Admiral Lord West, Labour’s former Security Minister at the MOD, is far too complacent in his assertion, without evidence, (Mail, 23 January) that “I am totally confident that Trident missiles work.”
The problem is things can - and do- go wrong with nuclear weapons, in manufacture, transport, and deployment, with potentially catastrophic consequences..
In a chilling essay “World War Three, by Mistake”, published in the New Yorker Magazine on 23 December 2016’(http://www.newyorker.
), the author Eric Schlosser writes chillingly of how such disasters can occur, reporting
“On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.
President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.
As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at NORAD headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.”
Two weeks ago, defence minister Harriet Baldwin told Green MP Caroline Lucas, who chairs the All Party group Parliamentary CND,
"The Third Tier Arrangement Tier arrangement between the UK and the US for responding to an accident in the UK involving US nuclear weapons was last updated on 27 March 2014. The most recent tabletop and field exercises conducted under the auspices of the Arrangement, Exercise DIAMOND DRAGON 2015, were held in Suffolk over the period 30 June to 2 July 2015."
(USA: Nuclear Weapons: Written question – 58420, 10 January)
The minister added: “The dates and locations of the next tabletop and field exercises are yet to be agreed.”
In light of the Trident missile test failure revealed this week, ministers need to organise some further safety test exercises urgently.