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How Norway Nearly Caused a Nuclear War in 1995

Updated on September 9, 2013
the Black Brant
the Black Brant

It was the secret, little known, Norwegian missile crisis of 1995. Yes, 1995, not 1962.

On January 25th, 1995, Norway-US launched a ballistic missile, Black Brant XII, carrying a scientific payload that ascended 900 miles into the stratosphere.The rocket was designed to study the Northern Lights

Russian early warning radar and other detection capabilities, of course, detected it but due to a clerical error either from Norway or within Russia, had not been notified of this missile launch. So, authorities were in shock. To Russian radar, the rocket resembled a U.S. submarine-launched, multiple-stage ballistic missile.

According Russia, they knew of a few U.S. nuclear submarines located in nearby locations. Seeing only a missile ascending, the Russians thought that the US has fired the rocket that carried an electromagnetic pulse weapon which would paralyze Russian communications. This is commonly done before a nuclear weapon is used in a surprise attack.

Even though the Cold War was done, in 1995, there was a much distrust between the countries. The Russian General Staff, thinking the worse,authorized a pre-emptive nuclear strike on American cities and targets, after a brief discussion with Boris Yeltsin, President. After the decision, Yeltsin had only eight minutes to halt Russian nuclear missiles being launched.

According to one Russian officer, "Detecting a ballistic missile which started from the Norwegian territory. What kind of missile is it? What is its target? We were not informed. . . . If it had been launched on an optimal trajectory, its range would have been extended to 3,500 kilometers [2,175 miles], which, in fact, is the distance to Moscow." The Russians also thought that within five minutes, the missile could hit their Kola naval base with nuclear weapons. So, throughout the Russian EW system, non-training alerts went out causing a series of chain reactions.

Only Yeltsin’s refusal to push the button prevented a nuclear war. It was found later, the Norway government had sent Russian authorities an official launch notice in December, 1994. The notification was lost in the bureaucracy of Russia's archaic system.

It was a very near thing.


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    • swordsbane profile image

      William Grant 4 years ago from Wisconsin

      The Cold War was a Really Fun Time in world history, and I sincerely hope nothing like it ever happens again. We came very close to a nuclear exchange several times. The most public; the Cuban Missile Crisis was actually not that close. At the time, Russia had exactly two bombers and many of their nuclear missiles didn't even have nuclear warheads at the time, so their posturing was largely a huge bluff, but since then there have been several "alerts" on both sides that nearly ended in someone pressing the button. The only good thing about that is that we didn't know about them when they happened.

      Interesting tangent..... In the middle of the cold war, a network of satellites was put into orbit to study GBE's (Gamma ray Burst Events). Since the satellites were omni-directional, they could pick up GBE's from Earth too, and the military wanted to be able to pick up nuclear explosions to monitor testing. They picked up what looked like a nuclear explosion in the ocean south of Cape Town, South Africa. To this day, no one knows who did it. No one has come forward to take credit.