Nuclear war isn't something most of us worry about much today, but that doesn't mean the U.S. and Russia aren't still prepared. In fact, both countries' arsenals are ready to launch at a moment's notice.
Again, it seems silly to most of us that either side would launch at this stage of global history, but some people aren't so sure. And they're even more worried that hackers could make the decision for us.
Retired Gen. James Cartwright, who ran Strategic Command from 2004 to 2007 followed by a stint as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is making the case that we need to "de-alert" the U.S., and Russian, nuclear arsenal. In other words, instead of being ready to launch in minutes, a launch would take 24 to 72 hours to go through.
This would give both sides more time to look at a developing situation before responding. That's especially helpful because he believes that the control systems around the nuclear arsenals are vulnerable to hackers.
To be clear, the actual nuclear launch system is fairly secure, since it runs off very old technology, including floppy disks. However, hackers might trick the systems that warn about incoming threats, or trick the nuclear missile crews into thinking they were sent legitimate launch codes.
No one in the government is really forthcoming about how likely this is, and that's often a worry. Two years ago, the Pentagon issued a report saying that most of the systems hadn't been checked to see how they'd handle a cyberattack.
Even if hackers aren't involved, there's a worry that a lot of the hardware, especially on the Russian side, is getting old and probably unreliable. If it starts breaking down it, there is a chance that it could trigger a false alert that leads to something terrible.
This exact scenario almost happened a few times during the Cold War, with one of the most recent incidents happening on September 26, 1983. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defense Forces was monitoring the warning system when it said an American ICBM was incoming.
Instead of immediately launching a retaliatory nuclear attack, Col. Petrov decided to investigate further as the warning system was new and a bit buggy. Plus, he was sure that an American first strike would involved a lot more missiles.
It did turn out to be a computer error, as was the warning later that same day about four incoming American missiles. If he had reacted without hesitation, a nuclear holocaust could have resulted.
So, what do you think? Should the U.S and Russia "de-alert" their nuclear arsenals? Do you think it's even possible? Let me know in the comments.