Day the World Nearly Ended30周年記念
TO ALL PARTICIPANTS IN THE SEPT26 2013 HIGH-LEVEL MEETING ON NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
PND/CPACS HUMAN SURVIVAL PROJECT
Sept26 1983-Sept26 2013
30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ‘DAY THE WORLD NEARLY ENDED’
HIGH-LEVEL MEETING ON NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
THE HIGH – LEVEL MEETING ON NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT TAKES PLACE ON THE PRECISE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SERPUKHOV-15 INCIDENT OF 26 SEPTEMBER 1983, ‘THE DAY THE WORLD NEARLY ENDED’.
Exactly 30 years before Sept 26 2013, September 26 1983, half-past midnight Moscow time, saw an event in which, had slightly different decisions been made, or had decisions been made by different people, would have seen the launch of over 10,000 nuclear warheads by the then USSR at the US and its allies. That event, with retaliation by the US, could have led to the destruction of civilisation and of most humans, and many other species.
That this did not happen is due entirely to the wise judgement of Colonel Stanislav Petrov, about whom the film, ‘The Man Who Saved the World’, has been made. Colonel Stanislav Petrov it seems, would not normally have been on watch at Serpukhov-15 early warning centre that night. He was, as he modestly puts it in the film, ‘at the right place at the right time’.
That the exact 30th anniversary of that date has been made the date for the High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament is extraordinarily appropriate. The lessons from that ‘near miss’ of September 1983 should be a priority subject for consideration at the High Level Meeting of 30 years later.
WHAT HAPPENED ON SEPT 26th 1983?
At half-past midnight on the 26th at Serpukhov-15, outside Moscow, sirens wailed and a bright red sign reading ‘START’ lit up as the M10 computer and satellite surveillance system indicated that the US had launched first one missile, and then five, at the USSR.
The expectation was that, at this point, Colonel Petrov would pick up a red phone and report a massive attack on the USSR by the US, and that his superiors would then launch approximately 10,000 warheads at the US and its allies, who would then respond in kind, incinerating most of the populations of the US, the USSR, eastern and western Europe, Japan, and Australia.
The 180 million tonnes of smoke from burning cities would then have drastically lowered temperatures globally, for at least a decade, to levels lower than the last ice age. Given that agriculture would have been essentially impossible for the next decade, human survival itself might have been in doubt, and most humans would certainly have perished.
WHAT IS THE SITUATION ON 26th SEPT 2013?
Moving forward from that narrowly averted apocalypse 30 years ago, to 26 September 2013:
–The US and Russia continue to maintain at least 1800 warheads between them (plus submarine-launched warheads on only slightly lower alert) on launch-ready, high alert status, in spite of repeated resolutions in the UN General Assembly urging a lowering of alert status. The UK and France maintain at least 130 submarine-based warheads on a slightly lower alert status.
–Peer-reviewed calculations done in 2006, together with ongoing work, reveal that even at levels of only 1800 warheads (or even just half that number), an event such as that of 26 September 1983 could result, (depending on details of targeting), in ‘prompt’ casualties of over a billion people and in subsequent victims of starvation, exposure, irradiation and neglect that would be numbered in billions.
–A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would result, according to the most recent research, in prompt casualties between 50 and 150 million people in South Asia, and, according to Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility, up to a billion deaths worldwide later from famine induced by crop failure.
–The realisation of all this at the level of the UN has prompted a growing dialogue and multi-government statements, most recently one signed by 80 governments at the May 2013 Geneva Prepcom of the Non Proliferation Treaty on the ‘Catastrophic Humanitarian Consequences’ of a nuclear war. Already there has been an inter-governmental meeting on the subject in Oslo, and one is planned for February 2014 in Mexico. The dialogue on ‘catastrophic consequences’ is rightly seen as a potential game-changer, though the idea that large-scale use of nuclear weapons is an existential threat to humans as a species is not at all new.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN ON 26th SEPT 2013?
On this 30th anniversary of ‘The Day the World Nearly Ended’ a number of priorities for governments are clear, both for those that are not nuclear weapon states and for those who, at the other extreme, retain as the US and Russia do, 90-95% of the world’s nuclear warheads and who cling to their unique ability to end civilisation and much else within an hour by computer error or miscalculation.
1) The US and Russia need, as a number of General Assembly resolutions over the years have urged, to lower the operational readiness of their strategic weapon systems and to abandon the doctrine of launch-on-warning.
Doing so will radically increase real strategic stability and will increase decision-making time so that presidents and senior military have more than zero to eight minutes to decide on whether or not to unleash a potential apocalypse. Such a step can only result in vastly increased security for all, more than fulfilling the requirement of ‘undiminished security for all’.
2) The dialogue on catastrophic humanitarian consequences needs to be carried out in the context of, not only the effects of a single nuclear detonation on one city, but in terms of the catastrophic global climatic consequences of the most credible multi-warhead accidental nuclear war scenarios. Useful though modelling of a single warheads effects may be as a case-study in illustrating the power and horror of nuclear use, a single warhead scenario is not necessarily the most probable scenario for actual nuclear weapon use. Multi-warhead scenarios involving the core strategic inventories of nuclear weapons possessing states are arguably MORE probable than single warhead scenarios, and their potential effects are, in a worst-case scenario, civilisation-ending or possibly even species-ending. Whether this turns out actually to be so is of course not an experiment we should make, and depends on how dark, how cold, for how long.
The Mexico meeting should invite experts on global climatic consequences of nuclear weapons use such as Professors Brian Toon and Alan Robock and PSR’s Ira Helfand and others to discuss catastrophic global climatic consequences at the official intergovernmental session. The Mexico session should also outline potential most-credible accidental nuclear war scenarios and the effects on their likelihood of changes in alert status, with experts on nuclear command and control such as Bruce Blair, Martin Hellman, Seth Baum, and others.
3) There must be immediate steps leading sooner rather than later to the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons as a pressing human survival priority, to be implemented through a nuclear weapons convention or framework of agreements.
4)And Colonel Stanislav Petrov should be accorded the honour that is truly his for having saved civilisation and possibly humanity for 30 years of continued existence.
John Hallam, People for Nuclear Disarmament/Human Survival Project, Surry Hills,Sydney, Australia firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
Peter King, Human Survival Project, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Steven Starr, Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility,(PSR) Missouri, USA.
Aaron Tovish, International Director, Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign, Klosterneuburg Austria,
Alyn Ware, World Future Council,Lond UK, Wellington NZ, Basel, Switzerland.
David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, Calif, USA.
For information on this statement cum memo contact:
John Hallam People for Nuclear Disarmament / Human Survival Project, 499 Elizabeth St Surry Hills (Sydney) NSW Australia 2010