We are slowly crawling toward a new global Cold War dominated by both conventional and nuclear device/weapons developmental increases. Richard Clarke’s New York Daily News (May 21, 2023) article was accurate as far as it went – focusing on large cities like New York, Washington, or Chicago as primary ICMB and SLBM nuclear targets to destroy (vaporize) key infrastructure, governance, finance, and military systems.
Putin’s continued threats and departure from prior treaties; Iran and DPRK missile development (the latter, 30 – 60 warheads, adding 12-15 annually capable of delivering warheads); the recent donation of Russian bombers, nuclear bombs, and missiles to Belarus and Kaliningrad for threats to NATO partners Poland, the Baltics, and others: China is building an arsenal of some 3,500 missiles by 2035 (now, an estimated 400-450 capable of delivering 3-6 multiple warhead MIRV reentry devices) are all factors for the west to address.
The Numbers: There are ten nuclear nations (not including Israel, which is ‘deliberately ambiguous’), but only the US, Russia, UK, France, and China (5) signed non-proliferation treaties.
The Russian arsenal is estimated at 4,500 – 6,000 (~ 1,600 deployed); they added short and medium-range missiles since the Ukrainian invasion (in contravention to the 1987 IRNF, 1975 Helsinki, and 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances treaties, all mutually supportive).
We (the US) have a comparable 4,000 devices (1,600 deployed) but only 410 ICBM, with a larger number of sub-platformed SBLM and cruise missiles. We added no new devices.
At year’s end of 2022, there are some 12,700 explosive nuclear warheads and launch devices of all types globally, substantively down from 125,000 built since 1945 during the Cold War era. But as he ramps up more, Putin is now using the former tactic of ‘brinkmanship’ to attack NATO and European Union/Partners. Today’s strategic (long-range) missile warhead can yield from 300 to 800 kilotonnes (KT)/device.
I was first stationed with a US Army (Pershing) missile battalion in the 1970s, later a NATO nuclear command, control, security officer, and other career deployments.
One 1970s-era Pershing warhead (200 or 400 KT) could easily destroy half of New York City in the first ring of destruction (by comparison, the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima had 13-18 KT), not counting the outer-band ring radius’ blast physical destruction/damages, heat and radiative energy releases, (radiation at 30-50% thermal, 5% ionized (more from a neutron bomb), residual 5-10%, physical blast 50%), electromagnetic pulse or shockwaves– are all dependent on device type, materials and detonation location (air v. sub-water v. surface or exo-atmosphere) burst with different mediums like water absorbing the expansion in full ‘spectrum’ of releases. Conventional explosives create similar physical damage mechanisms, but nukes create millions of times more energy (Yield) releases.
Releases vary. Proximate materials superheat to equilibrium temperatures causing vaporization and rapid expansion, coupled with kinetic energy to form a spherical shockwave extending out a 50-100+ miles radius. Thermal energy at the hypocenter forms a fireball and is associated with a mushroom cloud in a low atmosphere. In a high-altitude burst with low atmospheric density, more energy is released as ionizing gamma and X-ray radiation than as an atmosphere-displacing shockwave.
Survivability depends on depth, distance, device type, materials, and burst characteristics. We used ten feet of reinforcement concrete under another ten feet of earthen berm overhead to shield against first or retaliatory conventional tactical (100-250 KT) strikes.
Although the percentage chance of missile strikes against the US (in a time of peace) is insignificant, almost non-existent (not zero, of course) between 2-5%, those probabilities increased with Putin’s and Ping’s threats, especially for the use of short-medium ranged weapons or devices (Japan, Korea, and Ukrainian neighbor states, as well as other NATO nations). As I stated on the Smerconish SXM program, the Chinese threat is conventional in the Pacific and Indian theaters, where they deploy more naval ships and weapons (with longer ranges than our own) – with higher strategic and tactical nuclear probabilities for the EU and NATO partners.
Hamilton S. White
Beginning his career in the 1970s with a U.S. Army Pershing missile battalion, Retired NATO Nuclear Command Officer Hamilton S. White later ascended to serve as a nuclear command, control, and security officer for NATO. White’s experience spans multiple deployments, demonstrating his commitment to national and international security.