The cost of an (unlikely) nuclear war is the apocalypse

A Russian Navy submarine transits the Black Sea past the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, February 13, 2022: Massive exercises amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine | Photo: EFE/EPA/ERDEM SAHIN

Since placing Russian nuclear forces on high alert, President Vladimir Putin has sent messages to the West about the use of nuclear weapons. Bravado or not – the truth is that it’s hard to predict how far Putin would go to emerge victorious from the conflict – a nuclear war has the potential to seriously affect nearly 100 million people, in the first few hours alone. This is shown by a simulation carried out by researchers from the Science and Global Security Program at Princeton University in the United States.

The 2019 study indicates that a nuclear confrontation between the United States and Russia, triggered by low-yield weapons, would result in 34.1 million deaths and 57.4 million injuries within hours. Together, the two countries hold more than 90% of the world’s arsenals. The death toll could be much higher, given the medium and long-term consequences, which include radioactive fallout and global cooling.

Climate changes

A nuclear war between the United States and Russia would plunge the planet into a nuclear winter, according to American scientists. In 2019, Joshua Coupe, Charles G. Bardeen, Alan Robock and Owen B. Toon published an article in the scientific journal Atmospheres, warning of an average increase of about 9 degrees Celsius in global temperature. The change would be due to the lack of sunlight reaching the ground, after nuclear explosions.

The simulation model adopted by the researchers shows that around 150 tons of soot would be released if the two powers launched all their warheads into each other’s territory. That would be enough to cover the northern hemisphere in a week and the entire Earth in 15 days. Surface light levels would be drastically reduced and it would take about a decade to return to normal.

“The use of nuclear weapons in this way by the United States and Russia would have disastrous consequences on a global scale,” the researchers wrote.


Drastic changes in climate and atmosphere could have a ripple effect, hitting crops, starving billions of people. The risk of nuclear war decimating civilization was flagged nearly a decade ago by a study by Nobel Peace Prize laureates International Association of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Physicians for Accountability social (PSR). ).

A hypothetical nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan would have the potential to seriously affect more than 2.3 billion human beings through hunger and food insecurity, worldwide. This is what the authors of the survey claimed in 2013.

“With a great war between the United States and Russia, we are talking about the possible – not certain, but possible – extinction of the human race”, meditated at the time Ira Helfand, one of the researchers in charge of the study.

Since modern nuclear weapons are far more powerful than the American bombs that killed more than 200,000 people in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, any nuclear war today would have an “apocalyptic impact”, according to Helfand.

Russia leads in possession of warheads

A ranking published by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) indicates that at the start of 2022, nine countries had 12,700 nuclear warheads. Russia tops the list with 5,977 nuclear weapons. The United States appears in second place, with 5,428. China (350), France (290), United Kingdom (225), Pakistan (165), India (160), Israel (90) and North Korea (20) follow.

The scenario is even more terrifying when you consider that, despite the fact that nuclear arsenals have shrunk since the Cold War (in 1986 there were more than 70,000 warheads), the current rate of reduction is lower than that of last 30 years. . And part of that decline is the result of the United States and Russia getting rid of old weapons that have been retired. The FAS also points to the trend of countries like China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, the UK and possibly Russia increasing their stockpiles.

Would Putin push the button?

On Tuesday (1), Russian nuclear submarines on military exercise were seen in the Barents Sea, which is in the north of the country, according to the Associated Press. The tests, justified by Russia as “maneuvering in stormy conditions”, sounded to the West like a threat from President Vladimir Putin.

The Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to the Russian Federation, Markus Ederer, said on Thursday (3) that the Russian authorities were discussing the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a “tactical” way, in the purpose of defusing the conflict caused by the invasion of Ukraine.

“In corresponding circles there is a debate about the use of tactical nuclear weapons, this is not a nuclear ‘armageddon’, but to show that if the enemy continues to advance, nuclear weapons are an option Ederer said during a speech to the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. The information comes from the EFE agency.

For Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, “there is a real threat of nuclear war”.

“In that televised speech (on February 24, when the invasion of Ukraine began), Putin was not acting as the owner of the Kremlin, but as the owner of the planet; in the same way as the owner of a big car boasts turning his bunch of keys. on his finger putin was turning the nuclear bomb. he said many times: if there was no russia, why would we need the planet? Nobody paid attention to it, but it is a threat that if Russia is not treated as it wants, everything will be destroyed,” Muratov analyzes in a BBC report.

Despite placing the country’s nuclear forces in a “special service regime”, on February 27 the Russian president had no intention of pressing the “nuclear red button”. This was stated on Wednesday (2) by the spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Affairs, Maria Zakharova, according to the EFE news agency.

“We assume that this doomsday scenario will not be carried out under any circumstances and under any conditions,” the Russian representative told Colombian channel W Radio.

Under Russia’s nuclear deterrence doctrine, endorsed by Putin in 2020, which is defensive in nature, the Kremlin reserves the right to strike with nuclear weapons in the event of external aggression or a threat to state survival .

Among the dangerous situations foreseen by the document is the use by the enemy of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against the territory of Russia or its allies, in addition to actions against state or military installations. vital for the country, leading it to lose control of the nuclear command.

External aggression with the use of conventional weapons that threatens “the very existence of the state” would also justify a nuclear response. Russia can also use nuclear weapons if it receives credible information about the launch of a ballistic missile against its territory or by allies.

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