Stanislav Petrov

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Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov
Born c. 1939 (age 73–74)
Known for 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident
Military career
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Air Defence Forces
Rank Lieutenant Colonel

Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (Russian: Станисла́в Евгра́фович Петро́в; born c. 1939) is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces. On September 26, 1983, he was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported a missile being launched from the United States. Petrov judged that the report was a false alarm.[1] This decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies, which could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war. Investigation later confirmed that the satellite warning system had malfunctioned.[2]



[edit] The incident

There are questions over the part Petrov's decision played in preventing nuclear war, because, according to the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation, nuclear retaliation is based on multiple sources that confirm an actual attack.[3] The incident, however, exposed a serious flaw in the Soviet early warning system. Petrov asserts that he was neither rewarded nor punished for his actions.[4]

Had Petrov reported incoming American missiles, his superiors might have launched an assault against the United States, precipitating a corresponding nuclear response from the United States. Petrov declared the system's indications a false alarm. Later, it was apparent that he was right: no missiles were approaching and the computer detection system was malfunctioning. It was subsequently determined that the false alarms had been created by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites' Molniya orbits, an error later corrected by cross-referencing a geostationary satellite.[5]

Petrov later indicated the influences in this decision included: that he was informed a U.S. strike would be all-out, so five missiles seemed an illogical start;[1] that the launch detection system was new and, in his view, not yet wholly trustworthy; and that ground radars failed to pick up corroborative evidence, even after minutes of delay.[6]

Petrov underwent intense questioning by his superiors about his judgement. Initially, he was praised for his decision.[1] General Yury Votintsev, then commander of the Soviet Air Defense's Missile Defense Units, who was the first to hear Petrov's report of the incident (and the first to reveal it to the public in the 1990s), states that Petrov's "correct actions" were "duly noted."[1] Petrov himself states he was initially praised by Votintsev and was promised a reward,[1][7] but recalls that he was also reprimanded for improper filing of paperwork with the pretext he had not described the incident in the military diary.[7][8]

He received no reward. According to Petrov, this was because the incident and other bugs that were found in the missile detection system embarrassed his superiors and the influential scientists who were responsible for the system, so that if he had been officially rewarded, they would have had to have been punished.[1][4][7][8] He was reassigned to a less sensitive post,[8] took early retirement (although he emphasizes that he was not "forced out" of the army, as the case is presented by some Western sources),[7] and suffered a nervous breakdown.[8] Petrov is now a pensioner, spending his retirement in the town of Fryazino, Russia.[9]

In a later interview he stated, that the famous red button has never worked, as military psychologists did not want to put the decision about a war into the hands of one single person.[10]

The incident involving Petrov became known publicly in the 1990s following the publication of General Votintsev's memoirs. Widespread media reports since then have increased public awareness of Petrov's actions.

There is occasionally some confusion as to precisely what Petrov's military role was in this incident. Petrov, as an individual, was not in a position where he could have single-handedly launched any of the Soviet missile arsenal. Instead Petrov's sole duty was to monitor satellite surveillance equipment and report missile attack warnings up the chain of command where, ultimately, the top Soviet leadership would have decided whether to launch a "retaliatory" attack against the West. Whether to launch an attack was not Petrov's decision to make. His role, however, was crucial in the process of making that decision.[11] According to Bruce Blair, a Cold War nuclear strategies expert and nuclear disarmament advocate, formerly with the Center for Defense Information, "The top leadership, given only a couple of minutes to decide, told that an attack had been launched, would make a decision to retaliate."[12]

[edit] Awards, commendations

For his actions in averting a potential nuclear war in 1983, Petrov was awarded the Dresden Preis 2013 (Dresden Prize) in Dresden, Germany, on February 17, 2013. The award included 25,000 euro ($32,000). On February 24, 2012, he was honored with the 2011 German Media Award. That award was presented to him during a ceremony in Baden Baden, Germany.[13]

On May 21, 2004, the San Francisco-based Association of World Citizens gave Petrov its World Citizen Award along with a trophy and $1000 "in recognition of the part he played in averting a catastrophe."[13]

In January 2006, Petrov traveled to the United States where he was honored in a meeting at the United Nations in New York City. There the Association of World Citizens presented Petrov with a second special World Citizen Award.[14] The following day, Petrov met with American journalist Walter Cronkite at his CBS office in New York City. That interview, in addition to other highlights of Petrov's trip to the United States, is included in the documentary film The Man Who Saved the World.[13][15]

On the same day that Petrov was honored at the United Nations in New York City, the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations issued a press release contending that a single individual would be incapable of starting or preventing a nuclear war, stating in part: "Under no circumstances a decision to use nuclear weapons could be made or even considered in the Soviet Union (Russia) or in the United States on the basis of data from a single source or a system. For this to happen, a confirmation is necessary from several systems: ground-based radars, early warning satellites, intelligence reports, etc."[3] However, Blair says that at that time the U.S.–Soviet relationship "had deteriorated to the point where the Soviet Union as a system — not just the Kremlin, not just Andropov, not just the KGB — but as a system, was geared to expect an attack and to retaliate very quickly to it. It was on hair-trigger alert. It was very nervous and prone to mistakes and accidents... The false alarm that happened on Petrov’s watch could not have come at a more dangerous, intense phase in U.S.–Soviet relations."[11] At that time, according to Oleg D. Kalugin, a former KGB chief of foreign counterintelligence, “The danger was in the Soviet leadership thinking, ‘The Americans may attack, so we better attack first.’”[16]

[edit] Heroism

Petrov has said he does not regard himself as a hero for what he did that day. In an interview for the documentary film The Red Button and the Man Who Saved the World,[17] Petrov says, "All that happened didn't matter to me — it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that's all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. 'So what did you do?' she asked me. 'I did nothing.'"

[edit] Quotes from Stanislav Petrov

“I had obviously never dreamt that I would ever face that situation. It was the first and, as far as I know, also the last time that such a thing had happened, except for simulated practice scenarios. In a general way I had wondered if the Americans would actually attack us. We were trained by the military system to believe that the Americans easily might decide to do that. We had no way of judging by ourselves. We learned written English, but not the spoken language, because we were not supposed to be able to speak to anyone from the West. As a military man I never traveled outside the country; I did not even have a passport. The Cold War was ice cold in 1983.”[18]

“You can’t possibly analyze things properly within a couple of minutes. All you can rely on is your intuition. I had two arguments to fall back on. First, missile attacks do not start from just one base. Second, the computer is, by definition, brainless. There are lots of things it can mistake for a missile launch.”[18]

“I reported it was a false alarm, despite what the screens were showing. I just believed in my judgment and experience, and I trusted those around me.”[18]

“It is nice of them to consider me a hero. I don’t know that I am. Since I am the only one in this country who has found himself in this situation, it is difficult to know if others would have acted differently.”[18]

“I wish I could say there is no chance of an accidental nuclear launch today. But when we deal with space — when we play God — who knows what will be the next surprise?”[18]

[edit] See also

  • Vasiliy Arkhipov, for another nuclear war-averting incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Able Archer 83 - NATO military exercise involving nuclear weapons that formed the backdrop for the nuclear war scare involving Petrov in November 1983
  • Norwegian rocket incident
  • The five NORAD incidents of 1979/1980
  • World War III - Situations resulting in close encounters of a third world war
  • WarGames, a fictional Hollywood movie about a similar incident
  • The Day After, a fictional American television film about a war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a full-scale nuclear exchange. Aired on ABC-TV less than two months after Petrov's false alarm, though few knew of the incident at the time.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e f "The Man Who Saved the World Finally Recognized". Association of World Citizens. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  2. ^ Long, Tony (September 26, 2007). "The Man Who Saved the World by Doing ... Nothing". Wired. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Press Release. "Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations".
  4. ^ a b В Нью-Йорке россиянина наградили за спасение мира. (in Russian)
  5. ^ Molniya orbit
  6. ^ David Hoffman (February 10, 1999). "I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut". Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b c d Тот, который не нажал. Moskovskiye Novosti (in Russian)
  8. ^ a b c d BBC TV Interview, BBC Moscow correspondent Allan Little, October 1998
  9. ^ Ian Thomas (October 7, 1998). "Stan the Man". Daily Mail.
  10. ^ "Der rote Knopf hat nie funktioniert". FAZ. February 18, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Important Insight". Bright Star Sound.
  12. ^ "War Games". Burrelle's Information Services (Dateline NBC), November 12, 2000.
  13. ^ a b c "Stanislav Petrov Averts a Worldwide Nuclear War". Bright Star Sound.
  14. ^ "Russian Colonel Who Averted Nuclear War Receives World Citizen Award". (Moscow News). January 20, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2006.
  15. ^ "Statement Film website". Statement Film ApS.
  16. ^ "The Nuclear War that Almost Happened in 1983". Baltimore Sun.
  17. ^ Ewa Pieta. "The Red Button & the Man Who Saved the World" (Flash). Retrieved September 27, 2006.
  18. ^ a b c d e "Important Insight". Bright Star Sound.

[edit] External links