A Chilling Vision of Full Scale Nuclear War In the US
Full Scale Nuclear War In the US
What would happen if a nuclear war were to be sparked between Russia and the United States today? Who would survive? In our most scientifically realistic simulation to date, we show what a nuclear war between Russia and the United States might look like today. It is based on detailed modeling of nuclear targets, missile trajectories, and the effects of blasts, EMPs, and smoke on the climate and food resources.
Types of nuclear warfare
The possibility of full scale nuclear war is usually divided into two subgroups, each with different effects and potentially fought with different types of nuclear armaments.
The first, a limited nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to the controlled use of nuclear weapons, whereby the implicit threat exists that a nation can still escalate their use of nuclear weapons. For example, using a small number of nuclear weapons against strictly military targets could be escalated through increasing the number of weapons used, or escalated through the selection of different targets. Limited attacks are thought to be a more credible response against attacks that do not justify all-out retaliation, such as an enemy’s limited use of nuclear weapons.
The second, a full scale nuclear war, could consist of large numbers of nuclear weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including military, economic, and civilian targets. Such an attack would almost certainly destroy the entire economic, social, and military infrastructure of the target nation, and would likely have a devastating effect on Earth’s biosphere.
Some Cold War strategists such as Henry Kissinger argued that a limited nuclear war could be possible between two heavily armed superpowers (such as the United States and the Soviet Union). Some predict, however, that a limited war could potentially “escalate” into a full scale nuclear war. Others have called limited nuclear war “global nuclear holocaust in slow motion”, arguing that—once such a war took place—others would be sure to follow over a period of decades, effectively rendering the planet uninhabitable in the same way that a “full-scale nuclear war” between superpowers would, only taking a much longer (and arguably more agonizing) path to the same result.
Even the most optimistic predictions of the effects of a major nuclear exchange foresee the death of many millions of victims within a very short period of time. Such predictions usually include the breakdown of institutions, government, professional and commercial, vital to the continuation of civilization. The resulting loss of vital affordances (food, water and electricity production and distribution, medical and information services, etc.) would account for millions more deaths.
More pessimistic predictions argue that a full scale nuclear war could potentially bring about the extinction of the human race, or at least its near extinction, with only a relatively small number of survivors (mainly in remote areas) and a reduced quality of life and life expectancy for centuries afterward. However, such predictions, assuming total war with nuclear arsenals at Cold War highs, have not been without criticism. Such a horrific catastrophe as global nuclear warfare would almost certainly cause permanent damage to most complex life on the planet, it’s ecosystems, and the global climate.
A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (c. 15 kiloton each) on major population centers, the researchers predicted fatalities ranging from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country. The authors of the study estimated that as much as five million tons of soot could be released, producing a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia (including most of the grain-growing regions). The cooling would last for years and could be “catastrophic”, according to the researchers.
Either a limited or full scale nuclear exchange could occur during an accidental nuclear war, in which the use of nuclear weapons is triggered unintentionally. Postulated triggers for this scenario have included malfunctioning early warning devices and/or targeting computers, deliberate malfeasance by rogue military commanders, consequences of an accidental straying of warplanes into enemy airspace, reactions to unannounced missile tests during tense diplomatic periods, reactions to military exercises, mistranslated or miscommunicated messages, and others.
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