Why we don’t want a nuclear conflict

I’m rather concerned at the number of people who seem rather gung-ho at the prospect of military intervention by NATO countries into Ukraine.  As I’ve mentioned before, it seems that those who are pushing the prospect seem either to assume that the gamble is worth it because either it would not lead to the use of nuclear weapons or because there isn’t really too much to worry about from nuclear war.

So, I want to talk through here why the prospect of NATO intervention in Ukraine itself would be serious.  First of all, it is worth thinking about what people have been proposing. Some people have suggested that whilst ground forces would not go directly into Ukraine, a no fly zone should be imposed. The problem with this is that such a policy has to be enforced. Not only would NATO aircraft had to be ready to shoot down Russian aircraft but also potentially to take out anti-aircraft positions in Russia and Belarus in order to reduce the risk of their own aircraft being shot down.  Such interventions would be regarded as an act of hostility.

Secondly, we have to consider how Russia would respond to such an escalation.  The possibility of nuclear weapons being used is real for two reasons. First because Putin has indicated a readiness to use them. Secondly because with 60% of his ground forces reportedly now committed into Ukraine, much of Russia’s other borders with EU and NATO countries look rather exposed and Putin would feel extremely threatened if NATO were drawn into a wider conflict.

So, what happens if nuclear weapons are used.  Well perhaps it would be helpful to get a sense of how destructive a nuclear strike would be.  Let’s suppose that a missile of equivalent strength to the 100 kilaton Trident missiles deployed by Britain was used against us (there are versions that go up to around 475 kilaton. Well below, we can see the impact from the initial blast on a city like Birmingham.


A missile targeting the city centre would not only lead to a huge crater where the shopping centre used to be and people suffering third degree burns as far out as Harborne and Edgbaston but there would also be significant bomb damage even as far out as Bearwood in the west and Perry Barr in the north.  The initial impact of the bomb would have at least a 5 kilometre radius. Some figures suggest an initial death toll from this one strike on one city of around 800,000.

However, we also need to consider the impact of radiation spreading out from the site and carried on the wind.  This also carries significant danger

It has been estimated that a weapon with a fission yield of 1 million tons TNT equivalent power (1 megaton) exploded at ground level in a 15 miles-per-hour wind would produce fallout in an ellipse extending hundreds of miles downwind from the burst point. At a distance of 20-25 miles downwind, a lethal radiation dose (600 rads) would be accumulated by a person who did not find shelter within 25 minutes after the time the fallout began. At a distance of 40-45 miles, a person would have at most 3 hours after the fallout began to find shelter. Considerably smaller radiation doses will make people seriously ill. Thus, the survival prospects of persons immediately downwind of the burst point would be slim unless they could be sheltered or evacuated.

Radioactive Fallout | Worldwide Effects of Nuclear War | Historical Documents | atomciarchive.com (atomicarchive.com)

We know that radiation damage to the environment and ongoing effects of people’s health including increased risk of cancers will be significantly increased for years to come.

This of course assumes that the nuclear attack is limited to one lone missile strike. This is possible if the one launching the strike sees it as in effect a warning shot that there is more to follow. Their hope in such a scenario would be that as with Japan in the Second World War, their opponents would immediately sue for peace to avoid escalation. However, we cannot be sure of that. The major nuclear powers have operated on a basis of Mutually Assured Destruction in the face of nuclear war. In other words, they have indicated a readiness to respond to a first strike with maximum nuclear force to obliterate their enemy.  With over 10000 warheads being deployed by Russia, the US, the Uk, France and China the impact of such an escalation would be colossal leading to mass deaths around the world and much of the planet being left un-inhabitable by the fall out.

That’s why nuclear war is serious.

This is important when thinking about comparisons as suggested by one pastor on twitter the other day.

We can well understand the sentiment here. It is frustrating for those of us looking on and horrific for the Ukrainian people as Putin seems at liberty to do what he wants military wise in Ukraine. However, the metaphor isn’t quite right.

You see, the situation is less that one man with a knife has attacked a woman without a knife. Rather, the situation would be comparable to two men attacking each other where both have knifes. One may be slightly smaller in physic and may not carry as big a knife but he seems to also have some advantages in terms of the ground they are fighting on and that has evened things up.  Others are trying to get close to support him and to try and get the other guy to desist.

There is a problem though. The attacker doesn’t just have a knife. He has a gun which he hasn’t used yet but is threatening to use it against the defender and anyone who gets close by. Not only that but he is holding a grenade and he is shouting that he doesn’t mind taking the pin out and lobbing it even though that would lead to the loss of quite a few lives around including his own. Then there are people cheering him on, people insisting they want to stay out of the fight and then worryingly, there are others who seem to be seeking to cajole and provoke the aggressor which is only making him angrier and angrier.

NATO in the scenario represents a couple of other guys who have turned up. They also have knives, which they keep throwing to the defender whenever his breaks. They are also trying to find ways to cut off a supply of knives and weapons to the aggressor from his mates. So, they haven’t just washed their hands of the situation, they have got involved despite the risk and the threats. However, at the same time, they are having to act cautiously as they try to work out how to get closer to best intervene without risking getting everyone killed.

Whilst NATO and the UK’s response may not have been perfect in relation to the invasion and the build up of tension prior to it, I hope we can appreciate the challenging decisions that governments are having to make right now. These are dangerous days and as Christians more than ever we should be praying for national leaders to make brave, good and wise decisions.

** For comparison, this is what things look like with a 475 KT blast

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