Counting down to midnight with the president

By | August 8, 2016

Sure, Donald Trump may seem deeply confused about the nature and basic functioning of nuclear weapons. He may appear emotionally erratic. But any president would feel confused and erratic if woken in the middle of the night and informed that she had four minutes—four!—to initiate a nuclear attack that would obliterate Russia and help plunge the rest of the planet into nuclear winter.

"Launch under attack" is a scenario that allows US presidents, or perhaps compels them, to send nuclear warheads hurtling toward Russia before Russia's warheads, already airborne, incapacitate the US arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Problem is, Moscow's warheads will reach their targets about 30 minutes from launch. When you figure in the time needed to detect the Russian attack, verify it, and alert the president—and the time missile crews need to get their gadgets airborne—the commander in chief will make the call in less time than, under different circumstances, he or she might spend on making breakfast.

Jeffrey Lewis and Dave Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies have created a chilling but highly entertaining multimedia timeline that demonstrates how quickly the minutes will evaporate between a Russian nuclear launch and the closing of the president's window for thought.

 


Publication Name: Nuclear Threat Initiative
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