Likelihood of (Nuclear) WW3 Increasing?

From an article in Vox last Summer: How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think. Very lengthy and detailed article and worth a read IMO. The core points seem to boil down to the following:

[li]Russia has become relatively weak and thus feels increasingly threatened/paranoid.[/li][li]Putin is attempting to compensate and cope by being more aggressive.[/li][li]Due to the above and relative weakness of Russia’s convention forces, Russia is increasingly looking at nuclear weapons as equalizers and loosening rules of engagement for their use.[/li][/ol]
So it’s not that Putin is looking for a nuclear WW3, but that he’s increasingly willing to play a harder and riskier game of chicken, which could have disasterous consequences if one or another side gambles wrong.

It is a pissing contest, Putin has to escalate his image back home to maintain control personally I think the next ISIS attack will be within Russia if not ISIS it will be one of the other groups he has attacked in Syria, Syria could be his undoing the cost must be draining his already shaky economy.

Hasn’t Turkey been strategically assembling a standing Army as well?

That would be concerning :frowning:

I doubt any war where Russia goes nuclear would be a “world war.” They couldn’t have launched the bulk of their missiles at the height of their power. I don’t think they’ve gotten any better in the intervening years. If they launch anything, it will be regional, not intercontinental. Because while they have gotten weaker, we still retain the capability of glassing their country and Putin knows it.

Launching against Turkey, sure. Launching against NATO, no fucking way. Putin is crazy, not stupid.

I bet he’s smart enough to know which countries are in NATO, anyways :slight_smile:

Launching against Turkey IS launching against NATO.

Russia couldn’t have launched the bulk of their missiles at the height of their power? What’s your source on this?

All politics are domestic. Putin isn’t acting aggressive to intimidate other countries; he’s doing it to maintain his stature in Russia. But I don’t feel Putin is stupid. He understands that talking about war with the West is one thing and actually fighting such a war would be another.

A couple of posters have suggested that Putin would not be foolish enough to go to war with NATO. ISTM that this is missing the point and attacking a suggestion that no one is making.

To be clear, no one thinks that Putin would not be extremely averse to a war with NATO. But the question is whether his actions might lead him to stumble into one.

A lot of wars get started this way. You’re not looking for full-scale war, but you intend to do X which will antagonize Power A. You really don’t want to go to war with Power A, but you make the assessment that Power A really doesn’t want to go to war with you either, so you go ahead. Sometimes your assessment is wrong.

In this case, there is no doubt that Putin does not want full-scale war with NATO, but there’s also no doubt that NATO doesn’t want full-scale war with Russia either. The question is what the tipping point is which would provoke NATO to actually go to war. And the next question is whether Putin’s assessment of what that tipping point is is accurate. It’s quite possible that it’s not.

Yeah, you have me on NATO. I didn’t feel like typing out all of the big Western European countries. Mea culpa. But I seriously doubt NATO would go nuke if Russia tactically nuked Turkish forces that were in Russian territory. Any use against forces not physically inside Russia would result in the glassing of Russia.

As for the USSR’s ability to get their nuclear forces into action, read any of the accounts of engineers tasked with enforcing the SALT and START agreements, for example. Most of them tend to support the idea that they would have been lucky to get half their launchers into action without massive (and obvious) preparation. Silos were found with several feet of water in the bottom of them, electronics were shabby, booster nozzles cracked, etc. Not that it mattered that much - they could still have gotten enough of them into the air. But Russia doesn’t have that many nukes anymore, and I’ve read nothing that leads me to believe that their Strategic Rocket Forces are any better or prepared than they were at the height of the Cold War. Just the opposite, in fact. So any nuclear exchange would be strictly local, not world-wide.

It should be noted that no on-site inspection was required by SALT I; all verification was performed by “National Technical Means of Verification” (NTM) which is a euphemism for satellite electro-optical imagery and radar tracking of flight tests. The more comprehensive SALT II was never ratified and so no non-NTM verifications were performed, although the US and USSR both ostensibly complied with the provisions of the treaty (which largely resulted in taking obsolescent and maintenance-intensive systems out of operation). On-site inspection was performed as part of START I, but this was starting in the mid-'Nineties, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union when there was essentially no budget to perform missile system maintenance. We know that there reliability issues with some of their systems, but there is no reason to believe that up to the latter Gorbechev era that the USSR was not capable of launching the bulk of its operationally fielded ICBMs, including the vaunted R-36M (NATO reporting name SS-18 ‘Satan’) which in the Mod 4/5 configuration could carry 10 live >500 kT RVs plus decoys (still being used in repurposed form as the Dnper space launch vehicle) and the rail-mobile RT-23 (NATO reporting name SS-24 ‘Scalpel’), also carrying up to 10 RVs and remaining in service through the early 'Oughts. They also had a significant number of submarine launched SLBMs of significant capability, although the reliability of these systems (and the ballistic missile submarines carrying them) is highly debatable.

Russia has certainly reduced their nuclear arsenals, and their efforts to develop less maintenance-intensive solid propellant ICBMs have been checkered with various failed missile tests. However, the same can be said, to a certain extent, for the United States. The LGM-25C ‘Titan II’ and LGM-118A ‘Peacekeeper’ (50 missiles carrying 10 Mk 21 RVs) were removed from service in 1987 and 2005, respectively, both being repurposed for space launch use. The LGM-30F ‘Minuteman II’ was also removed from service by the mid-2000s, with motors used for various targets and space launch vehicles, while the LGM-30G ‘Minuteman III’ force was reduced to 500 and then to the current 450 (with plans for further reduction), and the three Mk12A MIRV configuration changed to carry a single Mk21 RV from the decommissioned Peacekeeper. On the SLBM side, the entire UGM-96 ‘Trident I C4’ fleet was retired, and the UGM-133 ‘Trident II D5’ reduced in both quantity and number of RVs carried, with some boomers retired or converted to SSGN (cruise missile carrier) duty. So the US also has a substantially reduced (but still size able) nuclear arsenal.

As for the potential for nuclear war, Putin is neither crazy nor stupid. In fact, he has been shown to be a canny manipulator of domestic public opinion with little concern for how clownish his behavior is taken on the international stage, and in fact, the bluster may just be a calculated effort to make him appear a little crazy, just as Reagan deliberately made provocative statements to be seen as a kind of cowboy (albeit, without understanding the full impact of the cultural disconnect). Despite their recent aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine, Russia has no real advantage from instigating a nuclear exchange on any level. In fact, in fundamental deterrence theory, the assumption is that no rational actor will initiate a nuclear attack if there is more than a remote possibility of counterstrike from their opponent or a third party because the consequences are too dire, even against a reduced arsenal. The risk isn’t that Russia or any other nation (even Iran or North Korea) will intentionally start a nuclear war, but that some miscommunication, false positive attack detection, or unauthorized launch of a poorly secured strategic weapon system will initiate a chain of chain of events in which there is not time for the actors to rationally consider the consequences or verify threats. Advocates of “deterrence posture” like to dismiss this possibility as unlikely, but there are at least half a dozen incidences in the last century in which the US or USSR were at the brink of or seriously considering a strategic attack. (In terms of security, it is also worth noting that until 1975 the codes for the PALs on the Minuteman system were all set to “00000000” because the head of the Strategic Air Command didn’t want to risk a delay in the case of garbled transmission of launch codes. We can only assume that up and coming nuclear powers may have similar lapses in nuclear surety.)

As long as nuclear weapons and intercontinental delivery systems exist in significant war, the potential for catastrophic nuclear exchange resulting in the potential for deaths in the hundreds of millions of people exists.