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Exploring the Alarming Possibility of Limited Russian Nuclear Strikes and the Potential Escalation into a Major Nuclear War

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It is alarming to think about the speculation of limited Russian nuclear strikes against Ukraine and the potential escalation into a major nuclear exchange between Russia, the US, and other NATO countries. This prospect of a large-scale nuclear war could result in catastrophic fatalities and injuries, as a recent study in Nature estimated 5 billion deaths.

Since the late 1940s, the US government has been estimating nuclear war fatalities, which were often top secret and used for war planning and arms control decisions. However, a lot of these estimates from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s have been declassified, but estimates from the 1980s and beyond remain unavailable. It is uncertain whether the US government still makes such estimates, but as the conflict in Ukraine raises the possibility of a nuclear war, accurate estimates of its impacts are crucial.

The use of thermonuclear weapons in the US arsenal during the Cold War era was part of military planning and the estimation of deaths and destruction. The US prepared for a worst-case scenario, developing plans to use nuclear weapons to destroy key military and industrial installations in the event of a confrontation.

Casualty estimates were used as part of this planning effort, with war planners and civilian authorities working to estimate requisite levels of destruction for targets and assigning warheads and delivery systems. The Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff was responsible for preparing the US warfighting strategy for the use of nuclear weapons, exemplifying the potentially catastrophic impacts of a full-force attack.
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