Global Insights: Defense Panel Raises Nuclear Alarm

Global Insights: Defense Panel Raises Nuclear Alarm

Bad policies -- and a bad attitude -- need improvement to avoid endangering America's nuclear arsenal, a senior-level U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) task force has concluded. The report (.pdf) warned that any further slippage could compromise the ability of the United States to deter potential threats as well as assure the security of friends and allies. It also offered many recommendations on how to improve DOD nuclear management. The incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama should consider how to address these proposals in the context of its broader nuclear weapons policies.

The report was the second issued by the Task Force on DOD Nuclear Weapons Management, headed by former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger. Its first set of findings (.pdf), released in September 2008, focused on how the Air Force manages and controls its nuclear weapons. This latest Phase II report provided a more comprehensive assessment of how the department and its major components handle their nuclear weapons responsibilities.

Current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates established the task force in June 2008, after two embarrassing incidents involving American nuclear weapons and their components became public. In August 2007, an Air Force crew mistakenly loaded cruise missiles armed with nuclear rather than dummy warheads on a B-52 bomber at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The plane then flew across the country and landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where it remained for 10 hours before anyone noticed the error. The previous year, ballistic missile nose cones for the U.S. Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, with triggers for nuclear warheads, were mistakenly labeled and shipped to Taiwan as "helicopter batteries." The error was only discovered two years later.

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