Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Nuclear Missile Foul-Up

The Washington Post published today a letter to the editor that I wrote in response to Sunday's article, “Missteps in the Bunker,” that highlighted the dangerous breakdown of extensive Air Force command and control protocols for six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles:

The United States has a nuclear arsenal of nearly 10,000 warheads. Russia holds approximately 15,000.

The frightening B-52 incident seriously calls into question the wisdom of keeping thousands of these weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched at a moment's notice.

If six live nuclear missiles could be mistakenly sent across the country, despite elaborate safety protocols, it is not impossible to fathom another nightmare scenario: the accidental or unauthorized launch of submarine or land-based nuclear missiles. Faced with accidental or unauthorized incoming American nuclear missiles, Russia, China or some other nuclear power would have to quickly decide whether to retaliate. What started as a mistake could soon mushroom into a global nuclear exchange.

More than 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States should give itself some breathing room by leading a gloabal effort to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

Policy Fellow
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation


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