Stanislav Petrov’s story is about to be featured in a new movie, The Man Who Saved the World. This title suggests more than the usual artistic license, but if license weren’t granted when dealing with the Apocalypse, then where would the film industry be? My own choice for the hero’s mantle would be Vasili Arkhipov, whose veto prevented the launch of a nuclear weapon on board a Soviet sub being depth charged during the height of the Cuban missile crisis.
Both men illuminate the weaknesses of nuclear deterrence theory, when alertness and vigilance can paradoxically lead to error. Yes, we want those in charge of nuclear weapons to be on the top of their game. But when alert levels are raised during a severe crisis, the likelihood of unintended accidents and human or mechanical error increases.
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