Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nuclear war near-miss in 1979

Thanks to Adrian Windisch for finding this report released under the 30-year rule.

It is from the Daily Express, which just goes to show that nobody can be wrong all the time.

Out of the blue in November 1979, computer systems in North America and Britain went haywire, showing a massive Soviet nuclear attack was in progress.

Throughout the West’s top secret defence establishments alarm bells began screaming, F-106 and F-111 fighter interceptors were scrambled, more pilots were sent rushing to the cockpits of their nuclear-armed bombers.

The world was running full tilt to the brink of annihilation. Then, six minutes into the madness, the all-clear was sounded.

It had been a colossal cock-up, begun by a junior officer in Canada who had been running a test simulating a Soviet attack. Incredibly, he had fed the tape into the wrong computer.

So the planes were recalled, the missile silos went back to a state of semi-slumber and government spin-doctors went into action to downplay the affair.

The 30 year document releases are here.
You have to download a big .pdf on a quasi-purchase system, very roundabout and confusing, and I cannot find my way into the right area. Documents presented as images, so not possible to use a search facility. So I have asked the National Archives for help. [UPDATE: The documents are not yet digitised. I go to the page to order my documents,
PREM 19/17 DEFENCE. Report on accidental nuclear alert 1979 Nov 10 - 1979 Nov 16

PREM 19 is entitled 'Records of the Prime Ministers Office: Correspondence and Papers' for 1979 onwards.
But there is a problem with the website. La lutte continua]

Bottom line: We need a logical assessment of the nuclear deterrence/terror strategy:
  1. If the consequence of failure of a system would be totally destructive of human civilisation, humans may use that system if and only if the chance of failure is zero.
  2. This 1979 instance demonstrates that the chance of deterrence failure is greater than zero.
  3. Therefore it follows of logical necessity that humans should set aside nuclear weapons.
More on this.

I note there is nothing about this on the CND website.

PS Nothing in the Guardian about this. Maybe I missed it.


Anonymous said...

Heh, same crap happened in SU, except in Soviet case, it was malfunctioning satellite. And guess what? They never learn... fully-automated system of nuclear response strike, known as The Perimeter, is 1 year back into service. You know why? Because "there are two ways of preventing mutual annihilation: you either strike first or convince your opponent that you will strike back from the grave". Too bad, practice is far from theory.

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