November’s In Depth Series: First Strike: The American Nightmare

russian-topol-m-missile-test

As I alluded to in the previous blog entry, the comprehensive focus for November is going to be centered on US strategic forces. To be more specific, Today’s DIRT is going to focus on how survivable America’s nuclear forces, command and control systems, and leadership would be in the event of a Russian first strike against the United States. To some people, the notion of a first strike is unrealistic. Their assumption could be that if an enemy nation launches its nuclear weapons at the US it will trigger an immediate retaliation and result in the eventual destruction of the world. An alternate assumption is that since the Cold War is over, there is absolutely no chance of a US-Russian nuclear conflict erupting. Hollywood has conditioned us to accept that a nuclear war is unwinnable. Even a limited nuclear war would lead to untold numbers of deaths, the destruction of cities around the world and the end of life as we know it.

I disagree these arguments. At present, the United States is more vulnerable to a first strike than ever before. A combination of variables make the current time a period of vulnerability: Lack of resolute and effective US leadership, significant deterioration in the condition of US strategic forces, and a resurgent Russia to name a few. There are other factors that will be discussed in the series along with the ones mentioned above.

The five parts of the series are listed below, along with a brief summary of the areas each entry will cover. The first one will be published on 9 November.

Part I: Introduction- This entry will take a look at nuclear warfare and the concept of a limited first strike, as well as examine the current world situation and identify flashpoints that could potentially lead to a situation where Russia may feel that a first strike against the US could succeed.

Part II: The Current State of US and Russian Strategic Forces– In Part Two, a brief history of US and Russian nuclear forces and C3I capabilities will be presented. Special attention will be applied to the deterioration of US nuclear forces in recent years as well as plans on the table to modernize the force.

Part III: The Perils & Advantages of a First Strike – Like it or not, military planners do ponder the possibility of limited nuclear war. Contrary to public opinion, a nuclear war can be winnable if planned and executed properly. Hundreds of simulations and studies have been run since 1949. Many have revealed that the side that launches first stands the best chance of emerging as the victor.

Part IV: First Strike Scenario- A detailed scenario depicting what a successful Russian first strike could look like, along with what the consequences might be for the United States and the world.

Part V: Conclusion– The series will wrap up with a summary and look at the future of the US-Russian nuclear balance of power.

If any revisions are made to the above schedule I will post them.

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 40-59

It’s been a couple of years since the last posting. Definitely time for the third installment of the list seen on the board at NORAD in the final few minutes of the movie Wargames.

 

  1. ETHIOPIAN ESCALATION– During the late 70s the Horn of Africa was a very active Cold War chessboard. Ethiopia and Somalia had fought a war in 1977-78, aided by supplies furnished by the Superpowers. Another conflict in the area was always possible.

 

  1. TURKISH HEAVY– A conflict on NATO’s Southern Flank, whether part of a larger Soviet operation or not, would have run the risk of swift escalation.

 

  1. NATO INCURSION– Open ended somewhat. It could refer to an attempt by NATO to break through a Soviet/East German blockade of Berlin.

 

  1. U.S. DEFENSE– Think Red Dawn

 

  1. CAMBODIAN HEAVY– The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 did not bring everlasting serenity to Southeast Asia. China and Vietnam had already locked horns once as a result of Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia. A second war between the two could have escalated.

 

  1. PACT MEDIUM– Generic title. Invasion of Warsaw Pact territory by NATO, or vice versa.

 

  1. ARCTIC MINIMAL– The world’s attention on the Arctic in recent years is nothing new.

 

  1. MEXICAN DOMESTIC– Civil war in Mexico, perhaps touched off by Nicaraguan backed rebels. The US would not stand idle while its southern neighbor dissolved into chaos.

 

  1. TAIWAN THEATERWIDE– China moves to recapture Taiwan, touching off a conflict that rages across the entire Western Pacific.

 

  1. PACIFIC MANEUVER– A ruse by the Soviets in the Pacific to take attention away from another region where they were preparing to make a move.

 

  1. PORTUGAL REVOLUTION– Revolution in Portugal. The communists came close to seizing power there once or twice. Portugal was and still is a valuable member of NATO. A revolution there could have drawn in Spain and perhaps even France.

 

  1. ALBANIAN DECOY– A Soviet gambit to deflect attention away from somewhere else.

 

  1. PALESTINIAN LOCAL– Arafat’s dream. The Palestinian conflict draws in the superpowers and escalates to a nuclear showdown

 

  1. MOROCCAN MINIMAL– Morocco has been a bastion of stability in North Africa for decades. This title is open to speculation

 

  1. BAVARIAN DIVERSITY– When I think about diversity in Bavaria, I’m generally thinking about the diverse selection of beers available there

 

  1. CZECH OPTION– NATO launches an operation through Czechoslovakia, maybe in an effort to shear it away from the Warsaw Pact

 

  1. FRENCH ALLIANCE– France allies itself with someone and before they can surrender, the mushrooms sprout

 

  1. ARABIAN CLANDESTINE– A covert Soviet operation to secure or destroy the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia leads to escalation

 

  1. GABON REBELLION– Yet another African hotspot during the Cold War

 

  1. NORTHERN MAXIMUM– Soviet operation against the Northern Flank of NATO, or perhaps Sweden.

 

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 20-39

Second group of scenarios from the list seen on the board at NORAD during the last few minutes of the movie Wargames.

 

20.       NATO …? This is one of the titles on the list that was obscured.

21.       Argentina  Escalation– In 1982 Argentina invaded the Falklands, prompting a powerful British response. Another attempt to retake the islands bringing about an escalation was not out of the question back in the 80s. In recent years the idea of another Argentinian invasion attempt in the future has gained some momentum.

22.       Iceland Maximum– Control of the North Atlantic would have been essential to both sides in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war. Iceland was the gate to the North Atlantic. The Soviets would have had to neutralize the NATO bases there in order to undertake a successful Atlantic campaign

23.       Arabian Theatre-wide- All hell breaks loose on the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf. Escalation of the Iran-Iraq War or perhaps a Soviet invasion of Iran

24.       U.S. Subversion– Political turmoil and internal conflict inside of the United States. Homegrown or the result of foreign meddling?

25.       Australian Maneuver– This one could either be Soviet action against Australia or, less likely, Australian led action in the region

26.       Iranian Diversion-Another open-ended title. It could signify a Soviet invasion of Iran to draw off US/NATO attention from Europe

27.       …? limited- Another obscured title. Ugh!

28.       Sudan surprise– Challenges to the Sudanese Socialist Union could have led to an Afghanistan-like invasion by the Soviet Union

29.       NATO territorial– Incursion of NATO territory by the Warsaw Pact

30.       Zaire Alliance– Mobutu aligns Zaire closely with the Soviet Union

31.       Iceland Incident– Soviet assault against Iceland or an inadvertent incident at sea between the US and Soviet navies off of Iceland.

32.       English Escalation– Oh those whacky Brits

33.       Zaire Sudden- Zaire falls into chaos. The Soviets intervene

34.       Egypt Paramilitary– This one stumps me. Overthrow of Egyptian government by paramilitary forces perhaps.

35.       Middle East Heavy– Conflict in the Middle East. Lebanon, Arab-Israeli, Iran-Iraq….take your pick

36.       Mexican Takeover– The red tide that threatened Central America in the 1980s comes north. Mexico falls to Nicaragua and Cuba

37.       Chad Alert- Chad was a hotspot in the 80s. Libya became embroiled in the Chad civil war. France supported Chad.

38.       Saudi Maneuver– A Soviet move against the Saudi oilfields

39.       African Territorial– One of the myriad of African conflicts escalates and brings in the superpowers.

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 1-19

 

The movie Wargames was an influential piece of cinema back in the early 80s. Like a respectable number of movies during the time period, this one took an indirect look at nuclear war. For many young people back then, Wargames helped to shape their views on nuclear warfare. Keep in mind the tenor of the times. The Cold War was in full swing. The possibility of it boiling over into a hot nuclear conflict was quite real. The United States was no longer the push over it had been during the Carter years. The Post-Vietnam malaise was wearing off. Soviet expansion efforts across the globe were being countered effectively. The US military was undergoing a complete overhaul. Soviet leadership was fluid, with a revolving door seemingly in place at the Kremlin. Soviets were fearful of the United States. Americans were fearful of the Soviets. Folks were quite worried that there might not be a tomorrow. It certainly was a very dangerous time. I can appreciate that now, however, back then I was just a kid who was more concerned with his GI Joes.

In the last few minutes of the movie, Joshua begins playing a large number of nuclear war scenarios at a rapid clip. As it plays the scenarios, it learns and ultimately comes to the conclusion that the only proper move is not to play at all. The scenarios always piqued my curiosity. Back during my undergrad days I came across a copy of the entire list on the internet. Over the years I’d pull the list out and try to figure out the background story of each scenario.  I thought I would share the list and my summaries on here. Since the list has over 150 entries I only be putting twenty or so up at a time. So, shall we play a game?

As a final note, keep in mind the time period of these scenarios: late 70s to Early 80s.

 

1. US first strike– Pretty basic. A US counterforce nuclear strike against targets in the Soviet Union. I disagree with Joshua on this one. The scenario is quite winnable under certain circumstances

2. USSR first strike – Same as above, only the Soviets launching first. Again, I believe this scenario is winnable for the initiator.

3. NATO / Warsaw Pact– NATO vs WP conventional conflict escalates to a strategic nuclear exchange.

4. Far East strategy– This scenario title is open ended. I’ll go on the assumption that it involves a Soviet backed campaign in the Far East. Korea perhaps.

5. US USSR escalation– Very generic. Tensions rise, forces deploy, units exchange fire and ultimately it leads to a nuclear exchange.

6. Middle East war– In the 80s, the Middle East was a hotbed of violence. Israel vs Syria, Iran/Iraq, Operation Praying Mantis….a nuclear war could have kicked off from one of many conflicts in the region.

7. USSR – China attack – Back in the 70s and 80s the Chinese and Soviet Union disliked each other quite a bit. The fear was always there that a conflict between the two might go nuclear.

8. India Pakistan war– Still a very real threat today!

9. Mediterranean war– Soviet/WP moves against NATO’s Southern Flank or a flare up between the US and Soviet allies such as Syria and/or Libya which leads to rapid escalation.

10. Hong Kong variant– In the 1980s Hong Kong was sovereign British territory. Any PRC moves against the city would have inevitably drawn in the Superpowers.

11. SEATO decapitating– SEATO dissolved in 1977. A decapitation attack would have been nuclear strikes against the members capital cities.

12. Cuban provocation– Cuba provoking a crisis somewhere that leads to a conflict between the US and Soviet Union. Grenada could be considered a Cuban provocation. Fortunately, it did not involve direct fighting between the Superpowers.

13. Inadvertent– An accident. Always possible. When the one side launches its missiles, accident or not,  the other side is going to be forced to respond.

14. Atlantic heavy– Control of the North Atlantic was essential to both NATO and Soviet war plans. The US Navy was prepared to take the war directly to the Soviet homeland. The Soviets were prepared to close the Atlantic off with its submarine and bomber forces.

15. Cuban paramilitary– A situation similar to Angola

 

16. Nicaraguan preemptive– A US preemptive strike against Communist controlled Nicaragua. There were always fears that Mexico would be next if the Nicaraguans were allowed to go on unchecked.

17. Pacific territorial– Naval fighting between the US and Soviet Union in the North Pacific

18. Burmese Theatrewide– This scenario title was always interesting. How could Burma have played central role in nuclear war planning?

19. Turkish decoy– A Soviet attack against Turkey to keep NATO’s attention focused there. It’s a feint and the real Soviet objective is somewhere else in the world.