As one example, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, American destroyers attacked three Soviet submarines near Cuba and forced them to surface. No American, not even President Kennedy or his military advisors, knew that each of those submarines carried a nuclear torpedo. According to an officer on one of those submarines, its captain gave orders to arm the nuclear torpedo, but was talked down. The captain’s order makes more sense when one remembers that the last he had heard before submerging was that World War III seemed imminent; he was under attack; and surfacing would be a humiliating defeat. Fortunately, luck won out: the captain suffered humiliation, but civilization was not devastated.

If you agree with my reasoning that the risk of a full-scale nuclear war is less than ten percent per year but greater than 0.1 percent per year, that leaves one percent per year as the order of magnitude estimate, meaning that it is only accurate to within a factor of ten. For related reasons, that one percent per year estimate really spans a range from roughly 0.3 to three percent per year.

A risk of one percent per year would accumulate to worse-than-even odds over the lifetime of a child born today. Even if someone were to estimate that the lower bound should be 0.1 percent per year, that would be unacceptably high—that child would have an almost ten percent risk of experiencing nuclear devastation over his or her lifetime. …

An existential discussion: What is the probability of nuclear war?


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