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The Military United States

Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified For First Time (gwu.edu) 166

HughPickens.com writes: Scott Shane writes in the NY Times that the National Archives and Records Administration has released a detailed list of the United States' potential targets for atomic bombers in the event of war with the Soviet Union, showing the number and the variety of targets on its territory, as well as in Eastern Europe and China. The Strategic Air Command study includes chilling details. According to its authors, their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and "friendly forces and people" to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout. Moreover, the authors developed a plan for the "systematic destruction" of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted "population" in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw.

The target list was produced at a time before intercontinental or submarine-launched missiles, when piloted bombers were essentially the only means of delivering nuclear weapons. The United States then had a huge advantage over the Soviet Union, with a nuclear arsenal about 10 times as big. "We've known the general contours of nuclear war planning for a few decades," says Stephen I. Schwartz. "But it's great that the details are coming out. These are extraordinary weapons, capable of incredible destruction. And this document may be history, but unfortunately the weapons are not yet history."

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Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified For First Time

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  • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:50PM (#51173369) Journal
    And the US military posts in West Berlin were OK with that?
    • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:58PM (#51173437)
      By the time things escalated that far, the US military in Berlin would probably have already ceased to exist.
      • by Funksaw ( 636954 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @05:08PM (#51174817)
        What was interesting is that the U.S. Military posts in West Berlin were not necessarily there to actually stop any real Soviet advance into the city, but to be used as effective human shields. That is, if the Soviets invaded West Berlin, the death of American troops (a certainty) would give America the justification it would need to go to war with the Soviets. Therefore, since the Soviets didn't want a full-scale war with America, they would not start a small-scale war against West Germany. It was the geopolitical equivalent of letting your opponent know that you'll go all-in if he tries to steal the pot.
    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:13PM (#51173567)

      And the US military posts in West Berlin were OK with that?

      If a Cold War confrontation got to the point that nukes were needed, those soldiers stationed in West Berlin would probably all have been dead already anyway. In the event of a surprise attack, the soldiers station all along the border would be tasked with defensive actions, holding the line as best as possible while stateside troops were mobilized and linked up with prepositioned equipment. Given the standard Soviet style of attack, that role would most likely have been not much more than "try not to die for as long as possible", especially if you found yourself in the schwerpunkt. In any case, the war would have had to have ground to a WWI style war of attrition or gone so poorly that the front lines were knocking on the gates of Paris or Moscow before nukes would have been used, and they would have most likely been used in a tactical role first (which would have quickly escalated to a full on strategic exchange).

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        I knew some higher officers in the German army ad they told me the life expectancy in case of the different types of was.

        Basically it mend that if there was a war, Europe would have been a wasteland to protect our allies, the USofA and Russia.

        Depending on the type of war (ABC) the survival time would be days to hours.

    • by geoskd ( 321194 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @06:10PM (#51175209)

      And the US military posts in West Berlin were OK with that?

      The entire point of this exercise was that we had so damn many of these weapons, even by that time that we needed to invent places to drop them all. The USSR was just as bad. The Japanese demonstrated quite effectively that you could drop any number of these things in an unoccupied place and no one will care. It wasn't until the demonstrated ability to continue hitting targets that the Japanese surrendered. The USSR would have been just as stubborn, if they weren't in fact crazy enough to strike first...

      In the end, the only sure path to "victory" was to ensure that we could keep hitting targets until either the Russians surrendered, or there wasn't anyone left to fight, whichever came first. No doubt, their plan was identical.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.amazon.com/Command-Control-Damascus-Accident-Illusion/dp/0143125788

    We were fucking lucky we never blew ourselves up or kicked off our own automatic response plan built with no way to de-escalate.

    • A great book explaining of the history of the cold war. And how lucky the world was.

      • I have trouble believing it was all luck. There were a lot of safeguards.

        Some things went wrong but there was never escalation into a nuclear attack. Seems like it all worked out. Is that luck?

        I don't know the answer for sure, no one does, but I think we may, in the interests of making a political statement, skew the analysis somewhat.

  • They are not history (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:57PM (#51173423)

    A nuclear weapon is an effective deterrent. Without them, you can be invaded or can be subject to total war, which is almost unthinkable if you have them. With them, invading you is a much, much bigger risk. The stockpile is too big--the sheer size creates a security nightmare--but you want at least some. Whether you need enough to make nuclear war unwinnable is a closer question.

    Also, the world should probably always have a few, even if they're locked in a drawer somewhere. Because aliens.

    • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:02PM (#51173467) Journal

      Which is precisely why Iran getting nuclear weapons would be a good thing. It would deter Israel from its constant aggression and would bring some semblance of stability to the Middle East since neither would want to do anything stupid to tick the other off.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by zlives ( 2009072 )

        yes but you are forgetting the current rhetoric of muslims can't be reasoned with. though it is interesting to gloss over pakistan.

      • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:13PM (#51173571) Homepage
        If Iran (Shiite) gets the bomb, than the rest of the Middle Eastern (Sunni) countries will have to get the bomb. In the grand scheme of things, Israel isn't that much of a threat to the Arabs. A nuclear war is more likely to break out between the Iranians and the Arabs.
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          Clueless liberals think that everything would be all lovey-dovey over there without "western interference" or " Israeli imperialism" fail to acknowledge the history and culture of the region. These are "countries" that can't stay together without brutal military dictactorships to keep the warring factions in line. Their idea of democracy is that it's a means to "sieze power" and abuse every other faction.

          These people are at each others throats without a conqueror to keep them in line. With a conqueror to ke

        • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @04:41PM (#51174677) Homepage

          In nuclear war, the end-game is who survives the aftermath the longest. Either side in conflict would be lucky if if a standing army sticks around let alone a fully functional command and control center. And we haven't even begun to talk about the theoretical logistics of feeding the men and protecting their families; if they're still alive.

          All that said, should a nuclear exchange commence between Sunni and Shia, there's nothing stopping Iran from lobbing one into Israel for ideological reasons. Why? Because they can, and that's all that matters in conflict.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          It's Israel they are most concerned about. Israel has nukes and continually expands its borders.

          • by creimer ( 824291 )
            Israel has a nuclear deterrent and its borders — Lebanon to the north, Syria and Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the south — haven't changed in decades.
            • "Israel has a nuclear deterrent and its borders...haven't changed in decades."

              Wrong! You forgot to mention the illegal occupation Palestine [sqspcdn.com] and the theft of their land.

              Nice try.
              • by creimer ( 824291 )

                Wrong! You forgot to mention the illegal occupation Palestine and the theft of their land.

                Your forgot to mention that the Jordanians surrendered the West Bank to Israel after the 1967 war. The only significant border change since then was the Sinai Peninsula returned to Egypt under the 1978 Camp David accords.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @10:12PM (#51176317) Homepage

          There is only one reason and one reason only why nuclear wars do not break, the rich douche bag fuck head psychopaths in charge who do not give a crap about the rest of us beyond how they can exploit, use and abuse us, would also be killed. If you think for a second that those posing douche bags would willingly spend their lives in a bunker, hole in the ground instead of posing about in yachts and mansions, you are really naive.

          This is exactly why they have banned political assassination, instead they prefer all out war with the poor dying, in a game of political assassination the douche bag psychopaths would be the first to die. Just like in nuclear war but when it comes to the rest of use suffering and dying in their wars, they basically get off on being able to get us to kill each other.

          Take terrorists all over the world, they can not be that stupid as to not realise that it is the rich and greedy who exploit their countries and yet they never attack the rich and greedy, just run around killing poor and middle class who have very little to do with the conflict. It is seems really suspect, that terrorists always attack nobodies and continually ignore the rich and greedy who actually would have real influence on those outcomes in those regions that produce terrorists.

      • How many nuclear bombs have the Israelis dropped? How many invasions has the State of Israel conducted? (Hint: I'm not discussing military action after being hit by rockets from somewhere outside their country). Oh wait! The answer is ZERO!
        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          I agree with grand parent, the great grand parent is crazy. Iran getting the bomb would massively raise the stakes in the Middle East. The outcome isn't like to be an uneasy peace via MAD like we had with the Soviet Union.

          The central conflict there is Shiite vs Sunni with some other sects and groups playing 'the enemy of my enemy' type games. The national boarders while control and organize the conflict somewhat are not the drivers of it. We have already seen with Iraq and Syria, and may of the North A

        • by mwehle ( 2491950 )

          How many invasions has the State of Israel conducted? (Hint: I'm not discussing military action after being hit by rockets from somewhere outside their country). Oh wait! The answer is ZERO!

          The UN disagrees with you, see for instance United Nations Security Council Resolution 228. Do you rationalize the Six-Day War as not an invasion, but "military action after being hit by rockets"?

      • "Israel from its constant aggression"

        what world do you live in? you're an idiot.

        Israel is constantly under attack from practically everyone in the region. The very ones you wish to give nukes to, wants to kill all the Jews and remove Israel from the map.

        Giving nukes to a religious group of people who want the end of the world, and doesn't care about M.A.D. is a double plus ungood bad thing.

        it's people like you that enable people like that to continue doing the things they do.

    • by njnnja ( 2833511 )

      Because aliens.

      And asteroids [wikipedia.org]

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      Whether you need enough to make nuclear war unwinnable is a closer question.

      You don't. The key is to have just enough nukes and (this is the key point) the capability to reliably deliver them so that, even if the other side wins, their government cannot remain in power. You don't truly need MAD, or hundreds of missiles on deadman switches; you just need enough nukes to hit a few population/economic centers or the state's capital (if they are properly prepared you won't get the head of the government but you will get most of the bureaucrats and functionaries of the government whic

    • You can't be invaded successfully if you secretly immunised +80% of your population against something nasty and you have enough stockpiles of the (viral) pathogen to ensure that most of an invading force is going to be killed off by it. If you are particularly Machiavellian you make it genotype specific and the ill soldiers returning to their home country ensure it is also devastated without it spreading to all humans quickly. The delay is enough to cripple the aggressor while you release the science on the
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      Also, the world should probably always have a few, even if they're locked in a drawer somewhere. Because aliens.

      How's that gonna work then? Nukes are designed to land on Earth. Even if you found a way to launch them at a space target the nuclear fallout would probably fuck over everybody on Earth anyway, doing the aliens' job for them.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      A nuclear weapon is an effective deterrent. Without them, you can be invaded or can be subject to total war

      Also, without the use nuclear weapons, Japan would have torn us up at the end of WWII, many millions more lives would be gone, and today the US would be a conquered nation subservient to the Russian empire.

  • by Jack9 ( 11421 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:01PM (#51173461)

    > The Strategic Air Command study includes chilling details

    This faux pearl-clutching is a joke or just the side effect of ignorance. Every country's targets have included high-population areas that include infrastructure and manufacturing, as described. Why would this be chilling? It's pragmatic.

    • indeed that includes the buried telecom switching hubs the major cities have; cities will not only be targeted with air bursts but have ground bursts to take out certain buried infrastructure like generators, water distribution, aforementioned telecom.

      All out nuclear war isn't pretty folks, there is no notion of "naughty things we won't do because we're more humane now"! HA!

    • That's what I thought too. In the event of an all out nuclear war total destruction of the enemy is implicit.
    • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:21PM (#51173623) Journal

      Well I expect when things like this get published its all a little more real to some people. Maybe it checks their 'rah rah, lets turn them into glass' attitudes and forces them out of denial and to confront the very real potential consequences of nuclear war.

      You are right though none of this is really a surprise. What did people think we going to raise some wheat fields in rural Ukraine? Obviously a finite number of super weapons would be deployed to where they would have the greatest negative impact on the enemies ability to make war.

      While destroying low population bread basket targets might be effective those areas are two large and dispersed to be totally destroyed by a short-term strike even with nukes. Hitting them also might not immediate cripple the retaliatory strike capability, which is also very very important in a possible nuclear exchange.

      The only reason to blast some field someplace is if you have intel there is missile silo or weapons facility under it. As these plans were largely pre-ICBM there would be no reason at all do that. As stomach turning an affair as it might be the only rational targets would have been enemy air bases and then high population cities where the factories, and distribution of goods occurred.

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      There's no such thing as a purely military mission for large nuclear weapons. It's doubtful there's a use for small ones.

      The only thing that is "chilling" in this document is that the deployment of such weapons was carefully, methodically considered. The calculations of a suicide pact.

      It's one thing to accept that nuclear war would destroy our civilizations, kill billions, and cause suffering we literally can't imagine. We already 'accept' that war is hell, in our detached way.

      It's something else entirely t

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        There's no such thing as a purely military mission for large nuclear weapons. It's doubtful there's a use for small ones.

        I hate to quote Clancy, but US carrier groups are an almost canonical target for a small nuke.

        As for the large ones? If China decided to gear up 2-3 years of production and equip 300 million troops, you're not saving India and Pakistan with conventional forces.

  • Indeed. East-Berlin alone was programmed to get 91 nuclear bombs on their heads.
    The Germans are not amused.

  • Mecca, with the Kaaba at 0,0,0. Probably added on 9/12/2001.
    • by AdamHaun ( 43173 )

      I can guess one city on the current list

      Mecca, with the Kaaba at 0,0,0. Probably added on 9/12/2001.

      Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally. Even in a general nuclear exchange, we're probably not going to attack our own allies. And I hope we wouldn't be stupid enough to try to start a world war with a billion Muslims while already fighting a nuclear war against Russia, China, or whoever.

  • >> unfortunately the weapons are not yet history

    As someone who's lives in a world that's been without a global war for 70 years, I'm actually quite happy that nuclear weapons are still around.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately, you are mistaken about no global war for 70 years. We are currently in WW4 while the Cold War was WW3.

  • The United States then had a huge advantage over the Soviet Union, with a nuclear arsenal about 10 times as big.

    No, it didnt. The US had a firm understanding that every missile the soviet union posessed, every single ICBM since the mid seventies, contained between 10 and 32 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. Each missile could impact more than a dozen cities with a near perfect mortality rate. The folly of the cold war wasnt in numbers, it was that those numbers in the context of the power of a nuclear bomb were meaningless. MAD didnt ensure peace, it only assured we found more creative, clever

  • Any chance that the gloriously titled "World Targets in Megadeaths" folder from Dr. Strangelove has a real-world counterpart?
  • Holy nuclear winter, Batman!

    Yet another reminder about why we need space programs to get colonies of people off Earth.

    Not only will having more places available serve as backup for humanity, but it will also ease the strain of conflict over locations as many people would want to leave for proverbially greener pastures.

    Or maybe if taking the pessimistic view, let's hurry up and destroy ourselves before we spread elsewhere.

    • Yet another reminder about why we need space programs to get colonies of people off Earth..

      As anyone with any data knows, the solution is RAIP, (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Planets). So if we kill one there's one spare to carry on.

  • According to its authors, their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and "friendly forces and people" to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout.

    Along with an enormous amount of heat, thereby ending the 'cold' part of the war.

    Unless ... they had cold fusion bombs all along, the plans for which I bet they buried in the declassified information! Finally, a room-temperature mechanism for producing city-scale energy -- truly, this is a great day for the world.

  • AFAICT "Category 275" isn't taken as a band name yet. Somebody: Rock that fucker!

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @10:56PM (#51176483) Homepage Journal

    The United States then had a huge advantage over the Soviet Union, with a nuclear arsenal about 10 times as big.

    Yes, we could have killed them all 100 times over, they could only have killed us all 10 times over.

  • Part of the whole "Mutually Assured Destruction" thing meant simultaneously posturing and acting in secret.

    Vast plans to kill the majority of an "enemy" country, including its civilians, were just the sort of thing which needed to produced, in highest secrecy, so that the enemy spies knew the potential cost of poking the big guy

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