Many people have asked me what I think the odds are of an imminent major US-Russia nuclear war. My current estimate is about the same as losing in Russian roulette: one in six. The goal of this post is to explain how I arrived at this estimate. Please forgive its cold and analytic nature despite the emotionally charged topic; I'm trying not to be biased by hopes, fears or wishful thinking.
My estimate is 30% x 80% x 70% ~ 1/6, as illustrated in the figure and explained below. The horizontal axis roughly corresponds to levels of escalation, while the vertical axis corresponds to how favorable outcomes are to the two sides.
To estimate the odds of pulling a spade out of a deck of cards, it's important to know how many suits there are. To estimate the odds that the current unstable situation ends up in the "KABOOM" outcome (a major US-Russia nuclear war that might cause nuclear winter and kill most people on Earth), it's similarly important to know what other reasonably stable outcomes it's competing against. The shorthand labels I've given these outcomes (grey boxes) should't be taken too literally: "Kosovo" & "Vietnam" refer to scenarios where one side wins outright (breakaway succeeds & Goliath is expunged, respectively). "Libya", "Korea" & "Finland" refer to intermediate outcomes involving simmering war, frozen war and full peace, respectively. I'm not showing the "Cuba" outcome (invasion averted by negotiated agreement) that was on the table in December 2021, since it's now off the table, as are resumed EU-Russia gas exports via the Nordstream pipelines.
The grey ellipses represent relatively short-lived situations. We are currently in a vicious circle in the form of a self-perpetuating escalation spiral: since "Kosovo" is deemed unacceptable by Ukraine and the West while "Vietnam" is deemed unacceptable by Russia, both sides double down and escalate further whenever they fear losing. Such escalation has been both quantitative (more weapons, more mobilization) and qualitative (e.g., novel sanctions, heavier weapons, longer-range weapons, attacks inside Russia, scaled-up attacks on civilian infrastructure, shelling of a nuclear power plant, assassinations, sabotage of gas pipelines and Europe's longest bridge, annexations, and escalatory rhetoric about nuclear use). My assessment is that Russia, whose GDP is similar to Italy's, can no longer compete with the West in terms of quantitative escalation, and that Putin understands that his only chance to avoid the "Vietnam" outcome is to escalate qualitatively, with nuclear weapons use being his last resort. Last spring, I predicted that once loss of occupied territory loomed, he would annex what he controlled and start talking about nuclear defense of Russia's new borders – and here we are.
Breaking the vicious circle
I view it as highly unlikely (<10%) that Putin would accept "Vietnam" without first going nuclear, because it would almost certainly result in him being overthrown and jailed or killed. On the other hand, I also view it as highly unlikely (<10%) that the West would accept a "Kosovo" scenario where Russia is granted a peace deal where it keeps everything it's annexed, because if the powers that be in the West were that appeasement-minded, they would presumable have opted for a "Cuba" scenario in 2021 by acquiescing to Russia's demand that Ukraine never join NATO. This means that with high (>80%) probability, the current vicious cycle of escalation will end only with de-escalation into one of the intermediate outcomes ("Libya"/"Korea"/"Finland") or with lower-case "kaboom" (Russian nuclear use in Ukraine).
Estimates of the "kaboom" probability have recently ranged from 5% to 9% in the Metaculus prediction community. My current estimate is a few times higher (30%, e.g. a 2-to-1 chance that the cycle will end with de-escalation rather than escalation), because de-escalation currently seems so disfavored: there appears to be a widespread assumption in the West, shared by Ukrainian leaders, that Ukraine is winning and that Putin will grudgingly accept "Vietnam". Moreover, there is a near-consensus in mainstream Western media and policy circles against peace negotiations, exemplified by e.g. the hostile response to Elon Musk's recent suggestion of a peace deal.
The probability that "kaboom" (nuclear use in Ukraine) leads to "KABOOM" (WW3) obviously depends on the Western response and subsequent escalation dynamics. My estimate is quite high (80%) that NATO's response will be forceful enough to include a non-nuclear military strike against Russia, because key NATO leaders and others have already made strongly worded statements to this effect. Options discussed have included sinking Russia's Black Sea fleet, which it would be difficult to imagine Russia not viewing as a declaration of war. My most likely (70%) scenario after that is Russian counterstrikes followed by rapid escalation via retaliatory actions from both sides, culminating in execution of the all-out nuclear war plans that both sides have spent decades preparing. My 70% estimate factors in that the long history of nuclear near misses has convinced me that both the US and Russia are much less competent in de-escalation than in escalation.
In the slightly less likely (30%) scenario that global freakout brings the US and Russia back from the brink, de-escalating toward the left side of the diagram, the outcome may be closer to "Kosovo" or "Vietnam" depending on who blinks first, i.e., on whether the de-escalation happens after "kaboom" or "Expansion".
Many detailed estimates of nuclear war impact have been published in the academic literature. Xia et al (Nature Food, 3, 586–596, 2022) estimate that nuclear winter would kill about 99% of all Russians, Americans, Europeans and Chinese, with the most powerful post-war remaining economies being in South America, Southern Africa and Oceania. However, more work is needed to reduce uncertainties e.g. targeting scenarios, black carbon smoke production and lofting.
The only nuclear target map thus far declassified by the United States suggested that China would also be targeted even in a US-Russia war, to prevent it from emerging as the strongest post-war economy. My guess is that such a strategy is in force today as well, given the frosty state of Sino-US relations. Since China has much more large cities than either the US or Russia, this significantly increases my smoke production estimate.
I'd love to hear your thoughts both on this risk modeling framework and on the factor probabilities (30%, 80%, 70%) listed in the figure! I'll plan to update them regularly as the geopolitical shituation evolves.
Many Twitter responses to this post have conflated nuclear de-escalation with capitulation or appeasement. Conversely, not all escalation has military value. For example, goading Putin to escalate with Moscow car bombing or viral video taunts is arguably against the national security interests of Ukraine and the West. If you're generally opposed to de-escalation, I'm curious as to which of the following escalations you don't want both sides to stop:
1) nuclear threats
3) assassinations lacking military value
4) infrastructure attacks lacking military value (e.g. Nordstream sabotage)
5) shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant
6) misleading disparagement of de-escalation supporters as unpatriotic or appeasement-seeking
Citation/link please? "Trust, but verify."
This seems overconfident to me. So many people made confident predictions about what Putin would or wouldn't do (or Trump, or Obama, or Xi for that matter) and were wrong. It's hard to predict world leader behavior even in cases with somewhat of a precedent, which this is not. Example: Early in this war I thought "Belarus will almost certainly join the war sooner or later, because Putin can have Lukashenko assassinated, along with loads of higher-ups in the government, if he wants." Welp, I was wrong. Don't know why yet. Similarly I think that if Putin were to accept a "vietnam" he'd probably still remain in power. You might think that there'd be a revolution, and there totally might, but I don't know how you can be almost certain.
To support your point here, here is a list of some international wars since the end of WW2 in which a dictator invaded another country but they failed to get more out of the war than a stalemate:
The Korean War: North Korea invaded South Korea, but after interventions by both UN forces (led by the US) and China, the war got bogged down on a front line close to the original border between North and South Korea. There were no signs of instability in either of the two Korean governments, and no nuclear weapons were used despite the US being in unilateral possession of them at the time.
Soviet-Afghan War: The USSR invaded and set up a satellite state in Afghanistan. After a decade of fighting a protracted guerrilla war with insurgents backed by the US, the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, just before the collapse of the USSR. It has been suggested that the defeat in Afghanistan played a part in the dissolution of the USSR, but it seems like it was far from the decisive influence to me. We can count this as a partial success for Tegmark's thesis at best.
The Iran-Iraq War: Sadd
Thanks David and Ege for these excellent points! You're giving me too much credit by calling it a "thesis"; it was simply part of my reasoning behind the 30% number. Yeah, I did consider the Gulf War as an important counterexample. I'll definitely consider revising my 30% number downward in my next update, but there are also interesting examples on the other side:
... (read more)
- The Falklands War: The Argentinian military junta's 1982 invasion of the British Falkland Islands was humiliatingly defeated. This became the final nail in the coffin for a dictatorship facing a collapsing economy and increasing domestic resistance, and collapsed shortly thereafter. Most of the members of the Junta are currently in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide.
- The Yom Kippur War: The 1973 invasion of Israeli-held territory by an Arab coalition was unsuccessful. Although the Arab national leaders were able to remain in power, some military leaders fared less well. Syrian Colonel Rafik Halawi, who's infantry brigade allowed an Israeli breakthrough, was executed before the war even ended.
- Survival of nation versus leader: Although mainstream Western media often port
Responding to your examples:
I agree with the Falklands War being a good example of your thesis; I forgot about it while making my list. No arguments there.
I did consider the Yom Kippur War, but I noticed as you did that the national leaders didn't lose power and it was not clear to me whether we should say the Arab forces were defeated in the war. It seems like Egypt achieved at least some limited objectives as a result of the war, even if it fell far short of what they might have wanted to achieve. So I'm not sure if we should consider this as a "successful trial" in the reference class or not.
I think this is directionally correct but I'm not sure what the magnitude of the update we should make on this would be. It doesn't seem like a very strong argument, in the sense that I expect arguments of similar strength to exist even if the conclusion is wrong.
I think if you had said that Putin would have a 20% chance of being thrown out of office as a result of agreeing to a return to the status quo ante bellum, I would agree with you. You said it's "almost certain", though, which seems way too strong to me. It's not at all unreasonable for Putin to back down and take a 20% r... (read more)
I can't square my model of Russia with the idea that Russia genuinely invaded Ukraine because they were afraid of NATO expansion. Pre-invasion, Ukraine was unlikely to join NATO and NATO itself was likely only to become smaller and less significant.
Up until the invasion NATO was increasingly perceived as a relic - an organization that lost the reason for its creation. It was hard for me to even imagine chain of events would revitalize NATO. But then Russia sends columns of tanks straight to the capital of the largest country in Europe and yeah, I guess that would do it. Give every country near Russia's the strongest possible reason and urgency to join NATO and increase their defense budgets.
That result seems likely even if Russia had conquered the entire country in 3 days. In fact I believe Putin felt comfortable invading Ukraine, knowing this would massively boost NATO, because he had absolutely no genuine concerns about NATO invading RUSSIA itself.
We’re still only a few hours post the bridge attack, but worth noting that when given the opportunity to massively escalate with a ‘red line’ being crossed, the Russian government are talking about how this was a terrorist attack and traffic will be up and running within hours (playing down the impact). This suggests to me they’re extremely unwilling to move up to tactical nuclear weapons right now.
Also, please correct me if I am wrong, some parts of the annexed territories -- from certain perspective, now a part of Russia -- were already regained by Ukraine -- which from that perspective means Ukraine (with the support of NATO) attacking and successfully conquering parts of Russia's territory. And yet, no nukes so far.
This is correct. They will always downplay Ukraine's successes, explaining them as either terrorist attacks or "smoking accidents". And yes, as Viliam says, Russia is now officially losing territory every day and nobody cares. They prefer to have ambiguous borders.
To understand Putin, you have to imagine a petty crime boss who accidentally got big. He's just a thug. "It's not a bluff" is the telltale sign that his threat is a 1̶0̶0̶%̶ 99.999999% bluff. When he plans to do something, he and his minions always deny it first. He will go to great lengths to continue without nuclear weapons.
All of this means that the 30% chance of kaboom is way way too high. It's currently closer to 3% or even 0.3%.
Moreover, the probability that a strike will be ordered but not occur is quite high. You don't just drop a nuke and hope it works. The technology is complex and there have been no nuclear tests since 1990. Russia's impressive-looking nuclear arsenal would take a fortune to have been properly maintained all this time. A huge percentage of that money ended up in the pockets of the maintainers. This is the Russian Way. So either the technology can fail or, more likely still, people can do ... (read more)
Russian Way is imperceptible to most Western experts because they never lived in USSR. They don't know how corrupt & in shambles the system actually was. As a result "Russia is very strong and powerful" is a stereotype that just refuses to die.
A look at the battlefield:
A look at the internal situation in Russia:
... (read more)
- Warlords (Prygozhin and Kadyrov) preparing to take over if Putin slips
- FSB and MoD internal quarrels
- absolutely massive emigration of young Russians (> 500 thousands already left)
- children of Russian elites (IIRC Putin & Lavrov too) enjoying their carefree lives in EU and US
- incompetence (which you highlighted) in aerospace / military sector:
- failures of legacy products like Soyuz or Proton
- uselessness of recently developed products (Armata)
- ammunition stored in conditions that increase the probability of failure
Regarding your Twitter comment about Musk's proposals:
The real issue with backing down from nuclear threats is what happens when you back down.
Let's say we force Ukraine to allow Putin to keep the annexed territory because of nuclear weapons. This gives him, every Russian and every dictator around the world a clear message: nuclear weapons are the winning strategy.
It would make Putin and all warmongers like Prigozhin or Kadyrov look like geniuses. They stood against the whole world and won! Everyone inside Russia who was opposing the use of nuclear weapons would have to admit that it worked. So they need to use this trick more! It costs nothing. You just need to be a true believer in the greatness and ruthlessness of mother Russia.
Hitler also looked like genius of strategy after annexation of Austria and Sudetenland. From German perspective in Summer of 1939 he obviously knew what he was doing and should be trusted.
So, how far are you willing to back down?
Is Poland va... (read more)
It's not a counter-argument to the post in its entirety, though -- it's a counter-argument to the recommendation that we de-escalate, from the Twitter post, no? Specifically, it's not a counter-argument to the odds of nuclear war if we don't de-escalate.
Two things can be true at once:
But like -- these can both be true! Doing the game-theoretic thing where you don't respond to blackmail means that you might suffer the consequences of not responding to blackmail, especially if your opponent is feeling vindictive, or did not anticipate your not responding to his blackmail, or feels the need to show his resolution for further iterations of his blackmail game.
It's possible for you to not respond to blackmail because you have a general principle of not doing so and then for nuclear war to happen as a result.
Thank you for this post, Max.
My background here:
Summary: I wouldn't give 70% for WW3/KABOOM from conventional NATO retaliation. I would give that 2-5% in this moment (I spent little time thinking about the precise number).
Motivation: I think conventional responses from NATO will cause Russia to generally back down. I think Putin wants to use the threat of nukes, not actually use them.
Even when cornered yet further, I expect Putin to assess that firing off nukes will make his situation even worse. Nuclear conflict would be an immense direct threat against himself and Russia, and the threat of nuclear conflict also increases the risk of people on the inside targeting him (because they don't want to die). Authoritarians respect force. A NATO response would be a show of force.
Putin has told the Russian public in the past that Russia couldn't win against NATO directly. Losing against NATO actually gives him a more palatable excuse: NATO is too powerful. Losing against Ukraine though, their little sibling, would be very humiliating. Losing in a contest of strength against someone supposedly weaker is almost unacceptable to authoritarians.
I think the most likely outcome is that Putin is deterred from firing a tactical nuke. And if he does fire one, NATO will respond conventionally (such as taking out the Black sea fleet), and this will cause Russia to back down in some manner.
Putin has at least two children, and he seems to care about them. For example, he gave one of his daughters Katerina Tikhonova several high-profile positions. According to the same source, Katerina reportedly gave him a grandchild.
Unless he is sure that his children will survive a nuclear apocalypse (which is unlikely), this could be a major factor for him.
From the character assessments I’ve read, I agree that it’s unlikely he wants to kamikaze himself or his family. However on the children point I would be careful not to over-index on that.
Putin is not “normal”. It’s very conceivable that he likes his children, but likes not losing control even more. If Putin loses the war badly and subsequently gets ousted, likelihood of death/imprisonment for him and his family is high. Hitler probably liked his wife, kids and dog, but when it came to the end game we all know how that went. I expect many such examples exist with similar characters driven by control-fetish, such as serial killers and the like.
Putting family members in office isn’t necessarily an indication of deep care or love. Trust is rare and valuable for Putin, and blood relatives come with instant trust points.
Upvoted because I think it’s a relevant consideration, just not enough to conclude much by itself.
Can Putin actually fire Russian nuclear weapons unilateraly though? I don't think a vote in the Russian parliament or anything is needed, but I suspect it takes more than just Putin by himself. (Maybe it needs the prime minister or head of the armed forces to also agree). Not knowing these exact processes is a big source of uncertainty in how this would turn out. Especially as the process-in-practice might deviate from the process-in-theory. (Eg. in theory Putin says fire, the head of Russian nuclear forces fires. In practice, Putin says fire, the head of Russian nuclear forces rings the Russian prime minister and says "so, like the president says .. but like .. what do you think..."
Formally, it needs to be approved by 3 people: the President, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff. Then (I think) it doesn't launch rockets. It unlocks them and sends a signal to other people to actually launch them.
Also, it is speculated to be some way to launch them without confirmation from all 3 people in case some of them cannot technically approve (e.g. briefcase doesn't work/the person is dead/communication problems), but the details of how exactly it works are unknown.
You think it is likely/possible that a nuclear war kills almost everyone in the US and Europe. Since you estimate the chance of this happening to 1 in 6, are you moving to South America or Australia for a year or two?
I'm typing this from New Zealand.
I strongly disagree with this post but I think it's well written conditional on the views of the author, so now I'm divided between whether I should upvote or downvote it.
If only we had agreement karma at the post level, not just the comment level...
Ege, if you find the framework helpful, I'd love to hear your estimates for the factor probabilities 30%, 70%, 80%. I'd also be very interested in seeing alternative endpoint classifications and alternative frameworks. I sense that we both agree that it's valuable to estimate the nuclear war risk, and basing the estimate on a model that decomposes into pieces that can be debated separately rather than basing it on just gazing into our belly-buttons and tossing out a single probability that feels right.
Why are you saying "almost certain" instead of giving a probability?
Many people who have power in Russia have power because they were over decades loyal to Putin. They are likely going to lose power if Putin would be overthrown.
I recently heard from a Ukrainian that part of the demands of the EU for what Ukraine would need to do in terms of minority protection of Russian speakers is pro-Russian propaganda. The Ukrainians pretend that Elon Musk that spends gifted them ~80 million worth of StarLink is anti-Ukrainian.
One interesting aspect of the reaction to Musk's proposal in German media, is the absence of citing anyone from the German government. As winter progresses the pain from lack of Russian gas will rise in Europe, moving troops in Winter in the Ukraine is harder. That shifts the politics into making a peace deal more likely.
It's quite clear why it's worth suffering when Russland attacks parts of Ukraine that don't want to be Russian. On the other hand, the case for why European ... (read more)
>I view it as highly unlikely (<10%) that Putin would accept "Vietnam" without first going nuclear, because it would almost certainly result in him being overthrown and jailed or killed.
Not obvious to me that this is true. If it was, I would have expected more escalation/effort from Russia already by this point.
Much of the analysis hinges on this, so I think it needs to thought through more deeply. I would argue that the odds of Putin "being overthrown and jailed or killed" are higher if he gives the order to use nukes, than if he accepts "Vietnam".
The NATO response to nukes would be catastrophic. Any remaining support from China/India would disappear. Further, the w... (read more)
You haven't factored in the possibility Putin gets deposed by forces inside Russia who might be worried about a nuclear war and conditional on use of tactical nukes, intuitively that seems likely enough to materially lower p(kaboom).
EDIT: Removed "nuclear arsenal not working because Russia didn't bother to maintain them" as I don't find that especially likely on reflection.
An aside on the level of destruction we can anticipate: Nuclear war is not an existential threat. Fears of nuclear winter, which may be an existential threat, are likely overblown as the well known soot production model is based on poor research. Soot production in the high atmosphere is like 1-2 orders of magnitude below what the original studies suggested.
Strategy suggests that military targ... (read more)
The Reisner et al paper (and the back and forth between Robock's group and Reisner's group) casts doubt on this:
Here, my estimate is much lower (about 25%). Talk is cheap, so strongly worded statements in itself are only weak evidence for future intentions if carrying out those threats poses threats on this level (and I do think it to be likely that the relevant players in NATO are aware of the level of risk).
I notice I am most confused on the Expansion -> KABOOM 70%.
I have been in a model that Expansion would be limited within Ukraine, annexed territories including Crimea included. Therefore I have (completely subjectively) estimated Expansion -> KABOOM to 1/1000 or lower?
It seems to me that as Russia has moved its nuclear weapon submarines from Crimea to Russian mainland port, that this could be a shared model also in Russia.
One question in the back of my mind regarding the likelihoods here about Russia's demonstrated maintenance performance in its military. Yes, strategic systems will have to have both a higher priority and, one might think, higher quality professionals performing all the tasks and management. But is that really a safe assumption?
Is there really any reason to believe that the corruption that has hamstrung a the Russian military in general is not also pervasive in strategic weapons? Seems to me that would be driven by the underlying culture of autocratic regimes which seem poorly suited to maintaining high quality and honest assessments of actual state.
I would like to see st... (read more)
... (read more)
- I'm not at all well-calibrated enough to evaluate your probabilities. They feel sensible to me, but good forecasters seem to give much lower probabilities, so I think they might be right. A naive alternative would be to just evenly spread it out by the number of options, so maybe 1/6 for transitioning to kaboom, 1/5 for transitioning to expansion, and 1/5 for transitioning to KABOOM, leading to 0.7% probability.
- On the other hand, there's probably a ton of correlations in the probabilities for each step. If the nations involved are more incline
Perhaps a nuclear war today would reduce the possibility of human extinction within this century. It appears that AGI is close, without substantial progress in AI Safety. A nuclear war, would, I believe cause a major slowdown in AI progress, increasing the probability of getting an aligned AI at the end.
I think this modeling assumes Russia can escalate conventionally and that the conventional NATO response would be perceived as escalatory by Russia even if it destroyed their army. Russia can't escalate conventionally: they have run out of tanks and men.
Ukraine is already doing a great job of destroying Russia's army with NATO weapons, and Russia hasn't used nukes to stop it. In the aftermath of usage, increasing the rate of that destruction is just more of the same. Even if Russia would like to escalate more, they need to actually stop the army from liber... (read more)
If Putin uses a nuke in Ukraine, NATO will respond by decimating the Russian invasion force in Ukraine (probably excluding Crimea) with conventional air power. That should be seen as de-escalating, since 1) only a nuclear response can really be an escalation to a nuclear provocation, and 2) Russia’s pre-war border is not violated. It will allow the Ukrainians to take back their land to pre-war boundaries (“Vietnam”). Putin knows this (it’s probably been “explained” to him by Western leaders), so the likelihood he would choose that path is small. Even if he... (read more)
In other words, both the kaboom and the KABOOM must be initiated by Putin and have no upsides for him. That’s two huge hurdles to Armageddon, and I find your probability estimates overly pessimistic.
I think we need to view it from Putin's angle. What will keep him in office (because if he loses office, he might very well lose his life, certainly his freedom)?
One possibility is that by dropping a small nuke, that hopefully will only be met with a conventional weapons response, Russia will then be isolated from the world, and Putin imagines he can survive in power, 'forever' raging against the West, much like North Korea, or Iran to some extent.
Other options are that Russians themselves remove Putin before he can drop a bomb, or that somehow he negotiates a withdrawal, but I don't see other Russians allowing that, but maybe there's more resistance within Russia than I realise.
Scary times indeed!
What % are the 70% that Ukraine doesn't get nuked composed of?
I think Russia has already suffered quite a lot of embarrassment and hasn't nuked yet. According to your model, why not?
Of the 4 NS pipelines ( 2 NS1, 2 NS2), 3 are off line, one is still operational, hence I think we shouldn’t rule out the scenario where gas flow from Russia to Germany would resume
I will return with thoughts on adjusting Max's assigned probabilities, but prefer to start with two more 'qualitative' arguments. First, I am not persuaded by statements and events to date that Russia is experiencing severe setbacks in the last 1-2 weeks. I noted a Ukrainian boast - hard to credit it with a milder term - that it has recovered 900 square kilometers of Russian-annexed territory. If true, that amounts to roughly 18 by 18 miles, a rather insignificant amount of steppe. Eventual negotiations can be expected to haggle over much larger chunks of ... (read more)
This analysis assumes that if Russia uses nuclear weapons:
For Russian nuclear brinkmanship to be effective, atomic weapon use would need an outcome without complete isolation and regime collapse after a military win. Becoming another North Korea would be huge loss for Russia and put the Putin's regime in danger.
Putin's regime... (read more)
I think there is one scenario you have left out, where the shooting war sort of stagnates, but is still fairly intense, and Russia bleeds itself out economically and socially maintaining the war. So, neither escalation nor de-escalation. I don't consider it to be a deescalation (Ie. "Libya"), because it's a form of loss for Russia, but it's slow enough that it doesn't necessarily register immediately as a "Vietnam" and there's time for internal unrest. At some point they will implode internally (coup/revolution/whatever), or they will escalate, or both. No... (read more)
Nice post Mr. Tegmark, ty! Regarding your statement
would you (or can anyone else?) kindly supply direct quotes (please not merely citations of news articles that paraphrase or that quote less than complete sentences) of some such statements? For the ones not cited or quoted, maybe Mr. Tegmark will clarify whether he means key current NATO officials or merely ... (read more)
I agree with the underlying logic of your argument, but see the percentages as quite arbitrary. What would you consider the margin of error (perhaps "error" is the wrong word here) for your percentage estimates? Surely you are not professing to be certain on the exact numbers.
What are your market positions? What bets have you made in response to this knowledge?
There's potential paths that this model doesn't include. I have to believe that the Five Eyes have done some amount of work to find ways to hamstring Russias nuclear capabilities (I recall stories that "we" were able to sabotage chips in in the supply chain for Iraq's missiles, for example). Meaning, there's a chance Russia does some kind of nuclear launch and it's horribly botched for one reason or another. Their own incompetence, supply chain sabotage, etc. They may, then, be reluctant to launch another.
I don't know what a reasonable prior is... (read more)
What are the numbers based on, especially 30% of Ukraine winning? So far, the retired US and NATO generals have voiced that Ukraine has achieved "irrevesible momentum" of winning.
Any evidence you can counter argue that with?
In the past, we've often seen that officers in charge of nukes don't launch them (Archipov, the Generals in the Trump admin seemed minded to ensure they got a look in before launch). What probability do you assign that when told to launch a nuke, the Russian officers don't?
I doubt France & Germany, let alone Hungary or Turkey are going to consent to a NATO retaliation. So I think the relevant question is whether US/UK/Eastern Europe are going to go it alone.
Marginally Compelling had a great podcast episode with Josh Centers back in March of this year on surviving a nuclear attack. https://polimath.substack.com/p/get-ready-for-nuclear-war-with-josh#details
I haven’t seen it mentioned, so I’m mentioning it.
Dear Max Tegmark,
I read your risk assessment with an abstract mathematical scenario model with great interest, but was also very worrying, because your result does not bode well and gives no prospect of a possible happy ending.
However, I see a number of errors in the approach or better it does not reflect our current world situation. There's just a bunch of undisclosed facts that put everything in a different light. In your statement, dear Max Tegmark, these developments in the world have not been taken into account. Your model turns out to be like a model... (read more)
What are your candidates for targets for a tactical nuclear use, and your estimate of the yield of the strike?
What is the specific military need that will be met by setting off a nuclear weapon on the current battlefield which would be unmet by precision conventional strikes or massed fires from artillery or aviation?
A professional would have an answer to these questions.
I know this is an estimate for imminent global nuclear war (for which I'd give a lower estimate, but even if it were 100x lower, 0.17% -- and it isn't -- that would be wholly unacceptable) but I don't want global nuclear war in my lifetime.
So it's necessary to also consider how various outcomes of the current war may have on the liklihood of global nuclear war in the next decades. In this vein, the best argument for ensuring that Ukraine wins in spite of Russian nuclear threats, is that allowing Russia to achieve a relatively favorable outcome on the basis... (read more)
To be honest I would like to understand a little bit more on why and how the parameters of this little model were "tuned". I mean, I am not saying that the model is wrong (because the outcomes are forcibly those) but I would like to understand more on how those probabilities were tuned or at least estimated.
Let's put in this way: to possibly have an hint to calculate and have a reasonable estimate I think we should consider the chicken game scenario. Because at the moment we are in a stage of the war that is a "chicken game", in which neither Ukraine, neit... (read more)
Lots of interesting opinions in the comments - these days it is rare to read comments about this war without lots of emotional stuff.
However, I must point out that many of the points are based on what people think about Putin as a person. And their opinions are heavily based on what western media want them to think.
I think in the grand scheme it is not important what Putin's personal traits are. The most important is who are the parties in this war and what are their interests. Putin is just a figure that some internal russian parties agreed on, its ... (read more)
There's an implicit assumption in this line of reasoning that military response is inherently escalatory but you are demonstrating with this line of reasoning that fear of military response is de-escalatory!
The assumption beneath that is that you are rational but your counterparty is unlike you and cannot be trusted to be rational - but if this is the case then you are trapped in a room with a madman with a knife and the only rational move is first strike.
If true, this seems to strongly undermine the credibility of the U.S. in the eyes of most world leaders.
Especially the leaders of India, Africa, Brazil, etc., who would almost certainly share fears of being next on the chopping block.
I can't see how this is possibly advantageous for the US government to suggest.
If Putin values his life more than victory, then he will, at each time, follow the path which minimizes the probability of his death as outcome, as estimated by him.
For the time being he can follow any of 3 possible paths: Withdrawal_before_Ukr, Conv_War_on_Ukr, and Tac_nukes_on_Ukr (kaboom).
The Conv_War_on_Ukr path has 2 possible outcomes: Victory or Defeat_by_Ukr.
The Tac_nukes_on_Ukr path has 2 possible outcomes: Victory or Conv_NATO_strike. After Conv_NATO_strike, Putin can follow any of 3 possible subpaths:
... (read more)
- Conv_war_on_NATO (plus
The officially stated position of Russia is not to get involved in a conventional war with NATO (that Russia knows it can't win) and immediately escalate to a "limited" nuclear war (that they believe they can win). It appears that (from the Russian standpoint) the nuclear "escalation ladder" looks as this:
- Tactical nuclear strike against a single (non-nuclear) NATO state in Western Europe
-Massive tactical nuclear strikes against (non-nuclear) NATO state(s) in Western Europe
-Tactical nuclear strike(s) against nuclear NATO states, but ou... (read more)
Max is clearly a highly intelligent person, who's highly respected with a great track record. I believe we all should be taking his arguments seriously and discussing how we can create better outcomes through action, rather than focusing our intellects on breaking apart his logic and trying to convince ourselves that everything is fine.
WW3 is a suicide pact. The #1 thing that defines modern Russia is cynical self-interest. Putin won't die for his professed ideals(which he does not believe in anyway). If he gives the order the people around him won't be willing to die and they'll just kill him. I view this all as extreme brinksmanship that will ultimately lead nowhere.
Russia's oligarch billionaires aren't incinerating their Swiss mansions over some dead proles on the Ukrainian front.
How about turning off Moscow’s lights for a few hours? Or wider-scale?
Or seizing ALL Russian assets in the West?
Seize all children of Putin & Russian generals & elite who reside or school or vacation in the West?