nuclear weapons : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

anybody worried about nuclear weapons in missiles controlled by possibly noncompliant systems? or am I paranoid as hell? Thanks to your excellent and eye opening book.

-- Dr Jan SC Czarnecki (, April 08, 1998



Nope, not paranoid. Glad to see at least ONE other person is interested in this. Look in the "Uncategorized" section under "And What About the Bomb?" to see Ed's answer.

Steve Francis

-- steve francis (, April 09, 1998.

Potassium iodate is a new product that replaces p. iodine- the chemical used to slow the uptake of radioactive material into the thyroid glands (especially a problem in young children). The new formulation has a longer shelf life and tastes better. A word search will bring up a couple of sellers. During the cold war period the Russian populace was given a similar product- and there was a fallout shelter for everyone also- with drills on how to use them. They took serious precautions! Don't wait for our govt. to do anything for ya!

-- skipper clark (, April 10, 1998.

Dr. Jan, Count me 'concerned' --and particularly when I hear things such as a Y2K Radio Update last week during which two Y2K specialists discussed the conversations they'd had with IT professionals in New York recently, at the largest Y2K Conference held in the U.S. [so far]. One of them asked a DOD IT Manager what really was going to happen at the nuclear silos? His reply was that they didn't know! One of two things would occur: everything would shut down, OR, they would fire! What kind of odds are these? Let's assume the positive side and say they DON'T fire--at least MOST of them. These warheads aren't aimed at us, BUT.....

What REALLY yanks my chain is this...what about all the technology, hardware, software, which we know has been 'stolen' from us over the years by whomever--Russia, China, et al? What targets are programmed into THEIR warheads? Go figure!

-- Melba Hale (, April 12, 1998.

There are a lot of safeguards to prevent accidental launches, and I'd be horrified it it were the case that there wasn't at least one purely electrical or mechanical interlock that has no computer in the loop.

Also I'd be horrified if the normal principles for safety-critical software had not been followed. One of those is to fail safe (in this case, not launch)

All is top-secret so we can but speculate. My guess is that a lot of these devices will remain stuck in their solos if ever a launch is requested, or will fail to arrive at the intended destination. Since we all hope and pray a launch request will never be issued, this is probably an irrelevance!

-- Nigel Arnot (, April 14, 1998.

Personally speaking, I agree with Nigel. For something as lethal as nuclear weapons, I expect that a _lot_ of safeties were put in to prevent accidental launch. Amongst other things, I think that the heads of nuclear-armed states would not want to delegate the power to launch nukes to someone else... I'd guess that the odds of a y2k bug directly causing a nuclear launch are very low (perhaps below a percent?).

That said, I think that the chaos of y2k, including a) a collapsed economy (possibly preceded by some economic panic) b) failed telecommunications (the fog of war, but prefabricated?) c) a lot of question as to which armies are _able_ to operate could lead to a nuclear exchange.

For example, suppose that China guesses that the U.S. DOD will be tied in knots on 1/1/2000, so it decides to exploit its temporary advantage and capture Taiwan. Suppose further that China has misjudged, and the U.S. actually _is_ capable of using nukes to retaliate, to which China then retaliates with its nukes. Alternatively, suppose that a false alarm in the U.S. is misinterpreted as an attack by China on Taiwan, but enough communications lines are down that _this_ misjudgement cannot be corrected in time.

I still put this type of scenario rather low on the list of y2k hazards (perhaps a few percent?), but I think that the combination of economic stress, poor communications, and military uncertainty does generate many plausible scenarios for starting nuclear wars _without_ launches directly triggered by y2k bugs.

standard disclaimer: I do not speak for my employer.

-- Jeffrey Soreff (, April 16, 1998.

The unfortunate fact is that like it or not, none of us have the slightest idea where the militaries lie in terms of Y2K-compliancy. My assumption always is that a system is non-compliant until proven otherwise. So far, this rule-of-thumb has served me well.

If we therefore assume that in general, military IS/IT systems are non-compliant, we can only hope that there are enough fail-safes in place to safeguard against a major disaster.

I will tell you that one of the things that gives me the chills is the idea that at the height of the Cold War, programmers might have assumed that a sudden disconnection of missile silos from somewhere like NORAD could only mean a successful nuclear attack -- and then programmed the missiles to launch automatically in that event.

I'm told by those in the military that human safeguards would prevent such an occurance. I sure as hell hope so, because I can easily envision widespread communications disruptions.

That aside, it's hard to imagine any modern military functioning well without an IS/IT infrastructure. How do you decide where and when to ship personnel/materiele/etc? How do you calculate how your soldiers are paid? How do you keep modern armaments functioning? It's not like you can accurately target or shoot down a SCUD without a sophisticated computer and tracking system.

All of that either disappears or becomes unreliable as a result of Y2K.

So what happens if China exploits a military advantage on 1-1-00? Well, assuming their military infrastructure problems aren't too bad (which is possible, since they're nowhere near where we are technologically), they probably get to have Taiwan -- for all it's worth.

Me, I'm going to be too busy worrying about where my next meal is coming from to care.

I suspect that most people will be in the same boat. It's an interesting side-effect to the Y2K phenomenon: all those pointless, largely intellectual activities that people now spend so much recreational time engaging in (everything from worring about other countries' political problems to trying to ban cigarette smoking) with disappear.

The only reason people engage in these types of activities is because they have nothing more productive to do with their time. The only reason they can engage in them is because computerization and automation allows it. Take away the automation, and people will no longer have the time nor an effective infrastucture to allow such activities.

One of my favorite movies lately (and please don't laugh) is Escape From L.A., specifically the last ten minutes. If you're unfamiliar with the movie, I'll give you a quick recap:

Kurt Russell plays "Snake" Plissken, a gunman-for-hire in an oppressive, statist 21st century United States. He's been sent to the island of Los Angeles to retrieve a control unit for an orbiting satellite system. These satellites can detonate multi-megaton nuclear explosives outside the Earth's atmosphere -- relatively harmless themselves, but designed to generate enormous electromagnetic pulses designed to disrupt and destroy electrical systems.

Naturally, the control unit allows you to "point" the resultant EMP at specific targets, ranging from a taxicab in Buenos Ares to the entire planet.

By the end of the movie, "Snake" has, of course, retrieved the control unit. Political conditions being what they are at the time, he finds he has a choice to allow the U.S. to be overrun by despotic zealots or allow the rest of the world to be overrun by American despotic zealots.

So he enters the control key that "shuts down" the entire world. Nobody "wins" -- they end up in a technological condition that doesn't allow them to care any more if China overruns Taiwan.

Now, the entire movie, "Snake" has been asking the political class if he can "have a smoke," with the answer being that the U.S. is now a smoke-free country. On one occasion, he ironically says, "Land of the free, huh?"

At the end of the movie, alone and in the dark, "Snake" comes across an old, discarded pack of cigarettes, lights up, and takes a long drag.

Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that the results of Y2K would be -- in the aggregate -- a good thing. Nor am I suggesting that Escape From L.A. portrayed what will happen accurately. It's an action movie, mostly escapist. But it hints at something I've found important lately.

Without a technological infrastructure, those who survive Y2K will find they have much more personal freedom -- the only kind that matters -- than anyone currently enjoys. Will it be worth the price? It's impossible to say until we know what all the consequences are. Potentially, it's the conflagration of the modern world, increased infant mortality, far lower life expectancy, increased disease, poverty, and starvation.

But for a while -- only a while, mind you -- it will be impossible for large organizations to impose their will on individuals. The infrastucture that allows them to do so will cease to exist.

-- "John Smith" (, April 21, 1998.

You think I'd learn.

John "Call me 'Snake'" Smith

-- "John Smith" (, April 21, 1998.

You think I'd learn.

John "Call me 'Snake'" Smith

-- "John Smith" (, April 21, 1998.

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