Unlike the combined U.S. and Canadian NORAD early-warning equipment, the Russian system is decaying rapidly, its early-warning satellites are almost non-functional and it now relies on a relatively primitive over-the-horizon radar to warn it of an imminent secret first-strike attack from the United States.
The Russian military and political leaders are suitably paranoid about this extraordinary post-Cold-War situation. So much so that in January 1995 president Boris Yeltsin came to within 10 seconds of launching his nuclear armada when the launch of a Norwegian weather satellite was misinterpreted in Moscow as a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear attack.
Most towns and cities with populations over 50,000 on the North American continent are targeted with at least one hydrogen bomb. Just 1,000 bombs exploding on 100 cities could induce nuclear winter and the end of most life on earth. (There are fewer than 300 major cities in the Northern hemisphere.)
A U.S. Foreign Military Studies Office report states that New York City is the single most important target in the Atlantic region after major military installations. A U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment report estimated that Soviet nuclear war plans had two one-megaton bombs aimed at each of three airports that serve New York, one aimed at each of the major bridges, two at Wall Street and two at each of four oil refineries. The major rail centers and power stations were also targeted, along with the port facilities.
[Excerpted from an article by Helen Caldicott, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute]