I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. Albert Einstein

Following recent events with Russia and the Ukraine it has had me wondering what would happen if things escalated so far that we would be witnesses (and unfortunately be involved in) World War 3 or another apocalyptic disaster.

The problem now a days is (as Einstein said) although it isn’t guaranteed nuclear weapons would be used the current nuclear stockpiles are still quite scary with the two world superpowers still having a total of over 16,000 nuclear warheads between them (8,500 & 7,700 for Russia and the USA respectively).

There are nine countries nicknamed the “nuclear-weapon states” that have known nuclear weapon stockpiles of which five are in agreement that nuclear weapon technology shouldn’t be shared. These countries are part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which is promoting positive nuclear use and with the eventual goal of achieving nuclear disarmament. Therefore scarily there are 5 countries in the world that have virtually no limitations such as North Korea which is a blog post for another day.

The End Has Been Closer Than We Think

The Cold War could have easily ended the world as we know it due to the threat of nuclear war. The latter half of 1983 saw some events that could of sparked the unthinkable.

On the 26th of September the world was almost certainly saved by one man called Stanislav Petrov. The Soviet Union came very close to launching a counter attack on the US and it’s NATO allies due to a fault with the Soviets early warning system giving a false indication of a US missile launch.

‘Able Archer 83’ was a five-day NATO exercise starting on the 7th November. The US was at a simulated DEFCON 1 (The highest state of military alertness) described as ‘Nuclear war is imminent’ techniques such as coded communication, radio silences as well as actual participation by heads of government where all part of this exercise. The USSR’s military thought this was a ruse and was actually preparations for a genuine nuclear strike. This caused the Soviets to put their air units in East Germany and Poland on alert as well as reading their nuclear forces. It is said this was the closest the world had come to nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis.

The British And Their Traditions

I love my country ( #GSTQ ) and love to learn about the traditions we still have. One tradition I recently learned about is referred to as the ‘Letters of Last Resort’. When a Prime Minister first comes into office the PM must write these Letters of Last Resort.

The UK’s current nuclear deterrent is in the form of it’s four Vanguard-class submarines. The submarine commanders have are given the letter written by the PM which is then stored in a safe within a safe on the submarine. Briefly, these letters are the final orders of the British government if it has been destroyed by a nuclear strike and the Prime Minister has the following options to choose from when making his posthumous decision on what the submarine command should do.

  • retaliate with nuclear weapons
  • not retaliate with nuclear weapons
  • use his own judgement
  • place the submarine under allied country command – if possible

How do they know when it is time to open the letter? (Among other things – ) In the most British way possible; check whether BBC Radio 4 is still broadcasting of course.

This is certainly an interesting thing to ponder the fact that these submarine commanders could very well be left with a tough decision and no home port to go to. On a side note I love how our Commanders are trusted with this power. Unlike other nuclear-weapon states such as the USA our submarine commanders do not require a ‘launch key’ you hear about in films though encoded procedures do take place unlike our now decommissioned WE.177 bomb which required a tubular pin tumbler lock (as used on bicycle locks) to activated and a standard allen key was used to set yield.

Biological issues

Taking a step away from my nuclear ramblings let’s talk about a pandemic. During the 20th century Smallpox caused 300–500 million deaths and a commission of eminent scientists declared it eradicated on 9 December 1979. There are still known stocks of smallpox held by.. yep you guessed it the USA and Russia. On the 30 June 1999 the WHO (World Health Organization) recommended the destruction of the viruses but both countries resisted. Now this sounds to me like a biological weapon deterrent just like the need for nuclear weapons forcing mutually assured destruction on a biological warfare front if one was use use such a weapon.

So, How Will It End?

It is a great achievement that as a species we managed to be victorious over our biggest enemy although I would be tempted to say our biggest enemy is ourselves. Until the world realises it needs to work together so we can advance as one race there I would say the most likely reason for us joining the dinosaurs and the dodo is tensions such as the one with Russia and Ukraine escalating out of control. When thinking about this subject I always think of a book I read called The Grand Chessboard which talks about geopolitics. My mind goes crazy thinking well if something does kick off in Europe North Korea would jump at opportunity to make a move on it’s southern neighbours.

Things like the International Space Station puts my mind at ease slightly – the two world super powers I keep mentioning (along with other countries) working side by side for the progression of the human race.

A boy can dream, the destruction of earth won’t come from thermonuclear war but instead will come from our sun going supernova well after the human race has moved on and colonised other solar systems.

I hope you learnt something interesting or I sparked some thoughts in your mind. Thanks for sticking with me on this ramble – I’m hoping to get some discussion from you lurkers on this one so post your thoughts below!