Nuclear Weapons

Photo: Wikimedia

End Hair-Trigger Alert

Accidents happen. They shouldn't lead to nuclear war.


Interactive feature on nuclear close calls


From stone-faced scary to the wildly absurd, our history with nuclear weapons deserves a spin >

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What’s at Stake

Times have changed. The defining force behind US nuclear weapons policy—the Soviet Union—hasn’t existed for over 20 years. In its place are terrorism and other modern conflicts, none of which are solved by atomic bombs and missiles.

Despite this, the United States still keeps hundreds of thermonuclear warheads—each many times more destructive than the bomb at Hiroshima—ready to be launched within minutes. This “hair-trigger alert” is a 1950's-era relic, leftover from the days of high-stakes nuclear brinkmanship.

But hair-trigger alert is a risky policy to inherit. From faulty computer chips to misinterpreted radar signals, human and technical mistakes have caused dozens of safety failures and close calls. An accidental or unauthorized missile launch could kill millions of people—and trigger a Russian launch that could kill many millions more.

Taking US weapons off hair-trigger alert would immediately remove this risk. It would increase the safety of all Americans while maintaining a strong and credible US defense. It would also encourage Russia to take its missiles off hair-trigger alert.

As Commander-in-Chief, President Obama can independently end hair-trigger alert. Like George W. Bush before him, he promised he would do so during his campaign. Military officials, faith leaders, and scientists have called for an end to this absurd and dangerous policy—but it hasn’t happened.

You can help. Remind the president of his promise to end hair-trigger alert and help keep the nation safe!

Solutions for a Safer World

Workers dismantling a nuclear bomb

Photo: NNSA/CC BY-ND (Flickr)

With the right policy shifts on nuclear weapons, terrorism, and related issues, we can ensure that good science helps keep the United States safe.

Remove hair-trigger alert

Cold War-era policies shouldn’t determine how we manage nuclear warheads today—especially when those policies create undue risk.

Learn more about hair-trigger alert >

Change US nuclear weapons policy

Hair-trigger alert isn’t the only outdated policy. Significant arms reductions and a “sole use” policy for nuclear bombs and missiles will significantly enhance US security.

Learn more about nuclear weapons policy >

Prevent nuclear terrorism

Some countries “reprocess” used fuel from nuclear power plants, creating material that’s usable in nuclear devices. Avoiding this unnecessary step both domestically and abroad is crucial for preventing nuclear terrorism.

Learn more about nuclear terrorism >

Re-evaluate missile defense

US missile defense is expensive, ineffective, and may undermine national security. Not expanding missile defense sites in the United States—and demanding better testing and accountability—will improve US security.

Learn more about US missile defense >

Strengthen relations with China

Peaceful relationships depend on good information, not political rhetoric or hyperbole. Clearly communicating US and Chinese intentions is essential for maintaining a cooperative relationship.

Learn more about US-China relations >

Enhance space security

With more satellites in orbit than ever before, avoiding space-based conflicts is a top priority. Smart planning and thoughtful safeguarding—not weaponization—will protect US interests in space.

Learn more about enhancing space security >

Summer Symposium

Attendees at the UCS summer symposium

Photo: UCS/David Wright

Our annual summer symposium brings together young scientists from across the globe to discuss international security and arms control issues. Topics include nuclear arsenals, proliferation, verification, missile defense, and more.

Learn more about our symposium and related lectures on global security >

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