Should the DEFCON level have been raised during the recent tension between Russia and Ukraine?

Should the DEFCON level have been raised during the recent tension between Russia and Ukraine?

  • Yes - DEFCON underreacted to the tensions in the area.

    Votes: 5 25.0%
  • No - The situation was not as bad as people made it out to be.

    Votes: 14 70.0%
  • Don't know

    Votes: 1 5.0%

  • Total voters


Active member
Every conflict is unique and there are multiple factors in determining how high the threshold for use of nuclear weapons is in each case. A conventional war started by India/Pakistan? The threshold is much lower to go nuclear than it is for NATO/Russia/China and so we would probably be quicker on the draw. In that specific instance, the rationality of the leadership on both sides and the many decades that conflict has simmered on slow boil would be big factors.

With this last instance of NATO/Russia, we made the determination very early that Russia probably only had designs on the SE corner of Ukraine, and a full-scale invasion of Ukraine or further into the EU was not likely. Our assessment was - and still is - that as long as the US and NATO stay out of that conflict, it will remain conventional and localized to that small region. If that condition were to change, we would immediately reassess the situation and adjust the DEFCON level accordingly.

As for the Middle East, those conflicts have been raging for longer than America has been a country, so we are hardly "starting" wars over there. Are we making things worse? Yes, probably. But the history of that region has been bloody for thousands of years. The creation of the State of Israel after World War 2 did not help matters, but that was a UN decision, not solely America. With Israel being the only nuclear superpower in that region, the risk of a nuclear war is low, with the exception of Iran. The stability of Iran's leadership and the possibility that they might have secretly acquired nuclear weapons makes them a wild card.

The following is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization: It is only a matter of time before a nuclear weapon is detonated by a hostile entity, but it most likely won't be one nation state attacking another nation state. Anybody with an Internet connection and access to the proper materials can construct a very crude single-stage low-yield nuclear device that could fit in the back of a cargo van. I'm honestly surprised it hasn't happened yet. I could easily build one in my garage and the most difficult part of the entire process would not be the construction of the device, but obtaining enough properly refined Uranium to achieve a nuclear detonation.

Indianapolis has twice been used for drills involving the detonation of a terrorist-built nuclear weapon; once in 1986, and again in 2007. I was privy to some of the information from the one in 2007, involving a police pursuit of a van suspected to be carrying a nuclear device, with the terrorist detonating the weapon on the NE side of Indianapolis near I-465 and I-69 and all the resulting blast and fallout effects. DHS considers it to be such a likely threat that it is labeled "National Response Scenario Number One" in the National Response Framework. Number 1 out of 15 most likely national emergency scenarios to impact the United States. That alone should tell you something.

So while our DEFCON levels are useful to civilians to gauge the seriousness of any conflict around the world, it is basically useless against a terrorist nuclear attack because it will happen with no warning whatsoever, probably while we are at DEFCON 5. We would go to DEFCON 1 immediately, of course, but it would be too late for the people in the targeted city or cities. This is why we repeatedly tell people that NOW is the time to prepare for a nuclear attack. Not tomorrow, not when we reach DEFCON 2, but NOW. If you wait for a warning from us to prepare, it will be too late.
Thanks for the better insight. I assume you are right with the difrences in each conflict. I can understand the point on you side, that you dont want to overreact for example NK, this dude told us every week that he will nuke some places.
Would be stupid to change from green to blue every few days because of some (mostly) non-credible threads.

My thought, though, was that in this specific event with all the things that were going on over there, it was at least somewhat worriesome. Also because Ukraine also made threads on advancing in nuclears.
War is not entirely predictable, especially when it is between nuclear powers. In this scenario (my oppinion) it wouldnt have hurt to enforce to Blue.


Deputy Director
Staff member
War is not entirely predictable, especially when it is between nuclear powers. In this scenario (my oppinion) it wouldnt have hurt to enforce to Blue.
Going to Blue for this particular situation was discussed and considered. I was in favor of it. However, collectively, we just didn't think we were quite there yet.