An Analysis of Anthony M. Barrett’s Perspective on U.S.-Russian Nuclear War


If one is to take careful measure of Anthony M. Barrett’s perspective essay entitled “False Alarms, True Dangers? /Current and Future Risks of Inadvertent U.S.-Russian Nuclear War”, we might possibly assume that the analyst’s suggestion of an ‘inadvertent’ nuclear war is more of a false flag scenario than a veiled threat - a pre-emptive, nuclear strike by either of the two nation-states.  In the beginning of his essay, Mr. Barrett gives the signal that he is truly concerned about “an inadvertent nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia—that is, a conflict that begins when one nation misinterprets an event (such as a training exercise, a weather phenomenon, or a malfunction) as an indicator of a nuclear attack or a provocation”. 

What is interesting is that he almost immediately admits that the United States does not have a “consistently used method for assessing the risk of inadvertent nuclear war” and then implies that he is worried that both countries have inadequate warning systems to gauge a possible nuclear attack from their adversaries and that such flawed warning systems can in fact lead to an immediate, accidental nuclear war or trigger a build-up to a nuclear confrontation.

There is little political analysis at the beginning of Barrett’s analysis, nor does he discuss in depth how the leadership of both nation-states should react regarding a strategic adjustment in response to an accidental nuclear war, nor does he advise how to they should signal each other in order to abstain from a full-blown nuclear war stemming from a nuclear mishap. The author is only interested in the way that both nation-states would use technological warning systems or cyber space information so as to present the other warring party its true intentions if a false alarm that triggers a nuclear engagement should occur.  He shows little aptitude in understanding such a tragic miscalculation regarding nuclear warfare, because he leaves out the human element.War in all its aspects, even nuclear war, is waged by political and military leaderships who draw in the patriotism and moral integrity of the masses to be enthused for the defense of their country.  

Because this perspective is written by a corporate analyst for the military and foreign policy think tank “Rand Corporation”, there is a sterile interpretation putting the responsibility on the Russian state by stating “a false indication of a nuclear attack by Russia’s “Dead Hand” system, an automated system that allows for a nuclear launch without oversight or real-time commands from national leadership” as a wire-trip for an accidental nuclear war. Meanwhile, he states that only an “early warning false alarm” could take place in either camp. The third scenario would be that a conventional war near the Russian border could galvanize a major nuclear conflict.  Mr. Barrett then gives the reader what is called “fault tree” diagrams to stress his points as to how such scenarios would work with such miscalculations and misjudgments by these two nation-states and their intentions during a heated geopolitical confrontation.  It is at this point in interpreting Mr. Barrett’s analysis on the dangers of such a tragic nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia that I will now give my own view of such a possible conflict and how to prepare for such a nuclear war.

The two nation-states, the United States and Russia, have opposing political systems and global strategies that will never be solved through peaceful means, but will in the end only be solved through the inevitable process of war - in this case, nuclear war on the battlefield.  It is with this in mind that I understand the political and modern Soviet military thought through the art and science of war and will quote the Soviet Colonel A.A. Sidorenko, who wrote the following understated commentary in his work “The Offensive”: “It is believed that the side which first employs nuclear weapons with surprise can predetermine the outcome of the battle in his favor.” In other words, Col. Sidorenko, although not using the term “preemptive first strike” regarding the usage of nuclear weapons against an adversary, and although he does not advocate an aggressive war against a perceived enemy who wishes or desires to destroy the Russian nation-state, does not step back from advocating an offensive attack on such an enemy.  This attitude towards offensive attack can be understood in many simple or complex ways depending on the situation of a nuclear war.  

It was the United States government that carried out the first nuclear strike in history even after Japanese leaders offered to surrender their military forces during the last days of World War II.  The American leadership, which includes the political and military leadership, decided to destroy two major Japanese cities without warning, and thereby devastated the country with massive casualties and death inflicted upon the Japanese population. 

Later, during the Korean War, there were American generals within the Pentagon who wanted to destroy the North Korean army by means of nuclear warfare, until prudence convinced them otherwise as they grew aware that the Soviet government, as well as the government of the Peoples Republic of China, would not stand idly by, but would indeed engage the U.S. in war on the battlefield by all necessary means of war at their disposal.  It was during the Cuban Missile Crisis that both the United States and the Soviet Union came close to nuclear conflict, but it was because the Soviet leadership and its military leaders held firmly to a political settlement that nuclear war was averted.  

In all the above scenarios, there was no accidental methodology in military engagements in these past frictions of warfare. The precedent was set by, on the one hand, the pre-emptive strike against militarist Japan by an imperialist nation-state, the United States, and, on the other, the other two conflicts being resolved through diplomacy and overt or covert military threats employed by all parties which resulted in political stalemates.  Therefore, the past history of warfare regarding the usage of nuclear weapons or the threat of using nuclear weapons is not one of provocations or miscalculation on the battlefield with nuclear weapons, but centers around the factor of measuring the adversary’s willingness or lack of will to use nuclear weapons in the first place.  

The Russian government should be aware that the history of the U.S. military shows that it exhibits little care in killing whole populations en masse in order to achieve its imperialist goals. Therefore, it is suicidal to trust such a government or its regimes. As history as shown, they are capable of the first strike in war or creating coup d’états whenever they feel the time is right. It is only though preparation by the Russian government for a nuclear war with the United States that they will be able to preserve the nation-state of the Russian people.

Such preparation means deep penetration of U.S. government agencies that are part of the military industrial complex, and therefore means the persistent creation of intelligence groups that maintain constant human surveillance of American military bases, including following the attitude of the American people in the way they accept or do not accept the propaganda that is given to them daily through various media networks.  In other words, relying only on the reading of think tank perspectives can be a serious mistake in misreading the U.S. government’s true intentions. U.S. intelligent agencies know that Russian intelligence agencies study their scenarios for a possible conventional or nuclear war. Therefore, it is likely that they will by all means employ intellectual ruse or intentional disinformation in order to numb or falsely reassure the Russian government that it is sincerely ‘sensitive’ to the issue in such a way as Mr. Barrett stated that “Inadvertent escalation can occur in part because it is often difficult to “discern” what acts an adversary will consider to be a provocation meriting a nuclear response” while also worrying that “Some Russian analysts have argued that is better for Russia to be able to launch its weapons on warning of a U.S attack rather than in a responsive second strike.” Barrett’s assertion of questionable reasoning as to “inadvertent” signals towards war, or the more implied aggressive attitude of Russian analysts towards advocating the first strike, or what I would call offensive attack, leads Mr. Barrett to ask us to humor the possibility of an accidental nuclear war. But there  is no such thing as an accidental conventional war or an accidental nuclear war, for all wars are pre-planned in one way or another due to economic, social or class conflicts between nation states.

A.A Sidorenko wrote in his work “The Offensive”, in what I consider to be a major pioneering work on offensive attack in nuclear war, that “It is believed that nuclear weapons, as the main means of destruction, should be employed in all cases for the destruction of the most important targets and objectives”.  Again, without saying directly but implying in an indirect way, this Soviet, military thinker stated in his era that nuclear weapons were designed to inflict the most direct and complete damage or destruction upon the enemy’s military and industrial targets, including other targets such as government facilities where the enemy leadership is lodged during such a war.  

If one studies his military theory on the offensive attack thoroughly, it is noticeable that he does not go into detail on the possibility of an accidental nuclear war.  He emphasizes “secrecy” and “surprise” during the friction of war and insists that “Nuclear weapons are the most powerful means for the mass destruction of troops and fixed area objectives.” Again, he asserts: “Nuclear weapons will become the basic means of destruction on the field of battle”, and therefore, it is prudent and wise in terms of military thinking not to be tempted into worrying about the possibility of being compromised by a “potential Russian Dead Hand scenario. “First, presumably, Russian leaders perceive crises with the United States”, as the analyst Barrett wrote in his hyperbolae essay about accidental nuclear war.  For if a nuclear war is to occur between the United States and Russia, the country that is ready and fully armed to enter into a decisive nuclear warfare on the battlefield using surface and air nuclear strikes, along with opening up wide frontal infantry and tank attacks and the usage of airborne troops in the deep enemy rear, will be the one to win such a conflict. 

In a nuclear war, the side that is not fooled by false diplomatic signals, but instead stands on the side of prudence and caution in preparation and then engaging in the offensive attack once a pre-emptive strike by the enemy is verified through the various forms of intelligence gathering which includes both satellite or cyber systems as well as the gathering of intelligence information from human sources, then that nation-state will win such a war.  In preparing for a nuclear war, the leadership should not second-guess itself about the intentions of an adversary, but should study the past history of that nation’s willingness to wage or not wage war throughout its history.

Only by studying the past war history of an enemy will one be able to gauge the possibility of if and when such an enemy will attack.  

Since the beginning of war, there have been false alarms and overt dangers. One only has to study how fascist Germany was able to deceive the Soviet Union about its actual intentions up to June 22nd, 1941.  The pre-emptive strike took place suddenly and almost without warning, and millions of Soviet troops died on the battlefields and in prisoner of war camps for not being ready to take the offensive attack as Lenin advocated when he assumed the leadership mantel for the Russian people.  

In the summer of 1914, two opposing political alliances, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, were plunged into war as a result of various contentious factors, one of the main incidents being that of a terrorist attack. After a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the inevitable declaration of war by the various parties began. In the modern era, Barrett points out that a terrorist attack could trigger a nuclear war. He writes: The possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack being interpreted by Dead Hand sensor as a U.S. attack might be especially high if terrorists use nuclear weapons constructed by a nuclear state. Russian decision makers might attribute a nuclear attack to the United States even if there were a lack of accompanying ICBM or SLBM attack indications”.  Let us study this possible terrorist manipulation that Barrett is concerned with in his essay.

 It is possible that such a terrorist situation could play the role of igniting a nuclear war if terrorists were able to manipulate both nation-states into an intransigent political confrontation where the destruction of citizens or military targets in either nation-state was fulfilled by violent terrorism misconstrued by the other party as a calculated attack. This is why the Syrian, Russian and Iranian alliance have made several overtures to the United States and its allies, including its proxy Syrian rebel parties, to work together to overcome and defeat the various Islamic terrorist factions, for instance, in Aleppo, Syria.  The usage of chemical warfare by any of the parties upon civilian and military army groups is but another step to the usage of a dirty nuclear bomb created, bought, or stolen by a terrorist faction bent on creating more chaos on the battlefield and in the diplomatic and government circles who are attempting to bring about a peaceful solution to ending the civil war in Syria. There are many "Gavrilo Princip" extremists among us in the modern world, and nation-states such as the United States and Russia should be aware of such terrorist provocateurs and work together to destroy such agents who could provoke a regional nuclear conflagration.  

Regarding Barrett’s concern for a possible nuclear war emerging out of a conventional conflict, which is a real possibility along the Ukrainian and Russian borders, such a scenario could not, from my perspective, be construed as an “accidental escalation”. Instead, such represents a prolonged build-up towards war through many years or decades of mutual political hostility between two warring factions. The friction of war in a violent sense is first proceeded by war by other means, for instance cultural, social and economic engagements. Barrett describes an interesting scenario of a conventional war escalating into a nuclear war confrontation by stating “A mistake [accidental escalation] like this could occur because leaders have given subordinate forces inappropriate rules of engagement, or because of poor discipline, or because otherwise well-prepared operators make some kind of error—for example, bombing the wrong targets or straying across geographical boundaries.” Such a problematic situation is what is now happening in Ukraine. 

The Kiev junta has fascist units within its conventional military which are not disciplined military forces, but psychopaths whose interest is killing for the sake of killing or for the sake of decimating Donbass rebel forces and Russian volunteers who are fighting for self-determination and independence against the Kiev regime. 

Such serious and profound, heated military exchanges should not be taken lightly, for, indeed, this would not be an “accidental escalation” that could lead to a tactical, nuclear war in that region, but a well-calculated military stroke by NATO and its Kiev proxies that could trigger Putin and the Russian military forces to take action to maintain the integrity of their borders.  All along the Baltic and Polish borders, there is also the possibility of flash points for conventional escalation which the Russian government should be ready to exploit as an offensive attack operation or operations that cannot be overlooked, but studied thoroughly.  

In the closing of his perspective on an accidental nuclear war between the United States and Russia, Barrett writes “However, reduction of specific nuclear risks is not necessarily without trade-offs.  For instance, some nuclear war risk-reduction steps could have significant financial costs. There is also the possibility that nuclear war risk-reductions steps might increase the risks of other kinds of conflicts.  If Russia or other nations perceive that the United States is more concerned about nuclear risks than in the past, this could increase incentives for attempts at nuclear coercion…”, and with this statement of the “risks” involved to prevent nuclear war, Barrett and perhaps his military associates fear losing their nuclear dominance as they perceive the harsh reality of confrontation between the United States and Russia.  Both countries have their histories of economic instability, not to mention their fears of being found wanting in their preparation for war. If either side feels threatened by a nuclear missile emanating from the other nation-state and if there is no perceived parity between the two nation-states, then the possibility of an accidental or non-accidental nuclear war is a fact of war and peace.  To be prepared for nuclear war is to propagate the idea of peace.  In addition to the possibility of social revolutions in these nation-states or a civil war occurring within them, the struggle for nuclear equilibrium between these two countries is an ongoing political, military, and historical process. The dialectics of nuclear war is always with us in one form or another.