Turkey Shoots Downs Russian Jet: What Happens Next?

Today’s news that Turkish fighters shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border, is unlikely to lead to a nuclear crisis …  but there is a chance that it could. If Russia had shot down one of the Turkish planes – or were to do so in a future such encounter to prevent more of its pilots being killed – we would be bound by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty to treat it the same as an attack on one of our own aircraft. Yet the word nuclear appeared nowhere in any of the coverage I saw: Reuters, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Telegraph, and the Guardian, and Yahoo News. If we keep ignoring that risk, eventually one of these provocative incidents will blow up in our faces. 

The time to recognize that danger and to start work on reducing the risk is now, not once a crisis exists. Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev wanted to teeter on the nuclear abyss in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But both nations ignoring risks that should have been evident caused exactly that to happen.

If Syria, or Ukraine, or the Senkakus, or one of the other global hot spots should escalate to a full-blown crisis, we can hope that it will end like 1962’s Cuban crisis, without the use of nuclear weapons. But, given how often such events occur and the horrendous consequences of a nuclear war, counting on a positive outcome would seem to constitute gross negligence.

If you agree with these thoughts, please share this post via Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media. The risk of a nuclear catastrophe is far greater than we think, but our ability to reduce that risk is far greater than we imagine.

Martin Hellman

About Martin Hellman

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. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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