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Near Term Human Extinction by Nuclear War -Should We be Afraid?

There was a recent poll done by UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion about proposed American responses to Russia's 'special military operation' in Ukraine. The military operation that the rest of the world (except perhaps Belarus) calls an illegal war. One of the results was very interesting. When I say interesting, I mean frightening. Apparently, 46% of Americans want a no-fly zone over Ukraine even if it risks nuclear war.

The question asked:

People disagree about establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would require that American forces attack Russian airplanes that enter Ukrainian airspace.

Some people say that the no-fly zone would reduce civilian casualties in Ukraine and drive Russia out of Ukraine faster. Others say that a no-fly zone would escalate the conflict with Russia, and risk massive death in a global nuclear war. Which position is closer to yours?

54% voted to leave Ukrainian airspace alone and risk greater civilian casualties

46% voted to establish a no-fly zone and risk global nuclear war.

To be clear, global nuclear war would be the end of human civilization. I am not certain why the American public is not worried about provoking Putin. One nuke will surely lead to many more as the conflict escalates. How many nuclear weapons would it take to end the world? The declassified study from the scientists at the Los Alamos laboratory, published in 1947 shed lights on this question. According to the study, it would take about ten to a hundred ‘super nukes’ to end humanity. It’s safe to say, Russia and America have plenty of super nukes in their arsenals.

Nuclear weapons are extremely deadly. It only takes only one atomic bomb to destroy a city. This is well known. However, in a recent study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, they are even more deadly than previously thought. Lead author scientist Charles Bardeen and his co-authors found that smoke from a global nuclear war would destroy much of the planet’s ozone layer over a 15-year period, with the ozone loss peaking at an average of about 75% worldwide. Thus, if one were lucky enough to survive the initial explosions, subsequent radiation and nuclear winter; they would find themselves in a hellscape where they could no longer grow food due to the ionizing radiation from the sun.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there was a tense one-month, four-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear exchange. President John F Kennedy, after it was over, said he thought the probability of the events leading to a nuclear war was about one chance in three. A one in three chance of human extinction.

Are the odds better today? Prof Andrew MacLeod, Visiting Professor, King’s College London and Expert of Conflict and Security in a debate hosted by George Gallaway said that “we are closer to nuclear war than the world has ever been. We are significantly closer to nuclear war than the Cuban Missile Crisis…We are as close to nuclear war as Putin wants us to be.”

In the Ukraine conflict, Russia has already warned the west twice about their nuclear arsenal. At the end of February, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch. Recently, Russia escalated this rhetoric further, by deploying the Kinzhal (dagger) missile in Ukraine. This was the first time a hypersonic missile was used in combat. These types of missiles move at more than 5 times the speed of sound and cannot be shot down. The Kinzhal which can carry a nuclear warhead is within range of numerous European capital cities.

So, should we be worried? Personally, I am not sure if the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is ‘all there’. At the tender age of 69, could he be suffering from mental illness? By all accounts, he has sole control over the use of Russia’s 6000 nuclear warheads. Would it be wise to provoke a potentially mentally deranged psychopath with the power to end the world? I would hope that NATO planes stay out of Ukraine despite what public opinion polls say . It would be wise to be afraid of provoking a nuclear war when there are plenty of other options in Ukraine.

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