Gideon Rachman chief foreign affairs commentator for the FT writes:
“The world has been living with the threat of a nuclear apocalypse since the 1950s. Over the past decade, intelligence experts have increasingly warned about the threat of a catastrophic cyber attack.
“Now the two fears appear to have merged, with the US on the point of revising its defence policy — to allow the use of nuclear weapons, in retaliation for a devastating cyber attack”.
Business Insider adds that ‘HuffPost’ senior reporter Ashley Feinberg has published what appears to be the January 2018 draft of America’s revised, “Nuclear Posture Review”, which has been leaked to the press
It proposes to change US policy to allow the first use of nuclear weapons, in response to “attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons”.
Developed nations are now reliant on functioning computer systems. A concerted cyber attack, targeting critical infrastructure, could cause social turmoil and mass casualties. Security experts worry about a range of scenarios, including:
- viruses that shut down transport infrastructure, such as air-traffic control;
- that disrupt the operations of banks, causing the financial system to seize up
- and interfere with power generation and distribution.
Intelligence agencies have already considered the possibilities for cyber-retaliation but introducing nuclear weapons into the equation is a policy shift which carries considerable risks. The dangers of such a move are increased as nuclear proliferation continues.
By lowering the bar to the first use of nuclear weapons, it makes nuclear war more thinkable.
A missile launch facility in North Dakota
Dave Mosher (Business Insider) points out that hundreds of US nuclear weapons are already primed to use at a moment’s notice. This dangerous Cold War-era policy means such weapons can be launched within a few minutes of detecting an adversary’s pre-emptive nuclear strike — or a false signal of one.
He stresses need for frank discussions — in our homes, at work, and with elected officials — about the reality of nuclear weapons, including their numbers, risks, cost, and imminent threat to the future of humanity, adding:
“Every weapon we dismantle is one step away from the worst kind of mishap imaginable”.