Herman Kahn’s Idea of Eight World Wars: World War 3 through 8 Projected Against the Future World of The Movie 2001

A guest article by Joseph Friedlander

Note: This is a longer article that ties together some of the crazy apocalyptic nuclear tropes popular around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and just before and after. That was the period in which much of modern popular science fiction (Including Star Trek and 2001) was incubated,  as well as the arms races that lead to the moon landing and Internet. This also gives detailed Cold War history and nuclear strategy discussed by some of the people of that era who packaged it best. We examine just how far the arms race would have gone if it had not slowed down around 1966.

Actually, I remember a list in a high school history book– The American Pagent– that stated that nine world wars had been fought since 1688.  Titled, the Nine World Wars– that is, nine wars fought world wide– that certainly woke up my younger science fiction oriented self and I think the idea was to wake up the students.  Yep, here is that book many editions later–

The Nine World Wars

(If you are into swashbuckling movies the first two are during the golden age of piracy which is much better watching than travelling through)

The Nine World Wars, my modification (The Ninth World War, aka WWII, used science fictiony atomic weaponry)  Also you can quibble that some ancient conquerors ranged over their then known world– often at far greater logistics penalties than even in World War 2 and remember that until the 1840s there were blank spaces on maps, especially around Antarctica.  This is definitely a modern, Western oriented list.  A Persian or a Mongol or a Macedonian might well have a more inclusive list.

  1. The League of Augsburg/King William’s War 1688-97
  2. War of Spanish Succession/Queen Anne’s War 1701-1713
  3. War of Austrian Succession/ King George’s War 1740-48
  4. Seven Years War/French and Indian War 1756-63
  5. War of American Revolution 1775-1783
  6. Wars of French Revolution/Undeclared French War 1793-1802
  7. Napoleonic Wars/War of 1812  1803-1815
  8. World War One 1914-18 (some fighting in Russia till 1924)
  9. World War 2 1939-45  (If you count preshock and aftershock wars in Manchuria in 1931 and Korea till 1953 a full generation)

 I recall a reprint of an early 60’s DC comics science fiction story about a guy inventing a time machine, tried to go in the future, met cavemen and disappointed assumed he could only go to the past. As he vanished the despairing cavemen commented to themselves how they needed the vanished scientist’s help to rebuild their world after the EIGHTH WORLD WAR nearly destroyed it.  My, how time flies.

Allegedly attributed to Albert Einstein- “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  But here they made it to World War 8 in the DC comics universe.

Freeman Dyson in Weapons and Hope mentioned that a series of ten nuclear wars might well exterminate the human race (being younger at the time, I scoffed at the claim that the then deployed arsenals could literally destroy every last human.  But Dyson thought deeper.
  In Weapons and Hope  http://scilib-physics.narod.ru/Dyson/Weapons_and_Hope/Weapons_Hope.htm  he said:

Although it may be technically impossible for a single nuclear exchange to exterminate the human species, a succession of nuclear wars might well do so…. the possibility that the fighting of nuclear wars might become a habit, that we might find ourselves adapting too well to the fighting of nuclear wars. … to leave our species in some sense incurably insane. Hatred and suffering on an unparalleled scale might lock us into a cyclical pattern of war and rearmament and revenge which would in the end make our planet uninhabitable. As it was said long ago: Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad. Jonathan Schell may be right in saying that a single nuclear war can destroy our species, if we interpret his words as meaning that a single nuclear war could leave us so psychologically scarred that we would be unable afterward to escape from the vicious cycle of hatred and revenge. If a species becomes collectively insane, then it becomes in the Darwinian sense unfit, and in the long run it is unlikely to survive. A sequence of ten nuclear wars, each one more desperate and more insane than the one before, could plausibly result in our final disappearance from this planet.” 

That would be about World War 19 by the American Pagent count.

A  nicely written dark vision of the apocalyptic nuclear memes circulating from 1945-62–don’t read it unless you want to be disturbed…
Alison McQueen
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science

Stanford University

 …common moral convictions as to what a gentleman was and was not
allowed to do in his relations with another gentleman, whether of his own or of a foreign
nation… As sovereigns jostled for power on the international stage, they did so “as competitors
in a game whose rules were accepted by all the other competitors.”… Bismarck, for instance, could never have contemplated the possibility of annihilating Germany’s eastern and western neighbors. The fact that Hitler was able to imagine and deploy such a strategy is a symptom of the dissolution of the supranational
moral consensus that had previously restrained even the most ambitious states. 

…Yet like other frustrated millennialist movements for whom the inevitable transformation
of the world fails to materialize, liberal internationalists seek explanations for the inability of
history to achieve its ends. Faced with uneven evidence of the spread of democracy or the
success of international legal reforms, “the internationalists take the appropriateness of the
devices for granted and blame the facts for the failure. ‘When the facts behave otherwise than
we have predicted,’ they seem to say, ‘too bad for the facts.’

…Given their abhorrence of war, liberal internationalists justify these battles by investing
them with apocalyptic significance. This is what Woodrow Wilson did when he announced to
America and the world in 1918 that the Great War would be “the final and culminating war for
human liberty.” For Morgenthau, these slogans are not propaganda meant to conceal the base
power interests of the United States. Rather, “they are the expression of an eschatological hope
deeply embedded in the very foundations of liberal foreign policy.*…
His remarkable 1961 essay “Death in the Nuclear Age” offers a terrifying account of an apocalypse without redemption or renewal  …
“Patroclus dies to be avenged by Achilles. Hector dies to be mourned by Priam. Yet if Patroclus, Hector, and all those who could remember them were killed simultaneously, what would become of the meaning of Patroclus’ and Hector’s deaths?”

For Wiesel, the two constellations of events are clearly linked:
“for us, time stopped between Auschwitz and Hiroshima.”…
 This connection is by no means
particular to Wiesel. For many, the images and lived experiences of Nazi genocide became a
way to imagine the possibility of nuclear annihilation
In a 1962 piece in The Atlantic Monthly, poet and critic A. Alvarez went further and
hypothesized that our fear of nuclear annihilation was one of the reasons the concentration camps
had captured the popular imagination:
There are no limits to the inflationary spiral of destruction. From 1940 to 1945
nearly 4,500,000 people died in Auschwitz. The same number would die in
minutes if a hydrogen bomb landed on London. The gap is very small between
the comforts of our affluent society and the bare, animal squalor of Birkenau, or
the finality of the Auschwitz crematorium, with its rasping iron trolleys. So,
perhaps the concentration camps have kept a tight hold on our
imaginations…[because] we see them as a small-scale trial run for nuclear war….

Anyhow, about the same time my own (ancient) version of the American Pagent was published, Herman Kahn was in his prime.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Kahn#The_Year_2000  Writing in 1966 for the 1967 book the year 2000, Kahn mentioned that technology had advanced under the forced draft of war as much between 1940 and 1945 as between 1914 and 1939.  What (as Herman Kahn noted) had been a 5-year cycle in revolutionary upgrades in technology (think B-17, which is a 1938 kind of plane,  B-29 and mods; then B-36, B-47, B-52, B-58 and F-4, B-70 and A-12 http://roadrunnersinternationale.com/cia-sr71-a12.pdf) and after McNamara pulled the R and D plug in the early to mid 60s– about when Kahn was writing the book, the 5 year upgrade cycle basically became a 15 year cycle—(think F-15, F-117, F-22).
I cover McNamara’s perhaps inadvertent short circuiting of that supercruise to the future in US defense research here https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2012/05/where-did-future-go-strategy-of.html

other posts of mine that have at least touched on what Kahn wrote (you may have to search for his name) 

Kahn writings at the Hudson Institute http://www.hudson.org/experts/174-herman-kahn/publications

Herman Kahn invented the Escalation Ladder–how high will your enemy choose to climb in starting one of Dyson’s 10 nuclear wars?

Kahn predicted many things about the future– his predictions of nuclear terrorism were not taken seriously then and may yet prove prescient–my highlights in bold–note how they interface with what Dyson said about a cycle of nuclear wars and games playing without end.

Some Problems in the Near Future

Herman Kahn

1. Greater opportunities for blackmail, revenge, terrorism, and other mischief-making. In a world which is armed to its teeth with nuclear weapons, every quarrel or difference of opinion may lead to violence of a kind quite different from what is possible today. Today there are technical problems in rapidly escalating problems of mobilization, transportation, logistics, etc. This time and effort means that there are built-in safety features on the use or threat of violence. In the future these technical constraints may disappear. Even a relatively innocuous quarrel over fishing rights could involve the early use of a nuclear weapon or two as a demonstration (the literal modern equivalent of a shot across the bow). The other troublesome international problems, such as disputed frontiers or irredentist movements, can give rise to local “games of chicken.” These games would build up pressures to threaten all-out war and violence on a scale previously unknown, in order to show resolve. It is not unreasonable to believe that every so often someone would miscalculate in this game of chicken and actually unleash a nuclear war.

2. More widespread capabilities for “local Munichs, Pearl Harbors, and blitzkriegs. I have already mentioned an increased tendency to play the game of chicken and some of the increased risks to the players. An irresponsible, desperate, or determined decision maker might not waste time on the lower rungs of the escalation ladder. He might simply launch a disarming attack on his victim and present the world with a fait accompli. Even if the potential victim has a nuclear capability, it may not have enough second-strike capability to deter such an attack. While the other nations are likely to be indignant, they are not likely to start a nuclear war to avenge an accomplished fact. The attacker might even use the attacked nation as a hostage to prevent effective reprisals.

Sometimes an aggressor may not even need to launch his attack. He might merely launch an ultimatum. In many circumstances this will force the other side to choose between backing down or launching an attack itself. Both courses may be dangerous, but a competent aggressor should be able to make the second look worse; between accommodation and thermonuclear war, most will choose accommodation. Therefore, it should not surprise us if such choices are manufactured. Where opportunities for gain are large in the event of extremely aggressive behavior, some nations will choose to indulge in such behavior. A world armed with nuclear weapons would provide a fertile field for paranoiacs, megalomaniacs, and indeed all kinds of fanatics.

3. Pressure to preempt because of points one and two. To the extent that the aggressive behavior described above might actually occur, one could reasonably expect decision makers, at whom it might be directed, to note that they risk disaster by not acting, and therefore to note the importance of acting first. While few would wish to be either executioner or victim, most would prefer the first role to the second. A world in which “reciprocal fear of surprise attack” (or surprise ultimatum) is ever present is also a world in which there would be little stability. There would also be greater pressure toward psychological and political preemption. In any situation in which an important advantage can be gained by announcing, “One of us has to be responsible, and since it isn’t going to be me, it has to be you,” there is a tendency to use committal strategies, that is, to say it first and firmly.

4. Tendencies to neglect conventional military capabilities. Because of an over-reliance on nuclear capabilities or fear of the other side’s nuclear capabilities, it is likely to be difficult for most nations to remain committed to the notion of limited conventional war. Since nuclear weapons provide “more bang for the buck,” they are unlikely to allocate money, manpower, thought, and other scarce commodities, to conventional or other limited-war situations. This is so notwithstanding what could well be their realization that they might be unwilling to use their nuclear capabilities in a crisis, and so must either wage an inadequate conventional war or issue rather weak threats in that direction. This tendency to neglect conventional military capabilities may well create many kinds of instabilities and opportunities for bluff, counterbluff, or actual attacks that could result in defeat or escalation.

5. Greater danger of inadvertent war. The possibility of inadvertent war would no doubt increase not only because there would be many more weapons and missiles available, but because there will be many more organizations in existence, each with different standards of training, organization, and degrees of responsibility. The possibility of unauthorized behavior, irresponsibility, misunderstanding of orders, or lax discipline inevitably increases. Mistakes can occur and the probability of most mistakes would increase if the military or political organization were weak or slipshod.

To be sure, a mistake need not set off a large-scale chain reaction. In fact, every small war or accident would bring pressures to reform the system, pressures that are likely to spur a relatively peaceful evolution out of the current system of virtual anarchy. Hopefully, nations will refuse to accept a situation in which nuclear accidents actually do occur, and, if at all possible, they will do something to correct a system which makes them likely.

6. Internal political problems (civil war, coup d’etat, irresponsibility, etc.) and external factors (arms race, fear of fear, etc.). Even in a world that is much less dangerous than the one I have been describing, there will be both responsible and irresponsible peace and accommodation movements. If every time a hard decision has to be made, a major portion of the country has to be risked; if every time a country’s diplomat walks into a hostile conference room, every man, woman, and child feels threatened; if every time a nation stands firm against aggressive probes, panic seizes the hearts of many of its citizens, then many citizens will simply adopt an attitude of denial or apathetic fatalism. Others will call for “peace” at any price with such intensity that their governments will have to get out of their way. There may even be some who will say, “Better a fearful end than endless fear.” Responsible political life is likely to suffer disastrously as a result of a combination of apathy, denial, and hysteria. The trouble with “negotiating” in this atmosphere is that, to put it mildly, it is not likely to produce thoughtful, considered suggestions or programs. It will instead invite blackmail and deception by the government which is in better control of its people, and irresponsible rigidity or destabilizing weakness by the government which cannot manipulate its people. The anxieties created by such a perilous world may increase the dangers even more should “peace” movements be accompanied by violence or even large-scale non-violence. Organized political life may be threatened even more gravely. Their threat might activate less pacific groups which in turn might encourage governments to practice a rigid despotism in an attempt to prevent even small military or political groups from obtaining and using weapons either for protest or for revolutionary purposes. And, eventually, even the best of safeguards may fail.

7. Diffusion of nuclear weapons to irresponsible private organizations. To the extent that these advanced weapons or their components are treated as articles of commerce, perhaps for peaceful uses as in the Plowshare program, their cost would be well within the resources available to many large private organizations. In fact, if prices are lowered to $100,000 or so–and this is not all implausible–they are in some sense available to vast numbers of individuals. (Almost any dedicated or fanatic member of the middle class of any advanced nation could save up all or an appreciable fraction of this sum.) Exactly what this could mean is hard to grasp without detailed consideration of various “scenarios,” but few will feel comfortable in a world in which Malayan guerrillas, Cuban rebels, Algerian terrorists, right-wing counter-terrorists, the Puerto Rican Independence party, or even gangsters and atomic extortionists, might obtain access to nuclear weapons or other means of mass destruction. Even if nuclear weapons and their delivery systems do not become articles of commerce, almost all of their components will have peaceable “relatives” and therefore may become generally available. Only a few special parts or assemblies would have to be specially manufactured by organizations or individuals who wish to obtain actual nuclear weapons’ capability.

8. More complicated future problems of control. Once weapons are allowed to become widely diffused, it becomes much more difficult to work out methods of arms control. Moreover, even if some serious crisis leads to a general agreement to prevent the use or threat of nuclear weapons in the future, it is likely to be harder to ratify and implement such an agreement once nuclear weapons have spread. The small powers would then have to be asked to accept a reduction in their current capability rather than simply to abstain from acquiring weapons. Of course, if the control measures were sufficiently complete, it might be that all nations could be treated equally. Even then it would be difficult if not impossible to get all of them to junk their nuclear weapons systems peacefully. As our experience with France has shown, it can even be quite difficult to induce a nation to acquiesce in controls that would prevent its acquisition of such systems and it will be even harder to find, or even estimate, the size of hidden stocks which would be a nucleus around which future arms control violators could base their conspiracy.

9. Intensified agent-provocateur problems. One thing which restrains the behavior of “respectable” large nations is that they do not wish to acquire a reputation for being blatantly aggressive. Therefore, when a nation wants to be aggressive it usually needs an excuse to make its aggression seem defensive or, at least, very special and limited. In the absence of a special situation, such as Berlin, it may become more difficult to bring about such “justifiable” aggression. It is, after all, almost impossible for a large power to make a small power look so provocative as to justify an attack. When the small nations have acquired nuclear weapons, however, not only does the danger of accidental incidents go up sharply but the dangers of “arranged accidents” also increase. Thus it becomes easier for the large power to arrange for, or to counterfeit, the firing of a nuclear missile by the small power. This incident then could be used to justify all kinds of ultimatums, or actual reprisals, up to and including the forceable disarming of the small power. If the arranged incident has been successfully and imaginatively staged, many will applaud the punishment of the small power which had shown itself to be so dangerously irresponsible.

10. Catalytic and Anonymous War. The widespread diffusion of nuclear weapons would make many nations able, and in some cases also create the pressure, to aggravate an on-going crisis, or even touch off a war between two other powers for purposes of their own. Here again the situation is so complicated that one must construct and consider many scenarios to get a feeling for the many possibilities. However, even without systematic exploration one can list dangerous possibilities for anonymous mischief-making by third parties who control nuclear weapons. If a nation finds two of its cities destroyed by missiles from Polaris type submarines, how is it to react? Presumably it would be impossible to tell which of several nations was responsible. Moreover if any one nation was the obvious candidate, it might make it all the less dangerous for a third power to launch its attack. When the possible development of suitcase bombs is considered it becomes clear how private groups might foment a war between two nations.

Fortunately, although we may not have unlimited time before our system reaches the breaking point, we may have thirty or forty years.

Friedlander here again. Note–Kahn’s 40 years expired in around 2002. I have quoted at length to point out that no serious answers have been given to any of Kahn’s concerns. Hope you’re happy! (The best that has been done is to keep nuclear materials as confined as possible from free availability.  But the impression that I am getting from my reading is that is a slow fight against a rising tide.  The invention of pure fusion weapons would invalidate it overnight for example.)

Some references on this–
discussion of 4th generation weapons FGNW…  …. nuclear shaped charges 15 kg of tritium in an arsenal equivalent to one million 1-ton-FGNWs, the move towards
“virtual nuclear weapons” and “virtual nuclear weapon States”  as well
as to “factory deterrence” “technical deterrence,” or “deterrence by competence”
…FGNWs do not need to be actually built and deployed
before that can play significant strategic and political roles.  

https://cryptome.org/2014/06/wmd-4th-gen-quest.pdfThe physical principles of
thermonuclear explosives, inertial
confinement fusion, and the quest for
fourth generation nuclear weapons
Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni  

Note from Friedlander– This is a good as something Winterberg would write. Enjoy. 

any country with access to tritium and high-power x-ray imaging technology could
easily develop and weaponize simple boosted fission explosives without nuclear
testing….with boosting — the problem of the preinitiation of the
chain reaction, which creates difficulties in making a non-boosted fission bomb
[66, 69], is no longer a serious problem….Boosting can also be used to make efficient and reliable fission weapons
in which reactor grade plutonium is used instead of weapons grade plutonium.
….It is therefore clear that ICF experiments will contribute very significantly
to progress in weapons physics…A
modern, sophisticated proliferator with access to ICF computer codes
and today’s computer workstations would have far more tools for d
a secondary than the U.S., U.K. or USSR had in the 1950s
or France and China in the 1960s…, in subcritical burn, the
quality of the fissile material is of little importance: reactor-grade plutonium is
just as good as weapons-grade plutonium
….many technologically sophisticated countries (and, in particular, 
Germany, India, Israel, Japan, and Pakistan which have highly developed nuclear
infrastructures) are today in a good position to make not only atomic bombs but
also hydrogen bombs…currently preferred technique is to use magnetic compression to increase the
density of the fissile material (which may consist of low-quality, reactor-grade
plutonium) and a very small amount of antimatter to initiate the subcritical burn…..Fourth generation nuclear weapons based on such processes, and with yields
of 1 to 10 tons equivalents of TNT, may weigh less than a few kilograms. 

Friedlander here again,  My take on nuclear arms control is that after the Cuban Missile Crisis perhaps by silent agreement, perhaps not, there was formed what I have termed the “1964 Consensus”.  There is a political and a technical side to this but essentially it was an attempt to push the Non Proliferation Treaty, limit the spread of nuclear capability in countries and industries, to embrace the minimalist view of radiation as the mainstream theory, and so on. This worked for half a century but I don’t see it working for another half century. I don’t think they have thought the endgame through, or perhaps the scientists involved did not communicate their vision so that it stuck to the next generations of their successors.  This may be related to Bruce Charlton’s hypothesis on the slow death of science after World War 2– Whatever the true explanation– we may be looking forward to interesting times…

We now return to the title concept of Kahn: Herman Kahn’s Idea of Eight World Wars: World War 3 through 8.
To be clear– this is an illustrative exercise only to give the idea of military industrial revolutions at 5 year intervals– not to say the world could fight and survive 6 world wars in 30 years. (Freeman Dyson in fact wrote about the human race being basically exterminated if there were about ten such wars– see above.)

 The idea would be that IF war came in year X this is the tech level that would be seen. in that war. And if we can imagine no easing of the arms race or the strategy of technology on the USA side from 1966 or so on, but an unending series of new innovations, we basically are in the 2001 movie tech timeline of which I have written in these two posts.. https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2012/05/where-did-future-go-strategy-of.html

Here is my Herman Kahn like list (using some of his inputs) to give a feel for the eras.

World War 0: 1889  Civil war tech, railroad mobilizations and logistics, Gatling guns, observation balloons, ironclads, chlorine cannonballs (the tech existed) steam shovels for excavations, etc. And although set in 1870, the spy tech of the TV show Wild Wild West (Pullman car, ingenious gadgets) would be at home right here.   Jules Verne like DARPA of that era if any needed– developing electric submarines for the next war—Remember that Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse, all the corporate names are MEN, alive and kicking, and available for drafting.

World War 1: 1914-18 Chemical weapons, flamethrowers, rudimentary submarines, biplanes, Zeppelin bombers, tanks,  vast mine barrages (Adriatic) huge continental trench systems. Modern rifles, naval guns.Diving suits.Biplane Aircraft carriers, dazzle camouflage

World War 2: 1939-45  Biological weapons (https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/war-in-the-east/ ) fission weapons, (on a war basis at the end of 1945 with unlimited budget and manpower 130 a year could have been made) transoceanic submarine aircraft carriers, pressurized bombers, jet fighters, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, pressure suits, frogmen  B-17 becomes B-29.  (Note that the B-39 and B-44 were attempts to get the B-29 really right, finally reaching success in the B-50 which was widely deployed around 1950)

Biowar links

World War 3: 1951-– B-36s with jet augmentation, JATO, B-47 all jet bombers, F-86, snorkel submarines. Soper Oralloy 500 kiloton fission bomb (typical stockpile bomb 30-80 kilotons with boosting)
World War 4:  1956: Atomic hunter killer submarines, supersonic Century series fighters,   B52, deliverable  3.8-15 megaton H-Bombs, several thousand nuclear warheads a year can be made.
World War 5:   1961: Polaris Submarines B58 operational Atlas Titan I Hound Dog cruise missiles, 24 megaton bomb stockpiled, 100 megaton bomb possible,  (4 x 24 megaton B-41s within a B-52 may have been possible but was not routinely done) 7000 nuclear warheads a year can be made. Tactical aircraft delivered megaton weapons practical.  20000 plus warheads in US Arsenal.
World War 6:   1966: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STRAT-X  Polaris A-2 http://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/slbm/a-2.htm Sr 71, A12 interceptor with nuclear air to air Falcon missiles, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_YF-12 Titan 2–9 megaton ICBM (35 megaton new same weight warhead possible)  Minuteman 2, Orion Test flight https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAM-87_Skybolt gigaton bomb possible B58 C should give B-70 like performance (cancelled in real world) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_B-58_Hustler#Variants  31255 nuclear warheads in US arsenal.
World War 7:    1971: Poseidon Submarines. http://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/slbm/c-3.htm Rail mobile Minuteman 2 and 3  B 70 Saturn V Blue Gemini, MOL. Orion operational  Orbiting H-Bombs possible   Soviet Fractional Orbit Bombardment System operational.
World War 8:    1976: Air Launched Minuteman, Hard Mobile Launcher that was designed to carry the MGM-134 Midgetman missile, Saturn 8 C-8, Flyback Saturn V booster,  Big Orion operational (10000 tons to escape, orbiting gigaton constellations possible) A-10, F-15, Spartan, Sprint
World War 9:     1981: Trident Submarines, Peacekeeper MX (ultimate utilization of Minuteman silo system) Sea Dragon 500 tons to orbit  Space Shuttle for manned recon cancelled Big Orion tugged asteroid for 10000 megaton strike on Western Russia possible to avoid fallout of giant Soviet 10 gigaton warheads
World War 10:    1986  Aurora like cryogenic LNG oxygen fueled mile a second superbomber. Hyper-sonic launch systems  Mobile MX racetrack covering much of Nevada and Utah.  Orion III spaceplane operational.
from  https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/02/heinlein-style-spaceflight-with.html

2001 (the movie) scale lunar development could be modeled as follows, say each Pan Am shuttle brings up 30 tons per flight. 

A squadron of 30 such, flying once a day. (Distributed around the world because of need to match Station V’s orbit) It takes a year or so to lift the stuff for Station V, (~300,000 tons) and after that, in the next decade 10 times as much mass–3 million tons– of which 1 million tons is landed on the Moon

World War 11:     1991: Space Station V Operational   Space Station V!

Soviet Venus seismic H bomb calibration  tests http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/lofiversion/index.php/t2268.html
2001 style orbiting H bomb dispensers http://www.orbiterwiki.org/wiki/World_of_2001
All the major space powers can launch their nuclear weapons into orbit now.
Right at the beginning of this clip from 2001

in the first minute are three of the orbiting weapons stations.  Typical configuration is probably 16, 24, 48, 96 or 192 warheads (remember it need not be more than a few percent as massive as a small missile sub since you don’t need the missile, just the RV.)
Also many launch failure modes are gone because you have already passed all the bad weather in the atmosphere, Max Q on the way up, all the pyrotechnic events– you are already in orbit. You need a good deorbit burn and penetration aids, and that is it.

The disadvantage of orbiting nuclear weapons is that their location is known unless you constantly change your orbit by high exhaust velocity plasma drive maneuvers. (which in a war time configuration would probably be the case on heightened alert)   They are also vulnerable to surprise attack from the ground (V2s can hit the lower stations, IRBMs the higher ones)
Clarke wrote in a short story of the early 1960s projecting that Britain and France (and presumably the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Canada, India, Japan, China, and Sweden) would have low gigaton range arsenals–(Like the Soviet Union in 1960) — say 1000 1 megaton warheads — 
and the two super powers, the US and USSR would have teraton range arsenals (equivalent of  10,000 100 megaton warheads) although many configurations are possible, some with hundreds of thousands of operational warheads of every description.  Many scholars have pointed out that a million tactical warheads might be needed in certain contexts in very involved tactical land warfare in Eurasia. 

(In the context of 2001 the Chinese Empire is something like a third of humanity possibly having absorbed India, I am not clear if it is a third nuclear superpower in the book but it absolutely is something that both the US and USSR together are allying against so that argues yes they are a superpower even in the 2001 movie universe.) 

Typical configuration then for medium powers like the UK FRG France and Japan would be say 10-100 orbiting small military satellites with a minimum 2 man crew (more likely 3 men) because of the ‘No Lone Zone’ rule.  So Skylab’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab mass of 70 tons or so times 10. Even 200 warheads might weigh as little as 300 tons with needed equipment. Ten such satellites would be a minimum creditable deterrent,  If say most of the 2 superpower arsenals in gigatonnage are in large Orion orbited deep space 10,000 megaton weapons and 10% are in ‘traditional’ megaton sized warheads that is 1000 satellites with 100 warheads each, in a random orbit passing overhead every 10 minutes or so. 

The idea for a medium power is to get the warheads out of crowded metropolitan bases to eliminate Soviet or Chinese first strike concerns and into space.  The second idea is if tactical fighting erupts to be able to strike from space in battlefield contexts in support of their own ground units. If the Federal Republic of Germany is invaded by Warsaw Pact forces and NATO is unsupporting, they can creditably drop megaton devices on Red Army positions in Eastern Europe. Japan can deter an amphibious Chinese invasion the same way, regardless of lack of naval strength.

For a major power wanting to take out an entire enemy country the strategy is different.
Mean time to deorbit a space warhead can be as little as 30 seconds if exactly in line with the target; maximum depends on the orbit. A Molniya like orbit  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molniya_orbit might be used for huge gigaton mines, (orbit shown below)  and of the teraton in the USSR arsenal 90% might be 90 10,000 megaton bombs which if detonated at low point could set on fire single targets the size of UK/Ireland, New England, Bangladesh, Taiwan, and so on.

All this leads to the development of space rendezvous interceptors and boarding tactics akin to the early days of sea battles. More than one crew is immolated in atomic fires when ignoring a no-board warning of an unmanned station.  Fortunately this has so far only happened over remote ocean, but a number of surface ships have also fallen victim to the heat pulse.

Figure 1: The Molniya orbit. Usually the period from perigee +2 hours to perigee +10 hours is used to transmit to the northern hemisphere

Groundtrack of Molniya orbit. In the operational part of the orbit from apogee −3 hours to apogee +3 hours the satellite is north of 55.5° N (latitude of for example central Scotland,Moscow and southern part of Hudson Bay)

World War 12:      1996: Clavius Moonbase https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clavius_Base operational
An Aries Ib in circumlunar orbit

most detailed rendering of Clavius Base ever seen

Because of the ease of minor power access raids intercepting unmanned low orbit platforms,
US-USSR Moonbase Race in progress, Russians match Clavius with base called Moonbase Alfa
Lunar missile  bases being set up with tens of thousands of Advanced Scuds  and cheap mass produced 40 year old tech developments of the SS-3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-3_Shyster for 3-5 day assured strike to Earth in case of vulnerability of orbiting Soviet deterrents

World War 13:      2001: Weird looking Star Child http://2001.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Child
 alien fetus derived from former astronaut Dave Bowman detonates all orbiting nuclear weapons at once “bringing a false dawn to half the world”  ending the vital arms race production which keeps the world from economic depression.  Great Depression II begins, 7 years before 2008 in the alternate timeline. 

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