Colorado was intentionally designed as part of a “nuclear sponge.” Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nebraska have sites that were designed to be the highest-priority targets of a nuclear attack. According to Insider, “While large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy’s nuclear forces.” Colorado residents should be made aware of this since Russian President Vladimir Putin has alluded to the possible use of nuclear weapons while invading Ukraine. Once the cold war ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the threat of nuclear attack diminished significantly. Now the threat seems a lot more imminent than we would like to imagine.
What is a Nuclear Sponge?
Russia has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, at around 6,000 weapons. The United States has about 5,500. A large number of them come in the form of Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed to silos that straddle Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. The missiles could hit targets thousands of miles away, though many believe military leaders never intended to actually use them.
“Their primary mission is to be destroyed in the ground, along with all the people that live anywhere near them,” wrote Tom Collina of Ploughshares Fund in Defense One. “Their main purpose is to ‘absorb’ a nuclear attack from Russia.” This theory is what has earned the various sites the name: “nuclear sponge.” Colorado is also home to another high-priority nuclear target, North American Aerospace Defense, or NORAD, at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Why Should Colorado Residents be Worried?
Putin’s aggressive behavior is the biggest and most obvious reason why Colorado residents should be concerned. Putin has warned that if the West intervenes in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “The consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.” In order to not have the conflict hit American soil, this warning shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t?” Fiona Hill, the Russia expert and former National Security Council official, said about Putin’s nuclear threat. “So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, ‘No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would.” When asked if Hill believed the United States would be more involved if the threat of nuclear weapons was not so imminent, she said, “we would probably be more involved than we are now, not just us, but NATO and our European allies. This is what Vladimir Putin is banking on. He’s banking on the fact that everyone is showing some restraint in terms of their intervention because of the nuclear weapons. In fact, he’s making the world a much more dangerous place, not just for himself, but more broadly from the point of view of proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Nuclear Sponge Part of Deterrence Plan
Deterrence is the principle that says the presence of nuclear weapons would deter an enemy from attacking with its own nuclear weapons since the enemy could expect retaliation or mutual assured destruction. Deterrence depends on the people in control of the nuclear weapons being in control of themselves, as well as nuclear weapons behaving the way they are meant to. Fiona Hill said, “there’s evident visceral emotion in things that he (Putin) said in the past few weeks justifying the war in Ukraine. The pretext is completely flimsy and almost nonsensical.”
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis has specifically described the silos in the West as a crucial deterrent. “It’s clear they are so buried out in the central U.S. that any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out,” Mattis said in written testimony to the Senate. “In other words, the ICBM force provides a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary. What we’re trying to do is set such a stance with our triad that these weapons must never be used.”
The invasion of Ukraine has opened many Americans up to the same feelings they experienced during the cold war. Many American communities have begun preparing in case a threat arises. Nuclear war is not something either side could win. Every country involved would end up partially destroyed and likely plunge the world into chaos. The nuclear sponge deterrent sites are there in case anything were to happen, hopefully they continue to be untouched and unused for years to come.
Written by: Erinn Malloy