September 27, 2009

World War III Escalation Scenarios

Escalation Scenarios: The Third World War and Its Aftermath

By Carol Moore,
September 23, 2009

URGENT: Scenario 3 - Israel Bombs Iranian Nuclear Plants
Nuclear power plants are nuclear war targets which will spread massive additional radiation over thousands of square miles.

A world nuclear war is one that involves most or all nuclear powers releasing a large proportion of their nuclear weapons at targets in nuclear, and perhaps non-nuclear, states. Such a war could be initiated accidentally, aggressively or pre-emptively and could continue and spread through these means or by retaliation by a party attacked by nuclear weapons.

While some speak of “limited nuclear war,” it is likely that any nuclear war will quickly escalate and spiral out of control because of the “use them or loose them” strategy: If you don’t use all your nuclear weapons you are likely to have them destroyed by the enemy’s nuclear weapons.

Such a war could start through a reaction to terrorist attacks, or through the need to protect against overwhelming military opposition, or through the use of small battle field tactical nuclear weapons meant to destroy hardened targets. It might quickly move on to the use of strategic nuclear weapons delivered by short-range or inter-continental missile or long-range bomber. These could deliver high altitude bursts whose electromagnetic pulse knocks out electrical circuits for hundreds of square miles. Or they could deliver nuclear bombs to destroy nuclear and/or non-nuclear military facilities, nuclear power plants, important industrial sites and cities. Or it could skip all those steps and start through the accidental or reckless use of strategic weapons.

Below are six scenarios by which world nuclear war could come about. While these are some of the major scenarios and combination of attacks and retaliations, they are hardly exhaustive. U.S., Russian and other nuclear nations’ weapons strategizers deal with these scenarios every day but rarely let mere citizens in on their grizzly thinking. Citizens must end their denial and become aware of such scenarios.


Accidental: Since the United States and Russia have “launch on warning” systems that send off rockets before it is confirmed a nuclear attack is underway, any tensions between them can lead to massive nuclear war within thirty minutes of a warning — no matter how false the warning may be.

Aggressive: One or more nations decide to use weapons against nuclear or non-nuclear nations in order to promote an economic, political or military goal, as part of an ongoing war or as a first strike nuclear attack. (The state, of course, may claim it is a pre-emptive, retaliatory or even an accidental attack.)

Pre-emptive: One or more nations believe (correctly or incorrectly) or claim to believe that another nuclear nation is about to use nuclear weapons against its nuclear, military, industrial or civilian targets, and pre-emptively attacks that nation. May result from political or military “brinkmanship.”

Retaliatory: Use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack — or even a conventional, chemical or biological attack by a non-nuclear nation.


There is a whole body of knowledge and assumptions that is taken into account when putting together scenarios like those below. My bottom line assumption is that any nuclear exchange has an excellent chance of resulting in a series of escalations that will spiral out of control, setting off a round of exchanges among various enemies under a “use it or lose it” philosophy, as well as among the treaty allies of the relevant nuclear powers and their allies. This continues until most of the planet’s 20,000 odd nuclear weapons are exhausted. In making “limited nuclear war” calculations, all nations should assume “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Unfortunately, too many strategizers assume they can conduct limited strikes and keep them limited.

Related assumptions include:

** Any nuclear attack on a primary Russian target like Moscow, St. Petersburg, or nuclear command headquarters by any nation or group, known or unknown, could lead to a commander turning on “The Dead Hand” strategy and/or prompt one or more of Russia’s semi-autonomous military field commanders to retaliate against U.S. and European nuclear targets. Attacks on secondary targets or nuclear detonations very close to Russian soil also might lead to some sort of nuclear escalation.

** Any nuclear attack on U.S. and/or European sites by any nation or group, known or unknown, probably will result in massive U.S. and/or European retaliation against the known or assumed perpetrators or their known or assumed allies.

** It is likely that the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan will use some of their weapons to attack other nuclear and non-nuclear nations which might threaten them after they have been devastated by nuclear war.

** Any nuclear attack on Israel by terrorists, or Pakistan, Russia or China, will result in Israel’s surviving land, air and submarine-carried or based-issiles being used against Arab and Muslim capitals. A particularly devastating attack (including chemical or biological weapons) possibly might result in a full scale “Samson Option” attack on European and Russian targets. The latter, of course, would result in Russian retaliation against the United States, perhaps its punishment for not having done enough to protect Israel.

** Any nation’s use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear nation will be only somewhat less inflammatory than using them against a nuclear nation, especially if that nation has many treaty allies. It will ratchet all nuclear nations' alert systems and lead to unforeseeable consequences that could easily spiral to world nuclear war.


Aggressive Pre-Emptive Retaliatory Accidental



During time of minor or major political tension, especially active U.S. bombings of other nations or any use of nuclear weapons, Russian commanders' faulty early-warning-system detects false evidence of a nuclear attack from the United States. Russia launches a large proportion of its weapons at the U.S. and pre-emptively at U.S. European and Israeli allies, as well as China, India and Pakistan to cripple their nuclear capability. The U.S. and Europe retaliate at Russia and the U.S. attacks China to destroy its nuclear stocks. Israel retaliates against Russia and initiates aggressive attacks against Arab and Muslim capitols. India and China may strike each other to destroy any remaining nuclear or other military capability. (It is less likely that the U.S. would experience such a glitch; if so, the U.S. would strike Russia and China; they would retaliate against the U.S. and Europe and probably attack other potentially hostile nuclear powers to knock out their capability.)



Russia and US engage in threats over further U.S. aggression in the Middle East or over Russia's refusal to withdraw troops from the former Soviet Republic Georgia. Russia and/or the U.S. pre-emptively strike the others' nuclear targets, leading to further rounds of retaliatory exchanges. Russia strikes pre-emptively at U.S. European and Israeli allies, as well as China, India and Pakistan to cripple their nuclear capability. Europe retaliates at Russia, and the U.S. attacks China to destroy any remaining nuclear stocks. Israel retaliates against Russia and initiates revenge attacks against Arab and Muslim capitols. India and China may strike each other to destroy any remaining nuclear or other military capability.



Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities and/or Syria and Lebanon. These countries respond with massive rocket attacks using conventional bombs and even some chemical, biological or radiological weapons. Israel responds with nuclear strikes against these nations and Pakistan. Outraged Pakistan retaliates against Israel and pre-emptively attacks Israel's ally/Pakistan's enemy India, which retaliates. Israel initiates "Samson option" and attacks Arab and Muslim capitols, as well as "antisemitic" Europe and Russia. Russian regional commanders retaliate against Israel, its ally the U.S., and U.S. European allies and China, to destroy its nuclear capability. The U.S. retaliates against Russia and hits China's nuclear capability. China uses any remaining nuclear weapons against Russia, the U.S. and India. India retaliates against China.

The Samson Option

From Wikipedia (for the 1991 book by Seymour Hersh, see The Samson Option.)

The Samson Option is a term used to describe Israel's alleged deterrence strategy of massive retaliation with nuclear weapons as a “last resort” against nations whose military attacks threaten its existence, and possibly against other targets as well. Israel refuses to admit it has nuclear weapons or to describe how it would use them, an official policy of nuclear ambiguity, also known as “nuclear opacity.” This has made it difficult for anyone outside the Israeli government to definitively describe its true nuclear policy, while still allowing Israel to influence the perceptions, strategies and actions of other governments.

As early as 1976, the CIA believed that Israel possessed 10 to 20 nuclear weapons. By 2002 it was estimated that the number had increased to between 75 and 200 nuclear weapons. Kenneth S. Brower has estimated as many as 400 nuclear weapons. These can be launched from land, sea and air. This gives Israel a second strike option even if much of the country is destroyed.

The term “Samson Option” has also been used more generally in reference to Israel’s nuclear program. Commentators have also used the term in reference to situations where non-nuclear actors, such as Saddam Hussein, Yassir Arafat and Hezbollah threatened conventional weapons retaliation, and even to United States President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

Read the rest of the scenarios here

Historical Close Calls to World War Three

Before the end of the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed concern that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. In April-May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable; its primary goal was “to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire.” However, the plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.

With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered plausible. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. Other potential starts have included the following:


Berlin Blockade. Soviet military forces stopped all commerce into West Berlin which caused a humanitarian and political crisis. In response, Western allies sent in air lifts to supply West Berlin.

August 29, 1949

Soviet Union successfully conducted tests with nation’s first atomic bomb, RDS-1.


Korean War. General MacArthur planned to invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in eastern Asia.

August 12, 1953

Soviet Union successfully conducts tests of nation’s first hydrogen bomb, Joe-4.

July 26, 1956 – March, 1957

Suez Crisis: The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel. When the USSR threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, the Canadian Ambassador to the UN Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and urged the British and French to withdraw. The Eisenhower administration, also fearing a wider war, applied pressure to the United Kingdom to withdraw, including a threat to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt. Lester B. Pearson later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

June 4 – November 9, 1961

Berlin Crisis of 1961.

October 15 – October 28, 1962

Cuban Missile Crisis: The conflict pitted the United States against an alliance between the USSR and Cuba. The USSR was attempting to place several launch sites in Cuba in response to the United States installation of missiles in Turkey. The United States response included dispersal of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers to civilian airfields around the United States and war games in which the United States Marine Corps landed against a dictator named “ORTSAC” (Castro spelt backwards). For a brief while, the U.S. military went to DEFCON 3, while SAC went to DEFCON 2. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 (piloted by Rudolph Anderson) was shot down over Cuba and another U-2 over the USSR was almost intercepted when it strayed over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights. See also: Vasiliy Arkhipov.

October 24, 1973

Yom Kippur War: As the Yom Kippur War was winding down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt’s behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.

September 26, 1983

False “US First Strike” Alarm: Soviet early warning systems showed that a US ICBM attack had been launched. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in command of the monitoring facility, correctly interpreted the warnings as a computer error, even though this was against standing orders.

November 1983

Exercise Able Archer: The USSR mistook a test of NATO’s nuclear-release procedures as a fake cover for a NATO attack and subsequently raised its nuclear alert level. It was not until afterwards that the US realized how close it had come to nuclear war. At the time of the exercise the Soviet Politburo was without a healthy functioning head due to the failing health of then leader Yuri Andropov.

January 25, 1995

Norwegian rocket incident: A Norwegian missile launch for scientific research was detected from Andøya Rocket Range and thought to be an attack on Russia, launched from a submarine five minutes away from Moscow. Norway had notified the world that it would be making the launch, but the Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to notify those monitoring Russia’s nuclear defense systems.

June 12 – June 26, 1999

Pristina airport standoff: Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo.

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