Catalyst Spring 2015

[FIRST PRINCIPLES]

Let’s Not Roll the Dice with Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons launch panel

Photo: Jeff Keyzer/Flickr

UCS President Ken KimmellAs highlighted in this issue of Catalyst, UCS has launched a campaign to take U.S. land-based nuclear missiles off “hair-trigger” alert status—some 450 of them. This defense posture, which allows missiles to be launched within minutes, was intended to foil and therefore deter a feared “first strike” from the former Soviet Union, because our missiles would leave their silos before Soviet missiles could arrive to destroy them. It carries significant risk, however, because it enables nuclear weapons to be fired as a result of a rushed decision-making process and potentially erroneous warning data. 

The risk posed by this Cold War relic has no justification now and actually makes us less safe. Even if one were to ignore the fact that the Russians have no reason to fire nuclear weapons at us, we have about 1,000 nuclear warheads in hidden submarines that are a more effective retaliatory force against anyone who might contemplate using nuclear weapons against us.

So why haven’t we fixed this? Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both called for taking our missiles off hair-trigger alert, and a who’s who of military experts has joined them. It seems that it hasn’t happened because the issue has not been made a high enough priority.

We can change that. UCS is now gathering allies from faith, public health, environmental, and other communities to present the facts on this issue and demand the elimination of this unnecessary and scary risk.

Ken Kimmell is president of UCS.