Non-Soviet nuclear explosion to begin WWIII

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Not James Stockdale, Sep 11, 2019 at 11:40 AM.

  1. Not James Stockdale Those Protestants... Up to no good, as usual

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    This is a variation of the "The Sum of All Fears" scenario, where, instead of the lost Israeli warhead being buried by a Druze farmer, it's immediately found by the Syrians and turned over to the Soviets, who have to keep everything completely quiet for this to work. After taking apart the warhead to study it, the American-made fissile material is repackaged into a new tactical warhead that is then smuggled back to the US for Spetsnaz use. At the start of a hypothetical conventional WWIII in the 80s, the warhead is detonated as a nuclear truck bomb near the Pentagon in Washington DC.

    Nuclear retaliation by the US would likely seem inevitable, but I think there are three important points that may militate against that.

    1. This is the only nuclear explosion. There is no large-scale Soviet nuclear attack and Soviet nuclear forces are not visibly preparing to attack. Edit: this is the only nuclear demolitions executed by the Spetsnaz.
    2. No delivery method is observed. Even with only a few days of war-warning, air defenses around the NCR would be capable of comprehensive surveillance, but no incoming missile or bomber would be observed in this scenario. The ground burst could indicate a ground-based delivery method, which would not be outright proof of Soviet involvement.
    3. Analysis of the fissile material would indicate US, not Soviet, origins. Combined with the "truck bomb" style delivery, that could indicate a third party terrorist attack, though the timing would be suspect. Attacking on the second or third day of the war might reduce that suspicion.

    Without nuclear war obviously imminent and with the Soviets possibly able to blame the attack on some American domestic group, I would doubt the existence of any sort of NATO consensus to escalate towards outright nuclear war.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019 at 1:04 PM
  2. Catsmate Well-Known Member

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    The US blames the Soviet Union and retaliates.
    It's wartime so the origins of the fissionable material won't be considered relevant. NATO was aware of possible Soviet infiltration teams with nuclear weapons.
     
  3. Mad Bad Rabbit Well-Known Member

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    Plutonium-239 will decay between 1973 and 1980, and need reprocessed. There may not be enough left, they'd have to add some of theirs. Dunno how this would affect the fingerprint, when determining who made the warhead.
     
  4. Resurgam Teacher and Writer of Things

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    A nuke going off on American soil means a lot of nukes are going off on Soviet soil. Full stop.
     
  5. Alanith Well-Known Member

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    Instant nuclear war.
     
  6. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    ??? Are you joking?
    Pu239 has a half life of 24000 years. The decay in seven is trivial.
     
  7. Catsmate Well-Known Member

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    0.02% would have decayed. Negligible.
     
  8. Mad Bad Rabbit Well-Known Member

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    Nm, was looking at wrong table row. Pu-241 has 14 year half life, not Pu-239.
     
  9. Alex1guy First Of His Name

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    They nuke the ussr... I mean who else would they blame.
     
  10. creighton Mono = One; Rail = Rail

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    I don’t know if it’s *instant* nuclear war, there could be some initial thought that it was a catastrophic US mistake like what almost happened in Greensboro, but that being said, what does this achieve for the USSR in terms of degrading a full US response? The whole point on a preemptive nuclear attack is to knock out as much of the enemy’s ability to destroy you as possible. DC would be a massive psychological blow, but the full SIOP would be intact and SAC is sitting untouched ready to go.
     
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  11. Dolan Lookin fer Gooby

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    you want to have fun?

    The Soviets didn't want to immediately antagonize USA, so the American Nuclear Bomb was made their way to Explode in Tehran instead...

    Cue fingerprinting between US and Soviet Union, if that was Spetnaz or SpecOps job.
     
  12. Not James Stockdale Those Protestants... Up to no good, as usual

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    The US would see no evidence that this is a preliminary to a larger nuclear first strike based on Soviet rocket and bomber force activity. The Pentagon and the people inside were not intrinsically related to US strategic nuclear warfighting capability, but they are important for global management of conventional forces. This disruption is the same goal as any of the other Spetsnaz attacks and bombings that could be expected at the beginning of the war.
     
  13. lionhead Pretty fly for a white guy

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    I have feeling a lot of folks here seem to indiciate that any nuke detonating in the US no matter how, where or why means a nuclear war with the USSR, even if they can't directly link them to it. Was everybody really that trigger happy back then? Or does my belief that the nukes were just there for bluff still hold strong?
     
  14. Alanith Well-Known Member

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    Except it's a nuke detonating in the early hours of a shooting war with the USSR. There's really only one viable suspect here, isn't there?
     
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  15. lionhead Pretty fly for a white guy

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    wait what? Did i miss something?
     
  16. Alanith Well-Known Member

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    In the OP's post:

    "At the start of a hypothetical conventional WWIII in the 80s, the warhead is detonated as a nuclear truck bomb near the Pentagon in Washington DC."

    Setting a bomb off at any time for shits and giggles would be HILLARIOUSLY irresponsible of the USSR, if it wasn't liable to lead to a nuclear exchange once the USA figured out what happened... assuming the USSR doesn't panic and immediately hand the guilty party over to the USA.
     
  17. lionhead Pretty fly for a white guy

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    oh right, i get it now. Yeah the USSR stops existing.
     
  18. Resurgam Teacher and Writer of Things

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    It does indeed.

    Unfortunately, with its final breath it makes the US, Canada and western Europe stop existing as well...
     
  19. DougM Well-Known Member

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    Any nuclear bomb going off in the US before 9/11 is at least 50% likely to result in instant sunshine in the USSR.
    A hit on an obvious military target ups that to probably 75%.
    During a shooting war with the USSR takes that to 100% unless the President “wimps” out

    And no one is going to wait long enough to figure out that the material has a US fingerprint.

    As for not detecting the delivery method. That has to have been considered by the military at some point. Heck Robert Heinlien wrotea short story about this before the USSR even HAD a nuke. So this is not a new idea
     
  20. creighton Mono = One; Rail = Rail

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    There's also the issue that, in the Sum of all Fears scenario with a Mark-12 nuclear bomb (12-14KT) you can knock out the White House, Capitol Hill, or the Pentagon, but it's really hard to even get two of the three with a ground burst. I've attached a nuke map run for a bomb that tries to go for both the Pentagon and White House. The Capitol is safely outside of the blast or radiation. In terms of the White House, it's no longer the about-to-fall-over structure from before the Truman renovation, so 5 PSI may not do it, and the Pentagon as a structure is almost certainly surviving. You can get 1/3 buildings completely, and maybe get 2/3, but it's likely the inhabitants inside these buildings survive if they don't get killed from glass. So, this won't be a full decapitation of DC, and most of the line of succession will be in place. What's more, even though losing the Pentagon is a huge blow, up at full war time, you already have your decisionmakers dispersed. You're losing some five stars, but your field organization is still deployed and ready to go. So, whether you choose the President without the Pentagon, or the Pentagon with the Speaker of the House as the new President, this doesn't really knock out the line of succession.

    Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 7.52.45 PM.png
     
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