William Perry lists a series of factors that he says mean the chance of a ‘calamity’ is higher today than in the 1970s and 80s
Julian Borger World affairs editor
Thursday 7 January 2016 16.25 GMT
The risks of a nuclear catastrophe – in a regional war, terrorist attack, by accident or miscalculation – is greater than it was during the cold war and rising, a former US defence secretary has said.
William Perry, who served at the Pentagon from 1994 to 1997, made his comments a few hours before North Korea’s nuclear test on Wednesday, and listed Pyongyang’s aggressive atomic weapons programme as one of the global risk factors.
He also said progress made after the fall of the Soviet Union to reduce the chance of a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia was now unravelling.
“The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” Perry said. “A new danger has been rising in the past three years and that is the possibility there might be a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia … brought about by a substantial miscalculation, a false alarm.”
Alongside the risks stemming from cyber-attack, North Korea’s nuclear programme and volatility between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria and the increasingly assertive posture of its air and sea patrols have brought Russian forces into close proximity to their western counterparts.
In a new study, the arms control advocacy group Global Zero analysed 146 such incidents over the past 21 months, classing two of them as high risk. It deemed 33 provocative in that they “stray from the norm of routine incidents, resulting in more aggressive or confrontational interaction that can quickly escalate to higher-risk incidents or even conflict”.