Nukes in Space

If used offensively, nukes in space could immediately send civilization back one hundred years. No warning. No preparation. Nothing.

Nukes in Space

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the calculus of nuclear posturing might get flipped upside down.

Several days ago, House Intel Chair Mike Turner released a cryptic message about a "serious national security threat" that surprised everyone. It was later explained that the threat related to Russia's intent to launch nuclear weapons into space, violating the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

This threat increases the risk of civilizational collapse because of the potential destruction of critical space and land-based hardware vital to our daily lives. If used offensively, nukes in space could immediately send civilization back one hundred years. No warning. No preparation. Nothing.

House Intel Chair Mike Turner Warns of 'Serious National Security Threat'  to U.S. in Cryptic Statement |

Some have argued the threat is minimal and that Turner is playing games to stoke support for Ukraine. Others, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are taking the threat more seriously. Blinkin is actively engaging with his Chinese and Indian counterparts to defuse any Russian desire to place nukes in space.

With conventions abandoned over the past several years, I believe Russia is motivated to make this move. With conventional forces severely weakened, Russia's asymmetric military projection is now limited to its nuclear and cyberwarfare capabilities. Russia already has thousands of nuclear weapons (maybe only a few hundred actually work) aimed at its adversaries. However, any use would lead to rapid escalation and mutually assured destruction. Traditional nuclear posturing is defensive in nature, and with it's conventional forces depleted Russia's offensive options are limited.

A nuke in space changes that calculus. It creates a devastating offensive threat, without the assured mutuality of destruction.

According to anonymous sources obtained by the New York Times:

Russia was developing space-based nuclear weapons because Mr. Putin believes none of his adversaries, including the United States, would risk a direct confrontation with Russia over the deployment of a nuclear-armed satellite.
Another intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said that Mr. Putin might be betting that the threat of a nuclear explosion in space is different from the threat of the destruction of Los Angeles or London. The official added that Mr. Putin would be threatening hardware rather than people, which he may believe gives him more latitude to deploy the new satellite.

A nuclear explosion in space wouldn't directly kill military personnel or civilians - it would destroy satellites. In this scenario, retaliation using strategic nukes against land-based targets is less likely, as a land-based nuclear response would effectively be a first strike. Moreover, the destruction of satellites could neuter the ability to respond in any capacity. A nuclear explosion in space that destroys satellites would blind military and civilian communications, disabling spy capabilities of the targeted country.

It could take months to replace the lost hardware, causing severe disruption to supply chains and severely weakening foreign military operations. Below is a summary of likely effects:

  1. Communication Disruption: Many global communications systems rely on satellites, including telephony, broadband, and broadcasting services. The loss of these satellites would disrupt global communications, affecting everything from personal communications to international broadcasting and internet services.
  2. Navigation and Timing: Satellites are crucial for global navigation systems like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou. These systems support not just personal navigation but also critical infrastructure, including aviation, maritime navigation, logistics, and military operations. Disruptions could lead to significant challenges in navigation and timing.
  3. Environmental Monitoring: Satellites play a key role in monitoring Earth's environment, including weather forecasting, climate research, and disaster management.
  4. Security and Surveillance: Satellites are integral to national security and global surveillance, used for everything from reconnaissance to missile early warning systems. The loss of these capabilities could have profound implications for global security, potentially increasing the risk of conflicts due to reduced situational awareness.

Worse, a nuclear explosion in space could potentially cascade into what's known as the Kessler Syndrome. NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978 described this as a chain reaction where collisions between objects could cause a cascade - each collision generating space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. This could potentially create an impenetrable barrier of debris around Earth, making space exploration and the use of satellites in certain orbits unfeasible due to the risk of collision with debris.

Put simply, a nuclear explosion in space could permanently destroy satellite capabilities. The impact would be profound and far-reaching, touching nearly every aspect of modern life.

Instead of targeting satellites, a nuke in space could also be used to target land-based electrical systems and electronics. When a nuclear weapon is detonated at high altitudes, the resulting Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) has three main components, known as E1, E2, and E3, each affecting electronics in different ways:

E1 Component: This is the fastest component of an EMP and results from the gamma rays produced by a nuclear detonation. The E1 pulse is extremely fast, occurring within a few nanoseconds, and can induce very high voltages in electronic equipment. This can destroy computers, communication systems, and electrical circuits due to the sudden surge of electricity.

The E1 component can destroy electronic communication devices and infrastructure, leading to a breakdown in communication at local, national, and international levels.

E2 Component: The E2 component is similar to the electrical pulses produced by lightning, though much broader in scope. Most electrical and electronic devices are designed to handle surges from lightning strikes, so the E2 component alone is not typically as damaging, provided the E1 component hasn't already incapacitated the protective measures.

E3 Component: The E3 component is a slower pulse that can last from tens to hundreds of seconds. It is caused by the nuclear explosion's effect on the Earth's magnetic field, similar in nature to a solar coronal mass ejection (CME). This component can induce currents in long electrical lines, damaging transformers and power grid infrastructure, potentially leading to widespread and long-lasting power outages.

The E3 component can severely damage the electrical grid, leading to prolonged power outages that could take months or even years to fully repair, given the potential destruction of large transformers and other critical infrastructure components.

Vehicles, trains, and aircraft that rely on electronic systems for operation and navigation could be rendered inoperative if exposed to an EMP. The immediate and long-term economic impacts would be severe, given the disruption to commerce, finance, transportation, and the basic functioning of economies. Finally, the loss of power and communication could severely impact public health and safety, affecting everything from water supply and sanitation to healthcare and emergency services.

Geopolitical Ramifications of Placing a Nuke in Space

Even if not used, the threat alone would increase NATO militarization and state of readiness, placing the world's nuclear arsenal on a hairpin trigger.

The prospect of nuclear weapons being deployed in space presents a scenario fraught with significant geopolitical, military, and ethical implications.

Such an action would violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which both Russia and the United States are signatories. This treaty expressly prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in orbit around Earth, making the act a clear breach of international law (not that it seems to matter anymore). The United States, alongside its allies and the broader international community, would likely engage in intense diplomatic efforts, including emergency United Nations Security Council meetings, to demand the immediate disarmament of the satellite and to prevent further militarization of space. These efforts would likely be fruitless.

Military and Strategic Repercussions

The presence of a nuclear-armed satellite in orbit would be perceived as a continuous imminent threat, particularly to the United States, every time it passed over North America or allied territories. This situation would necessitate a heightened alert status within the U.S. military, potentially diverting attention and resources from other strategic concerns.

The U.S. might also ramp up its missile defense capabilities, although the effectiveness of current systems against a satellite-based nuclear weapon remains uncertain. Moreover, the potential for an EMP attack, which could cripple military and civilian electronic infrastructure, introduces a strategic vulnerability that could hinder the U.S. military's ability to operate globally.

Ethical Considerations and the Militarization of Space

The militarization of space, especially with nuclear weapons, raises profound ethical questions. Space has been, for the most part, a domain of peaceful exploration and international cooperation. The deployment of nuclear weapons in orbit would signify a departure from this principle, potentially opening the door to a pointless arms race in space.

It is critical that humanity avoid a space-based arms race. Not only would a space-based arms race create new threats to human life, it would divert precious remaining time, energy and resources away from mitigating the destruction of our biosphere and accelerate our civilizational collapse.

Collapse 2050 Manifesto
Climate change. Economic collapse. AI takeover. Nuclear exchange. Class warfare. The risks are real. Things are getting worse and we all see the signs around us. Civilization is crumbling, yet nobody talks about it. How can you when only a small portion of the population is “collapse aware”. Nobody wants