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.