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Nuclear war in the 21st century

The truth about Satan: Nuclear war in the 21st century, new atlas  March 15th, 2017   Late last year, the world’s news services were abuzz with articles about Russia’s new super weapon, an ICBM called Satan 2 that is alleged to have the capability to fly at 17 times the speed of sound, penetrate US ICBM defenses, and destroy an area the size of Texas. But do these claims hold water, and just how big is the nuclear threat that the world really faces in the 21st century? What is the truth about Satan 2?

It was an exciting story and for about a week it made the rounds on everything from Twitter to major news outlets. But what was surprising about the coverage was that the Russian claims were accepted almost universally without a trace of skepticism or even context. This was despite the Satan-2, in many ways, is a fairly standard weapon and, in others, the claims didn’t even make sense. Never mind being able to destroy an area equal to Texas, saying that it can fly over the South Pole or dodge the US missile defenses should have set the skeptic alarms ringing.
The problem of nuclear weapons

Not to downplay the risks, but we need to ask what the real significance Satan-2 is, and why so many otherwise well-informed people were taken in by the Russian claims?


Using Satan-2 as the jumping off point for this lengthy look at the potential shape of nuclear war in the 21st century isn’t meant to downplay the significance of any such weapon, or to rack the press over the coals. The point is to highlight the fact that our shared knowledge of nuclear weapons and their capabilities has eroded since the end of the Cold War to the point where even fabulist claims like those made for the Satan are received with credulity.

Nuclear weapons are still the single greatest piece on the military chessboard of world diplomacy. If we become complacent about them and the role they play in our world, then we could find ourselves facing a very nasty surprise that shakes us out of that complacency. On the other hand, if we regard them as some all-destroying force that can only lead to the extermination of the human race, then it can lead to fatalism, paralysis, or desperate gambles and brinkmanship.

None of this is meant to minimize the danger of nuclear weapons. Far from it. These are the most destructive weapons ever devised by the mind of man and their use in war can only be justified as a deterrent. The warheads used today may be smaller, fewer, and not anywhere near as universally destructive as popular culture portrays them, but they are terrible things.

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four jet passenger liners and slammed two of them into the Twin Towers in New York and one into the Pentagon, while the fourth crashed when the passengers tried to overpower the hijackers. This attack did not involve nuclear weapons, and “only” destroyed two skyscrapers and killed about 3,000 people, but it paralyzed the world’s only superpower, caused the loss of many billions of dollars, nearly crippled the airline industry, and has had massive impacts on the world to this day.

Now imagine a 10 kiloton bomb detonating in Manhattan. Even if the island didn’t end up looking like Hiroshima, the toll of death, property damage, and economic disruption doesn’t bear thinking about – but if we are to prevent such a disaster occurring in New York, or London, or Paris, or Moscow, or Tehran, or Jerusalem, we have to do just that.


March 17, 2017 - Posted by | general

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