The real meaning of Russia’s Apocalyptic Doomsday Machine

ImageOUTSTANDING EVENT: Meet former Soviet rocket expert Colonel Valery Yarynich

The year was 1984, the year when, according to George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name, totalitarianism would be total. The Cold War was at its most ominous.

In Moscow Colonel Valery Yarynich was a member of a Soviet team that had just built what came to be known as Russia’s Apocalyptic Doomsday Machine.

Until then this was merely the fantasy of science fiction writers as depicted in the film Dr Strangelove , but the system, known as ‘The Perimeter’ was designed to guarantee an instant Soviet response to any American attack on the Soviet Union. It was, in fact, the ultimate deterrent.

Colonel Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, is coming to Australia, and will tell the AIIA NSW more about what ASIO would love to have known then – and, more importantly, discuss the lessons for the world of the creation of the Perimeter, or Mertvaya Ruka, which translates as ‘Dead Hand”. After all , “Dead Hand “is still in place in Putin’s Russia.

The Cold War policies of the United States and the Soviet Union that governed the use of their nuclear stockpiles gave rise to a global perception of an impending nuclear holocaust. The central theory underpinning such policies was the notion of deterrence.

Prevention of nuclear war rested on an assumption that should one side initiate a nuclear strike, the other side would have the capability to retaliate, with equal or greater force.  In giving effect to this assumption, both superpowers developed different mechanisms to ensure that in such an event the capability to retaliate would remain.

The AIIA is delighted to welcome Colonel Valery Yarynich who will in the context of the retaliation mechanisms developed by the Soviet Union address issues of nuclear command and control, nuclear crises, nuclear posture, and the continued threat of nuclear weapons today.

Colonel Valery Yarynich is currently based at the Institute of USA and Canada Studies in Moscow. He has worked as an assistant to Alexei Arbatov while Arbatov was deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee on Defense (1996-2001) and as a scientific worker in the Moscow Institute of World Economy and International relations (1992-1995). Colonel’s Yarynich’s 30-year military service, from which he retired in 1992, focused on the command and control systems of the Strategic Rocket Forces and Russian Armed Forces.

He has continued to shed light on the workings of the Perimeter system and is a strong advocate for the de-alerting and abolition of nuclear weapons systems. Colonel Yarynich co-authored an article published in Foreign Affairs, which examined nuclear strike simulations and proved mathematically that de-alerted nuclear weapons are safer than ones that are kept on high alert (September/October edition).

Additional background:

Colonel Yarynich’s interview with Wired magazine.

Author Nicholas Thompson discusses Perimiter on NPR’s All Things Considered.

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