Damoclean nukes

Kudos to the National Post for publishing a visually striking depiction of the day-to-day nuclear threat hanging over the Earth (Andrew Barr & Richard Johnson, “Graphic: Taking stock of the world’s nuclear missiles,” National Post, 6 May 2012; click on this link or the graphic above to view a full-scale PDF of the entire image):

This graphic attempts to look at the number of immediately available nuclear weapons in the world; weapons that could at a very short notice — because that is the point — be used in a war. Taking the latest data available from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists we have constructed a graph of instantly available launch devices — missiles with nuclear warheads installed and ready to fly or drop.

They could be intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-, air- or land-launched cruise missiles, single stage nukes or just plain bombs. The graph does not take into account that in many cases the missiles themselves may contain up to 12 warheads, nor does it take into account the size or kilo tonnage of the weapons themselves.

By showing ballistic missiles rather than the warheads they carry, the graphic understates the number of nuclear warheads assigned to operational forces by 2000 or more (the estimated total warhead loads are noted in the text accompanying the graphic, however). It also mistakenly describes U.S. sea-launched cruise missiles and Russian short-range attack missiles and bombs as surface-launched cruise missiles.

But these are minor criticisms.

The graphic provides a powerful visceral sense of the immensity of the nuclear arsenals that continue to hang over our heads every moment of every day.

Even a “small” nuclear war involving as few as 100 weapons targeted on cities — less than 2% of the warhead totals represented above — might be enough to spark a climate catastrophe leading to global famine.

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