Our Own Worst Enemy
by Dean Babst*, September 1999
The U.S and Russia
have so many nuclear weapons that if used, either alone could
destroy humanity. The Center for Defense Information said, "It
is folly, verging on madness, to perpetuate the Cold War nuclear
confrontation at levels that threaten the survival of human kind."
How do we explain such a crazy situation?
Consider the following. When thinking about nuclear weapons matters,
it is much easier and less hideous to think about them in terms
of numbers rather than the consequences of their use. As a result,
consequence of use is generally ignored. In the arms reduction
talks, the talks are in term of having equal numbers even if we
can't use them all.
One way around the stalled nuclear arms reduction
talks is to think about the relationship between the number of
nuclear weapons and consequences of use. The following provides
a guide for such thinking. The more nuclear weapons the greater
One Nuclear Bomb - One average size U.S. strategic
nuclear warhead has an explosive power equal to 25,000 trucks
each carrying 10 tons of dynamite. One average size Russian strategic
nuclear warhead has an explosive power equal to 40,000 trucks
each carrying 10 tons of dynamite. In order to give an idea of
how destructive these warheads can be, compare them with the destruction
created by the truck bombs that were exploded by terrorists in
the NY World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City. Each terrorists
truck bomb had about 10 tons of dynamite.(2)
Twenty Nuclear Bombs - If 20 nuclear bombs, less
than one percent of the nuclear weapons that the US and Russia
each have set for hair trigger release, were used it would be
enough to destroy each other. If one nuclear bomb hit Washington,
D.C. it could vaporize Congress, the White House, the Supreme
Court and the Pentagon. If another nuclear bomb hit New York City
it could vaporize the United Nations headquarters, communication
centers for NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and the New York Stock Exchange.
And that is only two of the twenty. Nuclear explosions would also
leave the areas highly radioactive and unusable for years. Where
the radioactive fallout from the mushroom clouds would land in
the world would depend upon the direction of the wind and rain
conditions at the time of the explosion.
General Lee Butler USAF commanded the US Strategic
Air Command until it was folded into the U.S. Strategic Command,
which he then commanded until he retired. General Butler said,
"That twenty nuclear weapons would suffice to destroy the
twelve largest Russian cities with a total population of twenty-five
million people - one-sixth of the entire Russian population and
therefore that arsenals in the hundreds, much less in the thousands,
can serve no meaningful strategic objective. From this prospective
the START process is completely bankrupt. The START II ceiling
of 3000 to 3500 operational warheads to be achieved by the year
2007 is wholly out of touch with reality." (3)
General Butler said,"It is imperative to recognize
that all numbers of nuclear weapons above zero are completely
arbitrary; that against an urban target one weapon represents
an unacceptable horror." (4)
Four Hundred Nuclear Bombs - If 400 nuclear bombs,
less than ten percent of the nuclear weapons the U.S. and Russia
have set for hair trigger release, were used they could destroy
everyone on earth. The late Dr. Carl Sagan and his associates,
in their extensive studies of nuclear weapons use, found that
a nuclear explosive force equal to 100 million tons of dynamite
(100 megatons) could produce enough smoke and fine dust to create
a Nuclear Winter over the world leaving few survivors. (5)
A nuclear bomb blast can produce heat intensities
of 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Centigrade at ground zero. This could
start giant flash fires leaving large cities and surrounding area
burning with no one to fight them. The firing of 400 nuclear explosions
can lift an enormous quantity of fine soil particles into the
atmosphere - more than 100,000 tons of fine dust for every megaton
exploded in a surface burst. If there were any survivors they
would have to contend with radioactive fallout carbon monoxide,
cyanides, dioxins, furans, and increased ozone burnout. (6)
Actions That Can Be Taken
General Butler USAF (Ret. 1994) said the world
can immediately and inexpensively improve security by taking nuclear
weapons off of hair-trigger alert. (7) This action should also
provide a better atmosphere for reaching agreements in the arms
There are very important positive forces at work
for peace. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin for the past five years has been chairing the Joint
Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. The Commission
has grown into a bilateral government conglomerate, with officials
at many levels working on problems of energy, health, agriculture,
investment, space and the environment. (8)
The way the U.S. and Russia are planning on working
together during the transition to the year 2000 to guard against
any false alerts that might be triggered by Y2K in the warning
system, is also very encouraging. (9) Let us hope they can continue
to work together after the first of the year until there are no
more nuclear weapons.
"There is no doubt that, if the people of
the world were more fully aware of the inherent danger of nuclear
weapons and the consequences of their use, they would reject them."
This conclusion appeared in the 1996 report of the Canberra Commisson
on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, a group of the world's
nuclear weapon experts. (10)
The creation of a Consequence Study Center within
the U.N., in which many countries share in the studies, could
help everybody become more fully aware of the consequences of
nuclear weapon use and better understand the need to rid the world
Notes and References
1. Smith, Daniel; Stobhl, Rachel; and Carroll,
Eugene E, "Jump-START: A way Ahead in Nuclear Arms Reduction,"
The Defense Monitor, Vol. XXVIII, No. 5, 1999. Washiington, D.C.
2. Babst, Dean V. "Preventing An Accidental
Armagedon," Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Sept. 1999.
3. Butler, Lee. Talk at the University of Pittsburgh,
May 13, 1999, p.12.
5. Sagan, Carl. The Nuclear Winter, Council for
a Livable World Education Fund, Boston, MA, 1983.
7. Schell, Jonathan, "The Gift Of Time,"
The Nation, 2/9, 1998, p.56.
8. Lippman, Thomas W. "Gore Carves Unique
Post With U.S.-Russia Collaboration," Washington Post, Washington,
D.C., March 14, 1998.
9. Burns, Robert. "Russia, U.S. set Y2K missile
vigil," The Contra Costa Times, Sept. 11, 1999.
10. Green, Robert D. "Zero Nuclear Weapons,"
Middle Power Initiative, Cambridge. Mass., 1998, p. 8.
*Dean Babst is a retired government research scientist and Coordinator
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Accidental Nuclear War Studies
Program. In the development of this article, appreciation is extended
for the helpful suggestions of David Krieger, President of the
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Bob Aldridge who heads the Pacific
Life Research Center, and Andy Baltzo, the Founder of the Mt.
Diablo (California) Peace Center.