Will nuclear weapons be used again in wartime before the year 2100?

I was originally going to title this thread, “Will nuclear weapons ever be used in warfare again,” but forever is a long time, so I’m setting a more concrete over/under of the year 2100 instead.

As we all know, nuclear weapons have only ever been used in warfare in World War II. We’ve got 84 years to go before we reach the next century.

What do you think is more likely - that someone or some country will use nukes again in warfare, or not? (Terrorist use of nuclear weapons in terrorist attacks also qualifies, for this purpose.)

I scry with my little crystal eye…yes… But it’s going to be a “terrorist” usage against a non-military target, rather than a strike by a legitimate member of the nuclear club against a real target.

I see The City of Light being the City of Radioactive Glow…or New York having a new downtown lake…

Yes absolutely they will, but I don’t think it will result in an all out nuclear holocaust WWW III style. Pakistan / India could have a limited nuclear war at any time. Saudi Arabia will probably get nuclear weapons within the next 20 years and then conflict with Israel or Iran is possible. NK could sell a nuke to highest bidder.

It’s pretty much inevitable, but I would think the rest of the world will jump down the throat of the instigator so hard that it won’t escalate into a global war. I don’t see the US / NATO, Russia or China using nuclear weapons before 2100 unless its with consensus to obliterate a smaller state who first detonates a nuclear device.

And then of course there is the war between humans and robots when google / facebook / skynet becomes self aware…

I predict North Korea will nuke Honolulu approximately two weeks after we’ve moved back there.

I’m curious, in the 1960s, how many Americans thought we’d get to 2016 without nukes being used in warfare again.

The year ain’t over yet.

In good old-fashioned classical warfare like in US vs USSR or Albania vs Someone-or-other? Probably not. But more in the modern sense of some terrorist group against someone, damn betcha. My money would be on a small dirty-bomb somewhere in Europe - probably Greece of France.

I think the typical citizen didn’t like to think about it much. But growing up then I always assumed the US & USSR would eventually toss at least one at the other before a political settlement was reached.

The peaceful* implosion of the USSR was a strategic surprise for everyone, expert & layman alike.

  • Peaceful at least on the macro international level. A lot of non-peaceful stuff happened and is still happening at the internal national and local levels.

Get “to.” We’re there.

My “didn’t-even-stay-at-a-Holiday Inn Express-last-night” guess is that KSA has some nuclear deterrent now, and has had some from the moment they—allegedly—helped Pakistan finance their own nuclear program. (The idea that a nation would bankroll the development of another nation’s nuclear deterrent, yet be content to let that second nation maintain possession and control of those weapons, seems silly. IMHO, if KSA bought them, they possessed them from the outset on a 1 for 1 basis.) It will be revealed when Iran admits to possessing nuclear weapons, and not before.

Anyway, KSA’s supposed deterrent may be mateable to any of the MRBMs or modified Storm Shadows cruise missiles they possess. (Though the preceding link states that KSA and the PRC claim that WMD payloads are not capable of being used by the weapons systems KSA bought.) Or they may believe that an air dropped version from a sorta-stealthy platform like the Silent Eagles they keep toying with buying. Or if Israel’s lobbying force relents on pressuring the U.S. to not sell KSA the F-35, that platform with its ~600 nm clean configuration combat radius would certainly work for the type of counterforce strikes contemplated in such a small theater, regardless of any Iranian S-300 or -400 presence. And it’s supposed to be able to carry the B61.

The problems with the stability of this situation though are as follows:

  1. Such a MAD paradigm is three-headed, not two, and all of the sides can reasonably fear the other two ganging up on them;

  2. None of the sides including Israel, can believe they have a truly robust deterrent or command and control of same (though Dolphin SSGKs are probably the most survivable of any of the proposed nuclear delivery systems of any of the three sides); Israel at least has some terminal ABM defense (Arrow) of unknown capability, so it need not worry that a spurious launch warning will mean the loss of its deterrent and the death of the Jewish homeland.

  3. AFAIK, none of the sides possess meaningful launch early warning unless the US or Russia helps out;

  4. The battlespace is small enough that each side may not have the 30 minutes or so of decision time that we got used to during the Cold War.

All of which, again, IMHO, from a game theory POV, may disproportionately reward a first actor. At the very least, a strong threat is there. Which leads to suspicion and mistakes, and potentially an accidental war.

I am not saying that any of the three sides to this conflict wish for Armageddon to happen; I’m saying that, if all three sides obtain nuclear weapons, the situation will exist such that, in a future time of stress, with the limited information available in a crisis, rational decision makers for any of the three sides may well feel that they will be forced to use their strategic deterrent to advance their nations’ interests. I’m saying the strategic situation in that hypothetical case sounds much more unstable than the MAD paradigm between the USSR and USA, and God knows we nearly killed ourselves enough times during the 40 years of the Cold War (and a little bit beyond, if Yeltsin had felt the need to active Perimeter/Dead Hand in response to that sounding rocket.)

As others have said, I do not believe that an all-out nuclear holocaust will occur. We’ve moved past the days of M.A.D. But it has always been concern of the world’s nations that nukes could get into the hands of radicalized groups with no vested interest in the present world order and no real concern for their own lives and well-being. It is one of these groups that represents the greatest danger of nuclear weapons use. We still have not accounted for all of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear capacity, particularly those weapons that were based in the satellite areas peripheral to the Soviet Union. I have no doubt that they have been actively traded on the black market and some are, or soon will be, in the hands of groups who would use them. In addition, you have the willful evil of a country like North Korea who would use a nuke just because it can.

I don’t lose sleep over these things at night, but it niggles at the back of my mind.

I think the most likely scenario for a nuclear weapon being used is instability in a country. I’m thinking problems like military coups, civil wars or Hitler-style elected candidates. Pakistan and North Korea seem highest on that list right now, but it’s likely that other countries will be added to the nuclear power list by 2100 and it’s not like any country is immune to this risk.

The two likeliest cases, I think:

  1. one faction in a civil war nukes another faction. While this will make that faction an international pariah, striking a domestic target makes a MAD-style retaliation unlikely and the world has a long track record of ineffective punishments on rogue regimes.
  2. one faction seizes weapons and hides them, perhaps just “to prevent our opponents from taking them first.” Then, directly/intentionally or indirectly/accidentally, those weapons fall into the hands of terrorists.

Hey Skald, can you pop forward (and back) to do a quick check for me?
I seem to vaguely precall that some idiot on a battlefield in Asia used a jury-rigged Nuclear Hand-Grenade.:smack:

Was that 2098 or 2102? I know it was close* to the turn-of-the-century…

*It wasn’t as late as 2112; that was the Syrinx incident…

The US developed the Davy Crockett Nuke.

There are now several thousand people who would Love to have one of those.

A few of them have the money.
On the nest 80 years, one of them just might come up with a “close enuf” design.
And use it.

My guess, short version: Almost certainly.

But again, wouldn’t many people 50 years ago have bet that, between 1965 and 2015, there’d be nuke usage in warfare again?

Absolutely they would have. But the world is a very different, far less stable, place than it was 50 years ago. For all the drum-beating about East v West, M.A.D. in fact made for a very stable environment with almost no chance of a nuclear exchange. Nukes were owned and controlled by stable states with an overwhelming stake in maintaining the status quo. Other countries didn’t have the technology to easily replicate a nuke and the ‘pocket nukes’ that are available now were not readily available.

As the world balance of power has fractured and shifted since the end of the Soviet Union, there is no longer tight control over existing nukes, nor are there the same type of disincentives to produce new ones as existed previously. Technology to make them is easier to come by, as are the materials required. (gotta love the internet). As stability continues to decrease and terrorism continues to rise, the threat will continue to rise as well.

I’d say there is a far greater risk of nuclear use now than there was 50 years ago, although probably far less angst about it.

The difference is probably not in whether nukes would be used but in how. More people today are expecting nukes to be used by smaller states or even non-state groups like terrorists. We expect a small number of nukes, perhaps even one, and we expect a non-nuclear response.

Back in the 60s, more people expected a clash of superpowers practicing mutually assured destruction. I don’t think anyone takes WWIII as a serious proposition any more, but plenty of people in the 60’s thought it was virtually inevitable.

I don’t think a binary answer is possible for this question. It depends. What group of people end up in possession of a nuclear weapon, or device “easily converted to weapon”? How does the possession of that destructive ability affect the on-going leadership of whatever group of people? Are they able to think in a manner more complex than what seems to be good now and in the short to medium term for them? If not then it is almost a certainty that it will happen, if so then it may be almost a certainty that it won’t happen.

Well, we should exclude simplistic and pedantic answers. If I spill a couple ounces of radioactive medical waste on someone’s lawn, I’ve deployed a “nuclear weapon,” i.e., made a weapon out of material that is undergoing nuclear fission.

FWIW, I would include a home-made bomb that only fizzles, but doesn’t pop.

Maybe the threshhold should be how many people (statistically) die from it? If it kills more than 1,000 people, the answer is, “Yes.”

(Also, the OP asks, “…in wartime.” What about a terror strike, or just a first strike by an enemy as an initial attack. Do we bootstrap that into “in wartime” because the attack defines an act of war?)