Policy Memos

Could Norway Trigger a Nuclear War? Notes on the Russian Command and Control System

Policy Memo:

24

Publication Date:

10-1997

Author(s):

Description:

Next January, Norway is planning to launch a research rocket similar to the one that caused a false alarm in the Russian strategic command and control system in 1995. An obvious concern is whether something similar, or worse, could happen with the second launch. This concern is heightened by the suspicion that Russia has a "dead-hand" system (also known as "Doomsday machine"), which could automatically launch missiles on receiving warning about attack. If this suspicion is true, then in 1995 the world barely escaped a nuclear war and the next launch could trigger it. There is little, if any, hard evidence, however, to support that suspicion.

This paper will treat the 1995 incident as a crucial case for evaluating conclusions about the presence or absence of the "dead-hand" system. The analysis demonstrates that it does not exist and that Norway can safely launch the rocket. Advance notification could improve the situation further. In the future, a regime regulating certain types of civilian launches could be created to completely remove the chance of similar incidents. [...]

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About the author

Senior Fellow
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, California