With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear war is still very unlikely, but I'd guess it's the most likely it's been in my lifetime. It's worth thinking through how this impacts any disaster plans you might have:

  • What would you do if you got an incoming ICBM alert? Are there supplies you would wish you had that are worth sorting out now?

  • If you live in a major city or near a likely military target, is there a level of escalation at which you would want to leave for somewhere less populous? Is there planning for that which would make sense to do now?

  • If war elsewhere causes serious supply chain disruptions, is there anything you depend on (ex: medication) that it's worth trying to get extra of now?

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock#Timeline and https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/ would agree that it's more likely than any time in history (and they haven't even updated for February events).  

I live in Seattle, which is a definite strategic target.  I'm planning to spend the next few weeks in a cabin in the California mountains for unrelated reasons, but it's still the case that I don't expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange.   I don't think there's a level of escalation that would give me sufficient warning to do anything about it.  In fact, most nuclear doctrines explicitly avoid smooth escalation with a knowable tipping point.

I give it less than a few percent that such an exchange will take place within my planning horizon (call it a few years), and haven't prepared specifically for that.  They also say that big earthquake and/or major volcanic eruption is gonna happen someday, and those I do hope to survive.  I've long kept a fair bit of food, water, medicine, and first-aid supplies handy, and my reaction to any major disaster would generally be "shut off power, water, and gas, live in the basement for a few days, and react as seems best".

I highly recommend a permanent policy of keeping a few weeks to a few months of necessary goods and equipment.  It's fine to use current events to get you over the threshold to do so - that's true for almost everyone.  But once you do so, plan to maintain it forever (which means rotating out the semi-perishables, not "put it in a box and forget it for years").  


 

The Doomsday Clock, in practice, has a strong ratchet component. They are much more interested in recognizing bad news than good, and "time passed with nothing going wrong" isn't an 'event' that they update the clock on.

It also includes non-nuclear impacts, such as growing recognition of climate change.

Yeah.  The current Doomsday Clock is what happens when an organization has outlived its usefulness and is trying to remain relevant even though it really isn't.

but it's still the case that I don't expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange.

There's no reason whatsoever to expect you can't easily survive a full exchange with a few simple preparations as long as you were outside the immediate urban blast radii. Nuclear winter is effectively a myth. I'm both astounded and dismayed by the amount of misinformation and misconceptions surrounding nuclear issues within the "rationalist" community.

Nukes aren't remotely inescapable Armageddon in the same way unaligned AGI is, and people really need to stop the silly resignation to death when talking about them. People in this community can easily all survive a nuclear war if they simply understand that they can and do what needs to be done.

With a full scale nuclear war supply chains will collapse. How will you survive starvation? And if you have enough food or food production capacity, how will you be able to protect it from armed gangs?

I don't expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange

Looking at Russia's performance in the war so far, I could see a Russian attack that is much smaller than historical plans because it's all they can manage. This would be large enough to be massively destructive, but still small enough that lots of people survive.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear war is still very unlikely

I'm not sure that that is true. This superforecaster estimates a "4% chance Russia kills at least one person using a nuclear weapon before July 1". And before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the best estimates I was able to find (EA community; mix of historical evidence, expert surveys and superforecasters) were in the ballpark of 1/100 to 1/1000.

I am particularly concerned about Putin's (old and well-known) phrase "... we as martyrs will go to heaven, and they will just die", given that he goes to church, and will most likely consider himself a rightist/martyr in any case.

Good point. I find it somewhat concerning. Although my read is that, to a large extent, it is some sort of fake belief. If eternal bliss was his true anticipated experience, I'd expect him to act differently in a lot of cases.

It seems like you're comparing one person's estimate, which is selected for being high, with historical consensus estimates?

I also probably didn't phrase this very well: while I said "nuclear war", the post is really about what sort of preparation is it makes sense for individuals well away from Ukraine to make, and what I'm trying to get at is that I think it is still very unlikely that people like that (ex: me) will be impacted by nuclear weapons.

The way I'm thinking about it, it is true that the 4% estimate is just one person and is selected for being high. But then the historical consensus estimates are in a similar ballpark, and are not taking into account current events, and the 4% estimate was made by a reliable person (superforecaster), so given current events, the 4% estimate seems reasonable to me. Still, we can be conservative and assume it is a bit lower, say 1%.

From there you can figure that the chances of eg. the US being affected are less than this 1% number, but how much less? You can ask the question of how likely any nuclear attack by Russia will mean/escalate into the US being attacked. I haven't researched this specifically, but just guessing, it seems unlikely that it'd be less than 10%. So maybe something like a 0.1% chance of the US being attacked?

maybe something like a 0.1% chance of the US being attacked?

Isn't that "very unlikely"?

Given that we're talking a substantial nuclear attack, I wouldn't say so.

I would call that something like "very unlikely but still worth thinking about due to the severity", hence this post

I think you’re mixing up “very unlikely” and “very impactful”. I think you can still make the point that a small probability of a huge negative impact is enough to make different decisions than you normally would’ve.

I actually disagree. Thinking about a raw number like 0.1%, what determines whether it is considered big or small? I think the answer is the context. 0.1% is small if we're talking about the chances that a restaurant gets your order wrong, but big if we're talking about the chances that you win the lottery, I think.

You’re right. Some people use it to mean “larger than base rates”, and this case, you’re arguing that the chance of nuclear war affecting the US is much larger than it was.

Iodine, respirator/gas mask, flash goggles and paper info/maps in case of an electromagnetic impulse? If the escalation reaches the level of "screams and direct threats to each other", then it is definitely worth leaving, although most likely too late.

It also makes sense to think through preparations that are less nuclear specific: water, food, medicine, etc. I put together some supplies about 5 years ago, and this is reminding me to go through and see how well that matches what we still need and also check if anything is expiring.

Why is escalation inevitable?  

     A.  Pre use of a nuclear weapon.  "if we fire a volley of missiles at them aimed at their cities, they will do the same back".

    B.  Post use of a single nuclear weapon.  "if we fire a volley of missiles at them aimed at their cities, they will do the same back".

Yet most analysis says that once the first nuke detonates in (B), the thousands of others are inevitable.  Why is this?  Both parties have the same negative incentive not to fire the rest.

I'm confused what I said that you're responding to?

Escalation is required for nuclear war to a be a risk.  If there were no escalation, the sequence of events would be:

Putin nukes a city in Ukraine

USA/NATO nukes a city in Russia

End of the game.  

It's the trivial rational outcome, just trying to understand why the scenario you outline above where any major USA city is going to be targeted could ever really happen.  

Newcomblike problem: it feels like there are two decisions to be made, but there is only one, in advance. If the Enemy knows you will never fire your missiles, They can pick off your cities one-by-one with impunity. But if you precommit to Mutual Assured Destruction if They ever cross the line, then it would be suicidal for Them to do so, so They won't (if They are rational). If losing one city to a nuclear attack is unacceptable, then that is your line in the sand. You must precommit to full retaliation in that event, and make it known to the Enemy.

In a game of Chicken with your loved ones' lives on the line, your best move is to defiantly rip off the steering wheel before the Enemy can do the same.

I'm oversimplifying a little, but nuclear deterrence is all about game theory like this.

Newcomblike problem: it feels like there are two decisions to be made, but there is only one, in advance. If the Enemy knows you will never fire your missiles, They can pick off your cities one-by-one with impunity. But if you precommit to Mutal Assured Destruction if They ever cross the line, then it would be suicidal for Them to do so, so They won't (if They are rational). If losing one city to a nuclear attack is unacceptable, then that is your line in the sand. You must precommit to full retaliation in that event, and make it known to the Enemy.

Why is "I commit to a proportional response and I will sometimes choose to escalate slightly so the trade is unfavorable to you" not a viable in advance policy.  As in, "you blow a city that has 1 million population, I will select a slightly better city of yours to blow up".

Sure. I was simplifying, and said as much. Tit-for-tat is an excellent strategy in Prisoner's Dilemma (which is not the same game as nuclear war). But when both players use it, it leads to death spirals as soon as one side defects, even on accident, even due to faulty intelligence. Both players continue to defect thereafter.

But this is not the same game. We know that starting down path leads to Our destruction anyway, so why not gamble on a massive strike to disarm the Enemy so there's a chance Our destruction isn't total? Maybe We can get them all, or at least survive what is left.

If the Enemy knows that a tit-for-tat trade is on the table, They might take the deal if They feel it's worth it, declining to retaliate further. (The kind of autocrat willing to pay the cost in their own army's blood to invade a democratic neighbor might just take that deal from time to time.) If that's unacceptable to Us, then We must not offer that deal in the first place.

The problem with that is that it risks slow escalation. As gilch says, tit for tat has no stability margin for an accidental defect, which isn't so great when rights aren't perfectly defined. 1.1*tit for tat is even worse, since now the problem actively escalates. 

The problem with nuclear war isn't that someone loses, it's that everyone loses. Getting a city of 900 thousand blown up after you blow up after you nuke a million of theirs isn't a good trade and does not make you think "That went well, let's do it again!".  Even if you see your initial nuke as justified and their retaliation as not justified, you can at least tell that they're putting effort into de-escalating into escalating. If the next nuke that flies only targets 810k, then 729k, at least the total damage will be finite.

My thought with the "1.1*tit for tat" is simply it makes the aggressor always come out in a losing position for initiating.  My thought is they can see the diverging series and know the eventual outcome and either choose to stop or not.  But you are possibly right, maybe 0.9 * (tit for tat) is a better policy to pre-commit to.

And yeah, reading the rest of your argument: you're right, no winners.  The aggressor isn't really going to feel they came out 'ahead' dealing with the disaster from losing a slightly worse city than the one they killed from the enemy.  For that matter, recent events show that popular opinion of other nations is relevant.  The country with slightly more damage who was not the aggressor may enjoy far more foreign aid, which it's going to need for it's citizens to survive.

Sure, assuming rational players with known capabilities.  If it turns out one side has far fewer functioning warheads or delivery systems than expected, it's possible that humans override the trigger conditions for a smaller response, or that even with a full response, the initial attack isn't as complete as projected.

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