Notes for Monday – January 25, 2016

On January 25th, 1995, the world was minutes from nuclear annihilation. Russia’s early-warning defense radar detected an unexpected missile launch near Norway and calculated that they only had minutes before impact on Moscow. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the defense minister, and the chief of staff were informed of the missile launch and the nuclear command systems were switched to combat mode and the nuclear suitcases were activated for the first time in the history of the Soviet-made system. Five minutes after launch Russian command determined that the missile’s impact point would be outside Russia’s borders and three minutes after that the determination was made that the missile launch was most likely not part of a surprise nuclear strike by Western nuclear submarines (only minutes before a counter-launch decision had to be reached). Later, it was revealed that the missile was carrying scientific instruments and Norway had notified 35 countries, including Russia, of the exact details of the launch, nine days before. The Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to inform the on-duty personnel at the early-warning center of the launch.