Saturday, July 1, 2017

Another Close Call for our World

We're just back from a wonderful cruise along the the Norwegian coast on the Hurtigruten Line's MS Nordnorge.  As we docked briefly at Risoyhavn on the Vesteralen island of Andoya, we learned about a scary and unlikely incident back in 1995.

Andoya is home to Norway's modest space program, which is located on the seaward side of the island.  Therefore, sailing up the coastal channel, we did not see it, but only the mountains between it and us.  

Launches at Andoya are strictly scientific and employ Black Brant missile systems.  Most of the research focuses on Arctic phenomena, such as the aurora borealis and its relationship to the magnetosphere.  

Such was the 1995 mission that almost led to a global nuclear conflict.  A missile aimed at the Norwegian far-north archipelago of Svalbard unfortunately assumed a course and a radar profile similar to that which would be produced by a US Trident nuclear-tipped missile launched from one of the numerous submarines we maintain in Arctic waters close to Russia.

The incident only lasted ten minutes until the Russian military was able to determine that this was not a first strike against their country.  Nevertheless, their version of the Nuclear Briefcase was brought to President Boris Yeltsin and a retaliatory strike was being organized when the stand-down was given. You see, there is not much time to think, since it would take an American sub-launched missile only ten minutes to reach Moscow.  This was at least the second time that cool-headedness on the Russian side saved the planet from an apocalyptic war, the previous time being a 1983 incident that is still not completely explained in a convincing manner.

When the several thousand natives of Andoya learned of this after the fact, they were astonished their little municipality could have such far-reaching influence.  They celebrated the big misunderstanding with a droll Norsk sense of humor by printing up a batch of t-shirts inscribed with the message "We Started World War III!"