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Y2K and Nuclear Weapons Fact Sheet


Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999
From: paul kawika martin
Subject: Your Comments Requested: Y2K and Nuclear Weapons Fact Sheet

Dear Colleague,

Please comment and provide feedback on the below fact sheet for the general public on Y2K and Nuclear Weapons. Thanks for your help and good work.

Start Fact Sheet:

Nuclear Weapons and Y2K "The year 2000 problem is the electronic equivalent of El Nino." - Deputy Defense Secretary John Harme

What is Y2K?

Y2K is shorthand for the Year 2000 Millennium Challenge and refers to computer hardware, software, and embedded chips coded with two digit date fields. Thus, 1999 is read 99. When the year 2000 begins, computers may understand "00" to mean 1900 causing them to produce incorrect data, malfunction, or shut down. Millions of the approximately 30-60 billion embedded chips worldwide will fail. These malfunctions could affect everything from banking and telecommunications to utilities and transportation.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this problem. Programmers must search through billions of lines of code, some of which is in computer languages now considered arcane, such as COBAL and FORTRAN.

Y2K and Nuclear Weapons

One of the most potentially dangerous Y2K related problems concerns nuclear weapons. While an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon is unlikely, the chance of a launch based on an incorrect data or a nuclear accident increases due to possible Y2K malfunctions.1 For example, communications, command, control and early-warning systems are all at risk for Y2K failures.

A failure in any one these systems could result in rather serious consequences. For instance, if there is a breakdown in any element of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I) the decision time to launch a weapon could be reduced to as little as 5 to 10 minutes.2 Computers may read Y2K related blackouts as the result of a nuclear attack.3 In a recent Christian Science Monitor article, an unnamed Chinese official stated "It's not inconceivable that missile tracking systems in Russia, the US, or China inaccurately report enemy attacks due to Y2K-related glitches."4

There is a chance that a nuclear accident could result from Y2K related failures resulting in environmental destruction. For instance, Michael Kraig notes in The Bug in the Bomb that "a non-nuclear, propellant based fire on Trident II missiles" could lead to the distribution of radioactive materials.5

Department of Defense Y2K Status

Clearly, the Department of Defense (DoD) has an enormous job ahead of them. Unfortunately, delays and mismanagement have plagued one of the most important missions in the history of the department. While there have been a few recent accomplishments in regards to Y2K compliance many mission critical systems lack needed attention.6

One of the greatest obstacles to Congressional and citizen action on Y2K compliance in the DoD is the amount of secrecy surrounding Y2K related issues. For example, an unclassified report from STRATCOM (US Strategic Command) and Joint Staff in the Pentagon regarding the status of Y2K compliance efforts has yet to be released to the public.7

Department of Defense Receives a "D-" for Y2K Efforts

In a recent press release, Representative Stephen Horn, R-CA, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, gave the Department of Defense the grade "D-" for their Y2K work thus far. Representative Horn stated "I remain deeply concerned about the Department of Defense's 'D' minus grade. . . . It goes without saying that there is zero tolerance for error when you are dealing with the defense of our Nation."8

Y2K and Other Nuclear Powers

British and French nuclear submarines could sink because of Y2K problems in sonar and propulsion. A submarine crash could disperse radioactive materials as well as the potential for proliferation from nuclear weapons left in the ocean. The United States and Russia are exchanging officers at each others command centers and attempting to install fail proof communication systems. These shared early warning systems have been in process but at a December 8, 1998 DoD press briefing officials stated that the systems might not be finished by 2000.

Even prior to Y2K, concern over nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons grade material or both getting into the wrong hands surfaced around the globe. Potential Y2K problems exacerbate existing concerns. For instance, Y2K may increase Russian instability and open more doors for nuclear proliferation. Some of Russia's nuclear arsenal is guarded with computerized systems that could suffer Y2K failures adding the possibility of proliferation.


At the very least, the Department of Defense should de-alert nuclear weapons from their current hair-trigger status. The US and Russia together have 5,000 nuclear weapons ready to launch on warning. With the threats posed by Y2K, it is clear that to reduce the risks of Y2K related malfunctions, the DoD must de-alert.

Y2K nuclear-related problems are a symptom of a bigger problem. Nuclear weapons are never completely safe. Y2K just exacerbates existing fears regarding the threat of nuclear war. De-alerting is just a first step to reducing the danger of nuclear weapons. Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and continuing non-proliferation work with Russia and other nuclear powers will carve the way to a nuclear free world.

What You Can Do

* Have a letter writing party about the issue of Y2K and nuclear weapons. * Call your Congressional members (202.224.3121) and the White House comments line (202.456.1111) to ask them to de-alert nuclear weapons to reduce Y2K risks. * Join a local Y2K community group or start one yourself. (Check out the Cassandra project at or 303.664.5227 for local groups in your area.) * Bring a speaker to talk to your church, campus, or community group. * Attend the "Nuclear Y2K Symposium" in Washington, DC hosted by the Star Foundation on March 8, 1999. (More information: 516.324.0655

Other Resources
1 Zuckerman, M.J. "U.S. Aims to Avert Y2K-induced War." USA Today. November 13, 1998.
2 Kraig, Michael. The Bug in the Bomb: The Impact of the Year 2000 Problem on Nuclear Weapons. BASIC Research Report 98.6. November 1998. p. 28.
3 Tiller, Bob. "Nuclear Weapons and the Year 2000 Computer Problem.
4 Belsie, Laurent. Christian Science Monitor. January 20, 1999. p. 1.
5 Kraig. p. 27.
6 Kraig. p. 21.
7 Kraig. p. 22.
8 Horn, Stephen. "Horn Releases Last Set of Y2K Grades of 1998: Executive Branch Merits an Overall "D." (News Release) November 23, 1998.

Written by: Diana Onken and paul kawika martin Design and Layout by: Diana Onken

End Fact Sheet

Infinite Peace and Love,


After the year 2000 we will not ask ourselves why we missed investing our savings in some Y2K compliant stock. In the spirit of Oscar Schindler, we will reflect and wonder why we failed to help more people and more communities.-- Anonymous

Organizing for a Sustainable Year 2000

paul kawika martin Phone: 202.548.0535 Email: Board Chair, EarthCulture, Participant, The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion (Nonprofit and Civic Preparedness Sector) and Coalition 2000 and Special Advisor on Y2K for the DC Green Party 320 Independence Ave, SE Washington, DC 20003-1044 Coalition 2000 Page:

EarthCulture Page:
Hatred is never ended by hatred but by love--Buddha

ALERT! Please call the White House Comment Line (202)456-1111 and ask the President and Vice President to: 1) Conduct a public awareness campaign around Y2K community compliance 2) Ensure contingencies for disadvantaged communities and environmental protection


The Solutions:

Among other projects, EarthCulture is working on the Y2K computer challenge as it affects the environment, peace, and disadvantaged communities. Please contact me for volunteer, intern, and job opportunities. If you support this work please send a donation to the above address. Thank You!