested. But the rival and more logical inference from perhaps hundreds of events stretching over fifty years of experience presents itself once more: that the probability of initial misinterpretation leading far towards mistaken launch is hugely remote. Precisely because any nuclear-weapon possessor recognises the vast gravity of any launch, decision sequences have many steps, and human decision is repeatedly interposed as well as capping the sequences. (And even at the height of the Cold War no Western nuclear power had a launch-on-warning policy—that is, an intention to initiate nuclear retaliation on perceived evidence of impending rather than provenly-actual attack.) To convey that because an early step was prompted we somehow came close to accidental nuclear war is wild hyperbole. History anyway scarcely offers ready examples of major war started by accident (miscalculation is another matter, not at issue here) even before the nuclear revolution imposed an order-of-magnitude increase in caution.




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