Types of nuclear warfare
The possibility of using nuclear weapons in war is usually divided into two subgroups, each with different effects and potentially fought with different types of nuclear armaments.
The first, a limited nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to a small-scale use of nuclear weapons by two (or more) belligerents. A "limited nuclear war" could include targeting military facilities—either as an attempt to pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a defensive measure, or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces, as an offensive measure. This term could apply to any small-scale use of nuclear weapons that may involve military or civilian targets (or both).
The second, a full-scale nuclear war, could consist of large numbers of nuclear weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including military, economic, and civilian targets. Such an attack would almost certainly destroy the entire economic, social, and military infrastructure of the target nation, and would probably have a devastating effect on Earth's biosphere.
Some Cold War strategists such as Henry Kissinger argued that a limited nuclear war could be possible between two heavily armed superpowers (such as the United States and the Soviet Union). Some predict, however, that a limited war could potentially "escalate" into a full-scale nuclear war. Others have called limited nuclear war "global nuclear holocaust in slow motion", arguing that—once such a war took place—others would be sure to follow over a period of decades, effectively rendering the planet uninhabitable in the same way that a "full-scale nuclear war" between superpowers would, only taking a much longer (and arguably more agonizing) path to the same result.
Even the most optimistic predictionsextinction of the human race, or at least its near extinction, with only a relatively small number of survivors (mainly in remote areas) and a reduced quality of life and life expectancy for centuries afterward. However, such predictions, assuming total war with nuclear arsenals at Cold War highs, have not been without criticism. Such a horrific catastrophe as global nuclear warfare would almost certainly cause permanent damage to most complex life on the planet, its ecosystems, and the global climate. If predictions about the production of a nuclear winter are accurate, it would also change the balance of global power, with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Argentina and Brazil predicted to become world superpowers if the Cold War ever led to a large-scale nuclear attack.
of the effects of a major nuclear exchange foresee the death of many millions of victims within a very short period of time. More pessimistic predictions argue that a full-scale nuclear war could potentially bring about the
A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (c. 15 kiloton each) on major population centers, the researchers predicted fatalities ranging from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country. The authors of the study estimated that as much as five million tons of soot could be released, producing a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia (including most of the grain-growing regions). The cooling would last for years and could be "catastrophic", according to the researchers.
Either a limited or full-scale nuclear exchange could occur during an accidental nuclear war, in which the use of nuclear weapons is triggered unintentionally. Postulated triggers for this scenario have included malfunctioning early warning devices and/or targeting computers, deliberate malfeasance by rogue military commanders, consequences of an accidental straying of warplanes into enemy airspace, reactions to unannounced missile tests during tense diplomatic periods, reactions to military exercises, mistranslated or miscommunicated messages, and others. A number of these scenarios actually occurred during the Cold War, though none resulted in the use of nuclear weapons. Many such scenarios have been depicted in popular culture, such as in the 1962 novel Fail-Safe (released as a film in 1964); the film WarGames, released in 1983; and the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, also released in 1964.