What To Do If Nuclear War Seems Imminent

Link post

This doc­u­ment de­scribes pre­cau­tions to take in a sce­nario like the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, where nu­clear war seems plau­si­bly im­mi­nent within the next days or weeks. This is not a guide for what to do if a mis­sile is cur­rently in­bound and will strike within min­utes or hours.


If ten­sions be­tween nu­clear pow­ers are run­ning ex­tremely high, and you are in or near a plau­si­ble tar­get dur­ing a nu­clear war (such as a ma­jor city in the United States or Europe), then I recom­mend evac­u­at­ing to a safer place as soon as pos­si­ble, and stay­ing for days or weeks un­til things have calmed down. New Zealand is an ex­cel­lent place to go.

This plan re­quires that you main­tain a valid pass­port, so that you can leave your coun­try on short no­tice if needed. No other spe­cial prepa­ra­tions are needed.

Proper cal­ibra­tion here should in­clude sub­stan­tial tol­er­ance for false pos­i­tives. For peo­ple with the means available, I think it was cor­rect to evac­u­ate dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, even though it did not end up lead­ing to nu­clear war.

Why New Zealand?

New Zealand is of lit­tle or no strate­gic rele­vance to the cur­rent con­flicts be­tween nu­clear pow­ers. The ex­perts I’ve talked to agree that it’s im­plau­si­ble that any­one would tar­get New Zealand with nu­clear weapons, or that any­one would in­vade New Zealand in the af­ter­math of a nu­clear ex­change.

New Zealand is easy to en­ter. Any­one with no no­table crim­i­nal his­tory and a valid pass­port from most coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US, EU, and Canada, can get a New Zealand tourist visa on ar­rival, with no need for a prior ap­pli­ca­tion, and stay for up to 90 days. (Make sure to get a round-trip ticket, or they might not let you in.)

New Zealand is a ma­jor food ex­porter. If sup­ply chains are dis­rupted, you’ll be close to the source.

New Zealand is very sta­ble in­ter­nally. It has a strong An­glo tra­di­tion of gov­er­nance, rea­son­able na­tional pride, no coups or civil wars within the last cen­tury+, neg­ligible ri­ots or eth­nic strife, etc.

New Zealand is cul­turally fa­mil­iar. It’s an English-speak­ing coun­try that’s firmly within Western Civ­i­liza­tion. As such, most of my au­di­ence will be more com­fortable stay­ing there while wait­ing for ten­sions to calm down, and will stick out less if there’s chaos or ri­ot­ing af­ter a war.

No other coun­try is so good on so many of these di­men­sions.

Backup Plans

If you are un­able to en­ter New Zealand, then there are many other coun­tries which look like good op­tions: many South Amer­i­can coun­tries, Aus­tralia, and Botswana. Par­tial notes here.

If you are un­able to leave your coun­try (this is un­likely if you have a valid pass­port; see be­low), then you should drive to a small town far from any metropo­lis or other plau­si­ble tar­get. (After brief ex­am­i­na­tion, for peo­ple in the Bay Area, I recom­mend the Modoc Plateau in north­east Cal­ifor­nia as a de­fault un­less/​un­til more re­search is done.) Once there, or­ga­nize, ac­quire sup­plies, and find a lo­ca­tion to dig fal­lout shelters. Con­struc­tion is de­scribed in Nu­clear War Sur­vival Skills, the full text of which is on­line. The book claims un­trained civili­ans can build the shelters in 1-2 days.

Other Concerns

How will I know when to evac­u­ate?

This will prob­a­bly be ob­vi­ous. Past diplo­matic crises be­tween nu­clear pow­ers have fre­quently been widely pub­li­cized.

If I de­cide to evac­u­ate, I will send a brief alert to any­one who signs up to re­ceive one via this form.

Won’t all the flights get booked due to mass panic?

Prob­a­bly not, judg­ing by past cases. For ex­am­ple, it looks like there were no large-scale evac­u­a­tions dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, in spite of very alarm­ing head­lines. (It seems to me that most peo­ple have trou­ble think­ing about nu­clear de­struc­tion in a way that per­mits any ac­tion what­so­ever.)

What about nu­clear fal­lout?

Based on a friend’s anal­y­sis, fal­lout risk in New Zealand is low un­less New Zealand it­self is tar­geted, and the ex­perts I’ve talked to agree that this is im­plau­si­ble.

Fal­lout is dan­ger­ous for about two weeks. Nu­clear War Sur­vival Skills (full text) de­scribes how to build shelters, which would be un­com­fortable but effec­tive.