The future use of nuclear weapons could be to save mankind from a run-in with an asteroid, a recent essay claims.
Writing for The Conversation, James A. Green, a professor of public international law at England's University of Reading, argued the weapons of mass destruction that were used to end World War II and which heightened tensions during the Cold War could actually have a life-saving purpose.
Green explained how near large Earth objects (NEOs), things like asteroids and meteoroids, pose a grave threat to the world. The only way to stop them might be to blow them out of the sky before they strike Earth's surface.
The problem, Green wrote, is using nuclear weapons in space is against international law.
"If it came to a choice between legal niceties and saving humanity from extinction, there wouldn't be much of a choice at all: law shouldn't be a global suicide pact," Green wrote. "Indeed, one nuclear power, Russia, has already indicated that — if that asteroid appeared — it likely would opt for 'launch first, litigate second.'
"But ignoring the law is always a dangerous business, and it's not hard to envisage nuclear powers using the vague threat of 'asteroids' as a pretext for developing new warheads, or even for launching nukes into space. And if they do so in unapologetic violation of international law, they'll also circumvent all the checks and balances that the law can provide. That threat is maybe more worrying than the threat of some hypothetical space rock."
Green then proposed to create new legal language that would allow for the use of nuclear weapons if a verified NEO is on course to strike Earth.
A 10-ton meteor entered the Earth's atmosphere over Russia in 2013 and exploded into smaller pieces, causing havoc in the Ural Mountains region of the country. More than 1,000 people were injured.
In recent years, officials worldwide have started drawing up plans — and putting them to use — to keep the Earth safe from NEOs.