Missile launch officers. (Source: Dept. of Defense)


Topics: Existentialism, Politics


I still have a faded green book given in my ELEMENTARY school classroom on "how-to survive a nuclear attack." The reason Putin gives excitement now is many in positions of influence are old enough to recall the old "duck-and-cover" days (which did absolutely NOTHING towards survival) and in the Cold War which side the former KGB master spy was on and rooting for.

This article by the Union of Concerned Scientists intrigued me. I hope it does you, and gives you pause as you read this excerpt on your laptop or mobile device. For more details, click on the link provided below.

We’ve posted previously about the dangers of the US policy of keeping nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert so that they can be launched quickly in response to warning of attack. There is a surprisingly long list of past incidents in which human and technical errors have led to false warning of attack in both the both US and Soviet Union/Russia—increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war.

The main reason administration officials give for keeping missiles on alert is the “re-alerting race” and crisis instability. The argument is that if the United States takes its missiles off hair-trigger alert and a crisis starts to brew, it would want to put them back on alert so they would not be vulnerable to an attack. And the act of putting them back on alert—“re-alerting”—could exacerbate the crisis and lead Russia to assume the United States was readying to launch an attack. If Russia had de-alerted its missiles, it would then re-alert them, further exacerbating the crisis. Both countries could have an incentive to act quickly, leading to instability.

This argument gets repeated so often that people assume it’s simply true.

However, the fallacy of this argument is that there is no good reason for the US to re-alert its ICBMs in a crisis. They are not needed for deterrence since, as noted above, deterrence is provided by the submarine force. Moreover, historical incidents have shown that having missiles on alert during a crisis increases the risk of a mistaken launch due to false or ambiguous warning. So having ICBMs on alert in a crisis increases the risk without providing a benefit.

Union of Concerned Scientists:
Nuclear Weapons and the Myth of the “Re-Alerting Race”
David Wright, Physicist and Co-Director, Global Security

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