Since last year, Russia’s hostile rhetoric and military actions have brought down its relations with Western countries to the lowest level since the Cold War. In April, Moscow threatened a nuclear war to push NATO out of the Baltics. President Vladimir Putin revealed earlier this year that Russian forces were fully prepared to launch nuclear weapons during its annexation of Crimea. Russia threatened to nuke Denmark’s warships in March when Denmark decided to put radars on some of its warships.

Russia, U.S. Must Take Steps To Avoid 'Accidental' Nuclear War

Russia and NATO both are ‘patently irresponsible’

In response, the U.S. has started aggressively upgrading its nuclear arsenal. NATO has also made it clear that it was planning to give nuclear weapons a greater role in military exercises. Lt. Gen. Arlen Jameson, who served as chief of staff of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in a column published in the U.S. News that Russia’s nuclear rhetoric and NATO’s response both were “patently irresponsible.”

He said misunderstandings and mistakes are more likely to happen during heightened tension. The two countries still have more than 2,000 “ready to fly” nuclear weapons to destroy each other within minutes. It significantly increases the chance of an unauthorized or accidental launch. There may be even a deliberate nuclear response to a false warning.

To launch on warning, a country has only 10 to 15 minutes to decide whether what is reported as an incoming strike is real or not, before retaliating with a counter-strike. History is proof that close calls, mishaps, and miscalculations are quite common.

Russia and the U.S. can learn a thing or two from history

In 1995, the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin had initiated procedures to authorize a nuclear strike after a Russian radar falsely reported the launch of a U.S. submarine-based ballistic missile. Later they discovered that it was a scientific rocket launched to study the aurora borealis. A similar incident happened in 1979 when the U.S. rushed to respond to a Soviet missile attack. And suddenly, Washington discovered that a technician had mistakenly put in a training exercise tape into a computer, which simulated an attack.

What’s more, cyber threats today have increased the possibility of miscalculations, which may trigger an accidental nuclear war. Lt. Gen. Arlen Jameson said an accidental nuclear strike could also be spurred by a misinterpretation of the other side’s intentions. So, he urged both countries to remove all nuclear weapons from the “high alert” status.