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The misconception about Putin’s big red nuclear button

Spectator, Mark Galeotti, 16 Oct 22, There is a common misconception that the leaders of nuclear states have a ‘red button’ that can unleash Armageddon. As Vladimir Putin continues to hint at the use of non-strategic (‘tactical’) nuclear weapons in Ukraine, there is some comfort in the knowledge that it is not so easy.

Ironically, launching the kind of strategic nuclear missiles whose use would likely spiral into global destruction is somewhat easier than deploying the smaller weapons which – however vastly unlikely – could conceivably be used in Ukraine. These lower-yield warheads would need to be reconditioned in one of the 12 ‘Object S’ arsenals across Russia holding them, and then transported to one of 34 ‘base-level storage depots’. From there they would need to be loaded onto a bomber or mated onto a suitable other delivery system.

Given that Russia has not even used them since 1990, no one knows for sure what state they would be in, and likely no one still in service has any practical experience. There would presumably be a group of wary engineers gingerly thumbing their way through faded instruction manuals long before Putin could even give a fire order.

If he ever did, though, the process is mercifully much more complex that simply mashing a button in a moment of pique. Like his US counterpart, Putin is accompanied everywhere by an aide carrying the ‘nuclear briefcase’. Called the Cheget, this actually contains special communications gear that is used to issue and authenticate the president’s orders relating to a nuclear launch.

Chegets, which connect to the Kazbek nuclear command and control network. Were Putin so minded, his aide would activate his Cheget, and he would issue an encrypted launch command, which would be transmitted to them. Although there are protocols to deal with the theoretical possibility that both were out of action, such as if there had already been some decapitating strike against the High Command, generally at least one of the other two would need to validate the command.

Then, the approved order goes to the General Staff, which issues authorisation codes and targeting details. This would usually happen through the Strategic Rocket Forces’ command bunker at Kuntsevo, west of Moscow, or else the backup one at Kosvirsky in the Ural Mountains.

Again, in extremis, the command staff in the bunkers could launch without the command codes, had the General Staff also been eliminated……………………

This may all sound rather cumbersome. It is, and deliberately so, both to make absolutely sure that any commands really have come from the president, and to introduce some friction and delay into the process………………………..

What this also means is that were Putin somehow to go full Dr Strangelove, there are many other human beings in the chain of command. …………………

 One of the secrets of command is never to give an order likely to be disobeyed. For Putin, it would be the beginning of the end, and he must know it.

However brutal Putin’s regime may be, this is not Stalinism. Although the Federal Security Service’s Military Counterintelligence Directorate is more concerned with watching the generals than hunting foreign spies, there are no hard-eyed political commissars waiting to put a bullet in the back of any officer’s head who disobeys an order. And that should be a comfort in these uncomfortable times.  https://www.spectator.com.au/2022/10/the-misconception-about-putins-big-red-nuclear-button/

October 16, 2022 - Posted by | Reference, Russia, weapons and war

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