As Russia continues its war on Ukraine, it has repeatedly threatened all other nations from getting involved in the conflict in the strongest possible terms, saying that intervention “could lead to World War III.” This threat is especially concerning to the international community because Russia is known to have stores of nuclear weapons. (These are the countries that control the world’s nuclear weapons.)
The threat of war with nuclear Russia loomed over the U.S. for decades during the Cold War. During this era of heightened tensions, the average American may not realize exactly how close the U.S. and Russia have come to launching a nuclear war on one another on many occasions.
To find nuclear close calls that nearly caused World War III, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed several articles and research papers, including from Union of Concerned Scientists, Nuclear Files, History.com, Future of Life Institute, and History Hit. Incidents are listed in chronological order. There were numerous incidents during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. We have only listed a few incidents – in general and from the crisis. The Soviets no doubt also had close calls, and only a few are known.
The vast majority of these near misses came during the heightened tensions of the Cold War, especially between the 1960s and 1980s. These incidents were often simply the result of a mistake – whether a mechanical problem causing issues, a communication breakdown between nuclear nations, or just a simple misunderstanding. Other close calls, however, were the result of deliberate actions taken by one country or another that in some way provoked or worried its adversary.
Many nuclear non-proliferation organizations have worked to try to convince nations with nuclear arsenals to ratchet down the threat of nuclear war and to try to convince other nations from developing such weapons of their own. The consequences of the only two nuclear weapons ever used, by the U.S. on Japan in the 1940s, were devastating. Nuclear weapons have only gotten more powerful since, and the use of these weapons would be catastrophic. This is what a nuclear war would do to the world.
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