The Russian Doomsday Device

In the classic Cold War film Dr. Strangelove,   the Soviet ambassador to the US is informed that a mentally unbalanced American Air Force General has launched a limited nuclear attack against his country.  The ambassador then informs the president and his national security team that the Soviet Union has a “doomsday device” that will automatically launch a full-scale retaliatory attack against the US if a single Bomb detonates over Russian soil.

It is appears that this fictional retaliation machine is much closer to reality than most people thought.  According to an article published yesterday on (, the Russians actually built a doomsday device during the 1980s and it is still operational.

One of the most interesting things in the article was the claim that the device was largely intended to prevent Soviet leaders from feeling compelled to launch a preemptive strike or a rash counterattack if they were informed that an American nuclear attack was imminent or already underway.  With the doomsday device in place, Russian authorities could rest assured that a counterattack would take place if the Kremlin and other government headquarters were wiped out by the US, and they could therefore wait to see if warnings (from radar or other sources) of an attack were accurate or false before launching their missiles.

The article does not mention exactly how the doomsday device could be shut off if Russian leaders thought doing so was necessary.  One major problem with an automatic device, which the film addresses, is that it does not give policymakers flexibility in terms of their response to an event.

I highly recommend Dr. Strangelove to those who have not seen it.  They will appreciate the article even more after they have watched the movie.


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