Sunday, 25 December 2016

Trumped by nuclear weapons risks

Letter sent to the Times:

Tim Montgomerie makes the argument that President-elect Trump is right to spend $50 billion of US taxpayers’ money to upgrade the US nuclear weapons triad, mainly to demonstrate to potential foes ( he cites China and Russia) they cannot overcome US defense systems.(“Trump is right to invest billions in US arsenal,” Thunderer,  Dec 24;

It is a perverse argument, which will only set off another exorbitantly expensive atomic arms race. Until the US abides by the same treaty requirements as are upon Russia, the US , China and France,  under the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, to negotiate nuclear disarmament “ in good faith at an early date, what is needed is upgrades in the safety systems of nuclear weapons to diminish the chance of accidental nuclear war.

In a chilling extended essay in the New Yorker magazine edition of 23 December (“World War Three, by Mistake,” (  author  Eric Schlosser - the author of “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013),” from 2013demonstrates with frightening historic examples the vulnerability of the existing nuclear command-and-control system, which have made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.

To cite just one, dating from June 3, 1980 Schlosser describes how  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.”

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.

Schlosser cites the words of wisdom of Dr Sidney Drell, the  deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center ( now the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory for thirty years, who died on 21 December aged 90, ( , as one of the most brilliant and impressive nuclear weapons strategists ( he received the National Medal of Science from President  Obama  in 2013) - and for fifty-six years possessed a Q clearance, granting him access to the highest level of classified information -  who, when I asked for his opinion about launch-on-warning, said, “It’s insane, the worst thing I can think of. You can’t have a worse idea.”

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