Nuclear holocaust and the southern hemisphere

Let’s say sometime in the 80s the Soviet leadership sees the writing on the wall and decides to launch a strategic attack against the U.S. and its allies. Then we respond, probably taking out China as well I imagine. So the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, the USSR, China, and all of Europe would be a smoldering, radioactive wasteland. But what about the other hemisphere? There are lots of big military bases in various countries here and there, so I imagine they’d get nuked. But in general, wouldn’t most countries be OK? Or would Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, New Delhi, and Canberra be screwed as well? What about the Middle East? I’m guessing none of the nuclear powers would want any of the survivors from the other side to have access to the oil, so would they nuke the major oil infrastructure just in case? Or is all this impossible to know and classified?

Impossible to figure, I wonder/speculate. Nukes have never really struck me as especially great military weapons. Would the Russians be trying for U.S. military targets? That would make the most sense, but a lot of our military is famously over in some other countries right now.

Trying for population centers? Sure, I guess, but they’d have to spread those puppies around. Trying to destroy our economy? Okay, but it would take their own economy down at the same time, so why?

Would any military experts like to explain the proper use of military nukes? That might suggest how Melbourne and other places might be affected.

From what I’ve read, that information is very highly classified, like most war plans. Some targets are obvious, but who knows what else, and who else, is on the list.

1990 update on climate model for nuclear winter.

I do believe that on a first strike you want most if not all weapons to hit targets that can throw nuclear weapons back at you. You let your military take care of any conventional response.

Whereas in a retaliatory strike you would want to destroy all means to wage war, such as population and economic centers to disable any plans to invade and take over your country.

For instance, in the first case North Dakota, home of many a missile silo, would be a prime target but of no value in the second.

However, economic bombing, such as war factories, had little effect in WW2 on actual production. Cite: The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II.

It would have depended on how many nuclear weapons were used and what their collective effect was. It could have ranged from North America and Eurasia being widely devastated but still have functioning societies in many areas to nuclear winter ended all life on Earth.

Your first strike is going to be against enemy command and communication centers - you want to stop them from giving out the orders to launch. If you can keep land-based enemy launch sites confused for just an hour or less, you can hit them before they launch. The big problem the Soviets faced was our subs - they were at sea, virtually impossible to locate, and had procedures for retaliating to a nuclear launch without outside orders. So Moscow always knew that there would be a counter-strike.

Yeah, NORAD would be as important as the silos themselves. I was assuming all birds would launch at the same time in a first strike, wrong?

The subs were very good after 1976 but the Комите́т Госуда́рственной Безопа́сности was better. So that only leaves a four year window until the fall of the Berlin Wall in which the Soviets had to fear the subs, unless they had another ace up their sleeve.

This raises something that always annoyed me about Dr. Strangelove. An Air Force general goes nuts and orders his bomber wing to executing “Wing Attack, Plan R”, designed as a retaliatory strike that can be ordered by a lower-echelon commander on the assumption that a first Soviet strike had destroyed Washington. One particular bomber checks its primary and secondary targets - both military. Even later on when they have to improvise and pick a target of opportunity, it’s an ICBM complex. In a retaliatory strike, I’d expect the targets to be cities and industrial/agricultural centers.

Um, of the cities mentioned, only Sao Paulo and Canberra are in actually in the southern hemisphere.

Mexico City: 19° 24’ N
Cairo: 30° 03’ N
New Delhi: 28° 37’ N

I’m not quite sure why they were included on the list. I’m pretty sure that although there isn’t too much mixing of air between the hemispheres, there is enough to make nuclear fallout spread all over the globe, especially if we’re considering all-out nuclear war. It may take a while, and obviously some areas will be more affected than others, but I don’t see why merely being in the southern hemisphere would save a city.

I’m not privy to classifed information. But I suspect that there were plans for a pre-first strike - one launched from ground zero. If I had been a Soviet Marshal planning on a first strike I’d have smuggled a few nuclear weapons into Washington, Colorado Springs, Omaha, and a few other places along with a few EMP bombs.

I’m pretty sure John Walker never gave the Soviets the precise locations of any ballistic subs (at least precise enough to be targeted). Because my understanding is that nobody on shore had the precise location. Sub commanders were given a patrol area and told to go hide.

Some ICBMs are deployed in reloadable silos. Destroying the silo may prevent the enemy from launching several more missiles from that silo. Not all missiles get launched in a first strike. Some get held in reserve or may not be needed for the first wave of the attack.

I see what you mean now. Yeah, good idea. But as soon as I detected the smuggled weapons going off it’s only seven minutes over the pole.

Your probably right. But…I’ve always wondered if you couldn’t take care of the subs like my pappy used to go fishing? With MIRVs how hard would it be to blanket known patrol areas and how effective would it be? There’d be nothing trying to shoot down the incoming so all of your missiles would get through. Set the thing to go off at the lowest depth a sub could go and let pressure waves take care of the rest. Of course any of your own navy you wanted to save would have to be in port.

Let’s not forget about SAC and all those B-52s always in the air.
And are those things still up there? The planes are now much older than the pilots that fly them and I’ve heard they put big bands around them to keep them together.

True, thanks for the corrections, I wasn’t thinking too clearly on those. But still, you get the idea – will Mexico or India or other countries be getting nuked as well?

I’m not even talking about radiation and I thought there were studies which came out showing the whole “nuclear winter” idea to be mostly false, that there just wasn’t near enough energy. I could be wrong though.

I’m just wondering if the more southern population centers would be hit by missiles en masse. I mean, really, is it worth the USSR’s resources to bombard South America? Would we nuke the major Russian friendly African countries? Or Vietnam? Everyone always seems to assume that in the case of nuclear war between the States and the USSR that humanity is toast but I don’t see why this would be so. Sure, there were tens of thousands of missiles, but it’s not like there’s only going to be one per city, nicely spread out around the world. I would imagine high priority targets like Moscow or New York would be hit hundreds of times.

Also, as a separate question, if a nuclear weapon is launched in error can its warhead be deactivated? I’m guessing that’s classified, but maybe I’ll get lucky. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible in principle, but I guess it would be a bad idea since if you can deactivate your own missiles then that means your enemy could too, although it would seem more likely that each silo would have its own deactivation code to make such a scenario less likely. It just seems like this would be a smart idea, since it seems more likely there would be a nuclear war due to a technical glitch than a deliberate decision.

No, that only works in the movies. The only missiles that can be destroyed after launch are the ones that are launched for training or testing purposes. They have their nuclear warheads removed and are retrofitted with command-destruct receivers and explosive charges that will terminate powered flight.

There are safeguards in place to prevent the unauthorized launch of a missile and the unauthorized arming of a nuclear weapon. Once armed and launched, it’s too late to change your mind.

I’m having major deja vu here. That idea was discussed and rejected on the grounds that the oceans are much, much too big.

For instance, for a ballpark estimate, let’s say a nuke will destroy any submarine within a mile. To simplify, call it a 2-mile square. Now say you want to clear a patch of ocean 200 miles square. That’s 100x100 bombs, 10,000 warheads to clear just that area. That’s a very small portion of the world’s oceans, and you can’t clear it. There’s a pretty big margin there, the numbers could be very different and you still couldn’t do it.

Those subs stayed underwater for extended periods. Deep water usually. They made project ELF to pulse low frequency messages to those subs, so they could remain in the ocean depths. They put in all that soundproofing and design changes to stay undetected, and I’m sure the Earth would be a smouldering glowing ball before the subs were detected. No countries would be safe havens from a nuclear war. A couple bombs wouldn’t kill all the life on Earth. The exchange of two big players would end life for you and your’s in short order from the radiation, if not the blast.

We’re still flying refit and upgraded B-52s, and will probably be doing so for the foreseeable future, from what I’ve read. I believe the continuous SAC bomber flights ended in the late Sixties, though, after we lost some bombs in a B-52 crash off the coast of Portugal. We still kept “Looking Glass” airborne command posts continuously in the air on a rotating basis until a year or so after the Berlin Wall fell.

Yes, it would take a while, and that’s the key. Time is on your side when dealing with nuclear fallout. Not only will some of the isotopes decay away, but the dust carrying the radioactive material will settle out of the atmosphere. You might still get increased cancer rates in the southern hemisphere, but it’d be nowhere near as bad as in the north.

In addition, even if you had the warheads to nuke the entire oceans, you’d be destroying the major source of the world’s oxygen!