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April 1998

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EDITOR'S CORNER
 
 
 

 

Dr. Strangelove,
I Presume?

by Henry Mattox


 
 
 
 

Well, yes, of course, come to think of it, I knew that, given that (of course) I keep up with these vital developments that bear on national defense,

this nation’s posture in the post-Cold War World, and all that stuff. Harrumph, I agree that it’s lamentable and steps definitely should be taken . . . .

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NO — I CANNOT FAKE IT ANY LONGER; I HAVE TO COME CLEAN. I didn’t know that, not until I heard the recent presentation by Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA, at one of the periodic seminars sponsored by North Carolina’s Triangle Institute for Security Studies. I had not been aware of the fact that 30,000 nuclear warheads are still available for use worldwide. Thirty thousand!

I had assumed without giving it any thought that now, in 1998, years after the end of the war — the Cold War, that is — we in the West and our former adversaries on the other side of the Iron Curtain had progressed very much farther than evidently we have in defusing the nuclear standoff that the we lived through for all those decades.

Some of these devices are bigger than others, but every single one of them has unimaginable destructive power. Still around they are, whether armed and aimed or in storage, posing all-too-obvious dangers that emanate not only from the perhaps eight organized nation states that hold membership in the Nuclear Club, but potentially even more so from extremist political groups.

More than 10,000 of these warheads remain in Russia, where safeguarding is increasingly questionable. Under current conditions in the former Soviet Union, temptations clearly exist for security forces and scientists to sell the technology or the weaponry itself to the highest bidders, including countries not noted for their peaceful proclivities.

Figures set forth by Admiral Turner in his recent book, Caging the Nuclear Genie (1997), serve to heighten awareness of the danger. The numbers are mind-boggling.

  • The smallest devices available out there are the artillery shell warheads of 1/10 kiloton (0.1 KT), each one the equivalent of 220,000 pounds of TNT.

  • Among the larger of these weapons are the standard Russian warheads of 550 KT. This latter designation of size, at first glance perhaps not all that threatening, translates to 550,000 metric tons of TNT. Another way of phrasing the force of this one explosive device is to recognize that each one is a 1,210,000,000 pound bomb. One can be fitted, I understand, into a bomb casing of no very great size.

  • Compare this astronomical number with the 500 pound bombs carried by warplanes in the Gulf War or even the famous 1,000 pound “blockbusters” dropped by Allied bombers on Germany during the Second World War.

  • A final illustration, if one is needed, of the danger to mankind that the world’s current nuclear arsenal poses: Admiral Turner notes in his book that even these extraordinary figures on TNT tonnage equivalent greatly understate the damage nuclear devices can inflict because they have heat, radiation, electromagnetic, and other negative effects not generated by conventional explosives.
Let’s see, now: 30,000 warheads averaging (and here I’m guessing) 500 KT equals. . . . the explosive force of a very great deal of TNT, indeed. Talk about overkill!

How much really do the nations of the world need for defense or deterrence purposes? Negotiations at the beginning of this decade resulted in nuclear arsenals being cut in half, but in more recent years, U.S., Russian, and other world leaders have exhibited no great sense of urgency about further reductions. This state of affairs, whether or not the result of lessened tensions and a resultant reduced sense of urgency, cannot be allowed to continue. It’s simply too scary.

Probably an effort to reduce the global holdings of nuclear warheads to zero would be both unwise and impractical, but reaching a total far, far lower than 30,000 seems indicated as a vital first step toward sanity in the arms reduction arena.

~ Henry E. Mattox, Editor


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