Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 120-140

o-WAR-GAMES-facebook

This is it. The list of scenarios from the movie Wargames has been laid out and analyzed. It took nearly three years and as far as side projects go, this one was a lot of fun. All good things must come to an end, however, and here we are. The final twenty nuclear war scenarios from Wargames.

  • ALASKAN DISCRETIONARY– A low profile operation by the Soviets to disrupt the Alaskan pipeline or possibly disable US early warning radars in preparation for a first strike. As Alaska is US territory, this would be a direct attack upon the United States and the possibility of escalation is very high.

 

  • CANADIAN THRUST– A Soviet military move into Canadian territory. With East Bloc forces on North American soil the situation would become volatile very fast.

 

  • ARABIAN LIGHT– A regional conflict spills over and provides the spark for a global conflict. The Iran-Iraq War certainly had the potential to serve as a catalyst.

 

  • AFRICAN DOMESTIC– Apartheid was ugly. The South African government was a pariah and the ANC was backed indirectly by the Soviet Union. If Apartheid had exploded, the superpowers would have been drawn in. While the US had no love for the South African government, it could not allow the Soviets to gain total control of resource-rich South Africa.

 

  • TUNISIAN INCIDENT– Libya and Tunisia clash in an isolated action on land or at sea and it escalates.

 

  • MALAYSIAN MANEUVER– China begins making political and military moves to gain control of Malaysia.

 

  • JAMAICA DECOY– Cuba instigates an action in Jamaica to divert attention away from Soviet action elsewhere. The US responds with a Grenada-like operation and it’s all downhill from there.

 

  • MALAYSIAN MINIMAL– Communist insurgency rekindles in Malaysia

 

  • RUSSIAN SOVEREIGNTY– This could refer to an invasion of Russia by the PRC. Possible during the time period. It’s the only realistic possibility.

 

  • CHAD OPTION– In the late 70s and early 80s, the Libyan-Chad conflict raged. French involvement increased the potential of a wider clash between the US and Soviet Union.

 

  • BANGLADESH WAR– Bangladesh’s leader moved away from his country’s strong ties with India and the Soviet Union in the early 80s in favor of a strong relationship with the West. It could have sparked war with India.

 

 

  • BURMESE CONTAINMENT– Again, Burma’s inclusion on this list mystifies me.

 

  • ASIAN THEATERWIDE– Asia explodes. Korea, PRC-USSR, US-USSR, PRC-USA….choose your poison.

 

  • BULGARIAN CLANDESTINE-NATO or independent Turkish covert actions against Bulgaria, a Warsaw Pact member at the time.

 

 

  • GREENLAND INCURSION– Soviet assault to seize and destroy US military assets in Greenland. Considering that Thule AB and the BMEWS radar site are located there, escalation would’ve been assured in this scenario.

 

  • EGYPT SURGICAL– Libyan surgical strike against an Egyptian target. Political or economic.

 

  • CZECH HEAVY– Confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Southern Germany and Czechoslovakia. NATO incursion perhaps.

 

  • TAIWAN CONFRONTATION– The PRC launches an offensive to reclaim the ‘lost province.’

 

  • GREENLAND MAXIMUM– Greenland Incursion times 5.

 

  • UGANDA OFFENSIVE– The Ugandans go on the offensive and occupy Congo.

 

  • CASPIAN DEFENSE– A NATO offensive on its southern flank, or alternatively, perhaps an Iranian offensive into the southern Soviet Union.

 

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 100-119

WarGames19835_zpsf6638e89

We’re getting towards the end of the list unfortunately. After this, only one set remains.

  • LIBYAN ACTION– Think Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. In 1981, US Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan fighters during a period of heightened tension. In 1986, US and Libyan air and naval forces mixed it up and later, USAF and US Navy aircraft bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1989, Navy F-14s shot down Libyan fighters again. Any of these incidents could’ve spilled over into a much larger conflict.

 

  • PALESTINIAN TACTICAL– What if the First Intifada had gone beyond protests and riots? What if Syria had contributed equipment, weapons and advisors to the PLO and the uprising took the form of a more organized and deadly offensive against Israel?

 

  • NATO ALTERNATE– Confusing title. A Soviet move against NATO using an alternative to its war plans or vice versa?

 

 

  • CYPRUS MANEUVER– Cyprus was a bastion of instability from the 1974 coup onward into the 80s. If either Greece or Turkey had moved unilaterally to take over the island there it could have escalated quickly and gone in a direction that nobody had thought possible.

 

  • EGYPT MISDIRECTION– An Egyptian move against Libya goes awry and brings in Soviet assistance for its Libyan allies.

 

  • BANGLADESH THRUST– In the late 1970s, when this list was originally put together (years before the movie) Bangladesh was in a period of political disarray. Ziaur Rahman came to power in 1979 and was a popular president. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that Rahman, had he not been assassinated in 1981, could have prepared and executed an offensive against one of the nation’s South Asian neighbors.

 

  • KENYA DEFENSE– Kenya finds itself under attack by an external or internal enemy.

 

  • BANGLADESH CONTAINMENT– Unlike the Bangladesh scenario previous, this one revolves around containing an aggressive and outward looking Bangladesh.

 

  • VIETNAMESE STRIKE– Vietnam moves against one of its neighbors.

 

  • ALBANIAN CONTAINMENT– This one is a bit hard to swallow; Hoxa and Albania’s aspirations needing to be checked.
  • GABON SURPRISE– Omar Bongo was unpredictable and deadly. He could have taken Gabon over the edge at any time.

 

  • IRAQ SOVEREIGNTY– An internal uprising (Iranian backed?) against the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein.

 

  • VIETNAMESE SUDDEN– Similar to STRIKE, only faster

 

  • LEBANON INTERDICTION– This one actually became reality. Think Lebanon 1982-834

 

  • TAIWAN DOMESTIC- Chinese backed opposition groups sew political chaos on Taiwan

 

  • ALGERIAN SOVEREIGNTY– Social unrest was common in Algeria from the late 70s through the 80s. Libya or another outside nation-state player might have tried to turn the situation to its favor and chip away at Algeria’s status as a sovereign nation.

 

  • ARABIAN STRIKE– A Soviet move into the Arabian Peninsula to seize the Saudi oil fields.

 

  • ATLANTIC SUDDEN– The Soviets begin a war against NATO with a major, sudden effort to close the Atlantic.

 

  • MONGOLIAN THRUST– Either Mongolia moving against China or the Soviet Union, or perhaps a Sino-Soviet encounter within the borders of Mongolia.

 

  • POLISH DECOY– A Soviet gambit to take attention away from another region where it will be making moves in the near future.

 

First Strike: The American Nightmare- Introduction

Russian_Strategic_Nuclear_Forces_to_get_50_new_Intercontinental_Ballistic_Missiles_in_2015_640_001

The concept of the first strike has been ingrained in warfare for centuries. In the broad sense, every war or conflict commences with a first strike. After all, there must be an instigator for a war to begin. One nation-state or coalition’s forces must cross the border of another in order to officially open hostilities. Wars rarely, if ever, start by mutual consent and armies clashing on the border of disputed territory. The factor that normally dictates the parameters for initiating a first strike are political in nature. The justifying reasons for a first strike can be economic, political, or military, however, the decision to initiate is made by a nation-state’s political leadership. This is the most important cog in the first strike mechanism. Since the introduction of nuclear weapons as a viable warfighting tool, even more so.

A first strike is essentially a pre-emptive attack undertaken to gain a definitive strategic advantage over an opponent. In the past 100 years there have been some visible examples of pre-emptive action. The Israeli air strikes in June 1967, Israel’s strike on Osirak are of them. What it boils down to is a ‘get them before they get you’ mindset for the initiator.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, a first strike is a more complex and deadly instrument.  The consequences of launching a nuclear first strike are considerably higher, but so are the potential rewards. Nuclear weapons are, after all, weapons, only with a far greater explosive power. When they are designed and built, it is assumed that these weapons could be used one day.  In the years before the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon, there were some influential voices calling for the use of nuclear weapons against Russia to curb its aggressive appetite. One of the supporters of such action was, surprisingly, Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher and renowned pacifist. Military planning has also included first strike options, mainly because contingency planning, as a rule, covers every conceivable scenario. The public perception that a nuclear war would result in no winners does not carry over to the military mindset. Wars are not suicidal ventures. They are initiated to achieve objectives.

The prime objective of a nuclear first strike is to neutralize the enemy’s nuclear forces before they can be used in a retaliatory strike, and force it to either accept terms of surrender or endure a follow on strike against its population centers. The moment a nation loses its nuclear weapons, it is at the mercy of the first strike initiator. The initiator has to be willing to absorb an acceptable amount of casualties and destruction in exchange for achieving nuclear primacy. Once that primacy is established though, the game is over.

Despite the addition of new members to the nuclear club, the United States and Russia are the only nations currently capable of launching a successful nuclear first strike. The number of available warheads, and delivery systems, command structure and communications systems are the elements that determine this. China is expanding its own nuclear forces as well. However, for the foreseeable future will not be in a position to launch a successful first strike against either nation without bringing down massive retaliation upon itself.

At this point in the 21st Century, the tenets of Mutually Assured Destruction no longer apply. The balance of terror as it was in the Cold War no longer exists as the standoff between the United States and Soviet Union has ended. The number of warheads and missiles each nation has aimed at one another has diminished significantly. The power to destroy the world four times over still remains, but the ability to do that in the blink of an eye does not. Global destruction is not necessary to neutralize the other side’s strategic forces. It can be accomplished with a smaller number of weapons and the element of surprise.

At the moment, Russian Federation is crashing the global stage in an attempt to recapture the influence and power once yielded by its predecessor, the USSR. Vladimir Putin is undertaking a modified version of security through expansion and with mixed results. In the eastern Ukraine, Russian backed separatists continue to fight for the right to create their own independent nation-states, but their efforts have bogged down. Russia’s newest expedition is in Syria and while Moscow does not want to include Syria in a territorial expansion, it does want to expand its power and influence in the region and globally. It is too early to say with confidence how this venture will play out. Concurrently, Russia is facing economic issues at home that have the potential of causing issues down the line. If pressed, there’s no telling how Russia’s leaders will respond.

The United States is currently trudging through a period of vulnerability to a nuclear first strike. The argument can be made that all nations are vulnerable to surprise attack regardless of their vigilance. This is true, yet at the present time, the US is especially vulnerable. The national mood is similar to the ‘Malaise’ days of the Carter Years. The economy is not entirely back on track. America’s societal priorities are in disorder. On the foreign policy front, the current administration has been unable to construct and execute a consistent doctrine. The US continues to have commitments around the world in spite of efforts to disengage in some regions and shift focus to areas more vital to national interests. Military budgets continue to be slashed even as the number of flashpoints multiply across the globe. The cumulative erosion of military and economic resources is diminishing American security. This reality is most evident in US strategic forces. There have been a number of high profile cheating and drinking scandals in recent years involving personnel from the US Air Force’s missile wings. Senior officers at Strategic Command have not been immune either. More than one have been dismissed because of inappropriate behavior. Readiness is down across the boards. For a command entrusted with two arms of the nation’s nuclear triad this is not a good combination.

The situation will be remedied eventually but until it is, the United States is vulnerable at a time when Russia is hungry and aggressively expanding its influence and power.

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.