Heading for Another Cuban Missile Crisis?

My last post warned that our current approach to missile defense has the potential to ignite a new Cuban crisis, comparable to that of 1962, something I also had warned of in a post back in 2008. So imagine my surprise and concern when, soon after completing that post, I came acros an article in RT (formerly Russia Today) entitled US and Russia: heading for another ‘Cuban missile crisis?’

The basic problem is that our current missile defense deployment bears a resemblance to our 1961-62 deployment of nuclear-armed missiles in Turkey that played a key role in Khrushchev’s decision to base similar Soviet missiles in Cuba. Fyodr Burlatsky, who played a prominent role in the reform movement within the Soviet Union, wrote in a 1988 book:

The idea of deploying the missiles came from Khrushchev himself. … Khrushchev and [Soviet Defense Minister] R. Malinovsky … were strolling along the Black Sea coast. Malinovsky pointed out to sea and said that on the other shore in Turkey there was an American nuclear missile base [which had recently been deployed]. In a matter of six or seven minutes missiles launched from that base could devastate major centres in the Ukraine and southern Russia. … Khrushchev asked Malinovsky why the Soviet Union should not have the right to do the same as America. Why, for example, should it not deploy missiles in Cuba? [Fyodr Burlatsky, Khrushchev and the first Russian Spring, Scribners, New York, 1988, page 171]

We neglect early warning signs such at this RT article at our peril. The Concorde supersonic airliner suffered 57 tire-related incidents before the 58th caused a crash, killing all aboard. Air & Space magazine reports that, “Of those [57], 32 blowouts damaged the aircraft’s structure, engines, or hydraulics, and six resulted in penetration of one or more fuel tanks.” Neglecting the Concorde’s early warning signs cost 109 lives. Let’s stop neglecting nuclear weapons’ early warning signs, where the cost would be astronomically larger.

Martin Hellman

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please consider signing our petition to Congress, asking it to authorize a National Academies study of the risks inherent in our current approach to nuclear weapons. The petition has been signed by retired four-star Admiral Bobby Inman, Stanford’s former President Donald Kennedy and Stanford Nobel Laureates Kenneth Arrow and Martin Perl, so you know it makes good sense for our national security.

Even better, circulate the petition to friends, either by email, with a link to the petition, or by downloading a printable version.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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2 Responses to Heading for Another Cuban Missile Crisis?

  1. zach says:

    I know this post is a few years old but it has some relation to this story I stumbled across 4 days ago. Are you familiar with is event? It has to do with a close call incident at an air force base in Okinawa during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Anyway, this is some scary stuff.

    https://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2015/03/343924.html

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Zach,

    Thanks for that link. Very interesting, but also somewhat suspect until there’s corroborating information. A web search turned up an older (2012) article
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/07/08/general/okinawas-first-nuclear-missile-men-break-silence/#.VSIvRVxEgdU
    on those same men. It has more names and more details, but interestingly says nothing about this alleged false launch order. While Bordne may have become less reticent over the intervening three years, comparing the two stories raises questions. In that latter story, Bordne and a colleague (Horn) both claim to have seen photos of the Cuban missiles “several days before the American public.” That seems very dubious to me since JFK was desperate to keep them secret as long as possible, to give him time to think about what to do before public pressure to “do something” made him act, possibly in a way that would lead to war. Given that high level of secrecy, it seems highly unlikely that lower level military personnel would know about the photos before Kennedy’s TV address on Monday, October 22.

    That’s not to say they are wrong about the false launch order, but it does say caution is needed in assuming their memories are correct.

    Martin

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