At the Brink

By William J. Perry Project

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A podcast about the dangers we face from nuclear weapons, and the stories of those who are fighting to protect us.

Episode Date
Modernizing Doomsday: The True Cost of Our Nuclear Arsenal
In January 2020, the Doomsday Clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight, telling us that the world is the closest to catastrophe it has ever been during the nuclear age. A big reason is that both the U.S. and Russia are embarking upon an unprecedented expansion of nuclear arsenals, which will cost American taxpayers upwards of two trillion dollars, under the misleading heading of “modernization.” Learn about what is being planned, and why it is decreasing our security, not enhancing it.
Jul 29, 2020
Loose Nukes: A Nuclear Success Story
Most Americans cheered when the Soviet Union broke apart into 15 independent countries in 1991, but a few had a sobering concern: the break-up created three new nuclear states overnight: Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. They had no resources or infrastructure to deal with their inherited nuclear weapons and fissile material, and security was woefully inadequate. Listen to the remarkable story of how a group of dedicated individuals conceived and implemented the Nunn-Lugar program, which removed over 4,000 so-called “loose nukes” from these former Soviet states, securing the remaining weapons in Russia.
Jul 15, 2020
The Biscuit and the Football
Is there anything more quintessentially American that naming the briefcase that the President uses to authorize a nuclear attack, “the football”? The authority to single-handedly decide the fate of the world with a deadly weapon is possibly one of the most important responsibilities to understand about the President’s role. In this episode, we unpack the history of this power, how it came to be, and what it is like to carry the weight of that decision according to Bill Clinton. We further discuss the dangerous Cold War hangovers of sole presidential authority and the failure of the United States to commit to no first use of nuclear weapons with Congressmen and scientific experts.
Jul 01, 2020
Seek Immediate Shelter: Nuclear False Alarms
“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” It was the height of the “fire and fury” nuclear confrontation between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump when Hawaii resident Cynthia Lazaroff got that text message one morning in 2018. Hear her terrifying story as she tries to figure out if the threat is real, and when she concludes that it is, scrambles to find a safe haven. Of course, it was a false alarm; although no major damage occurred, thousands of Hawaiians experienced 40 minutes of terror. But there have been several far more dangerous nuclear false alarms. Host Lisa Perry’s grandfather, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, describes how he was awakened at 2 in the morning by an Air Force officer telling him that his computers were showing 200 Soviet missiles on the way to the US. In that incident, the national security advisor was within minutes of waking the President to advise him on whether to launch a US nuclear response that would have initiated World War III….by mistake! Probably the most dangerous nuclear false alarm occurred in 1983, at the height of Cold War tensions, when President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and a Korean airliner had just been shot down by a Soviet MiG fighter. When the new Soviet early warning system began reporting US missiles heading towards Moscow, a Soviet colonel had to decide whether to follow protocol and report the warning up the chain of command to start the Soviet response. We hear his story as told by British historian Taylor Downing, and Peter Anthony, a Danish filmmaker who met Colonel Petrov and made a documentary about his heroism. Finally, we explore the flaws in our nuclear system that make it almost certain that more such false alarms will occur, and the terrifying reality that we are still at real risk of an accidental nuclear war.
Jul 01, 2020