Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take Nuclear Weapons off Alert

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take Nuclear Weapons off Alert

Article excerpt

NATO is attempting to flesh out a new security order for Europe. Yet, how can we have a new relationship with Russia while nuclear weapons are kept ready to fire at a moment's notice? Together with Russia, NATO should seek to minimize the risk that nuclear weapons are used. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council is an ideal forum to work on the topic.

NATO and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. On land, intercontinental ballistic missiles are ready to launch within minutes, while at sea nuclear-armed submarines are on 24-hour patrol. NATO and Russia continue to deploy tactical warheads in Europe.

Although nuclear weapons in Europe have been greatly reduced since the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and unilateral initiatives by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev announced in 1991, NATO and Russia have largely been conducting nuclear business as usual. The dangers of high-alert status are clear. The decline of the Russian command-and-control system increases the risk of technical malfunctions and early-warning system failures. The continued, unnecessary reliance on high-alert status increases the danger of inadvertent or accidental use of nuclear weapons, with disastrous consequences. With the cold war over, such dangers between friendly nations are unnecessary. Nuclear weapons should be taken off alert. De-alerting is intended to prolong the time needed to prepare a weapon for use from minutes at present to hours, days, weeks, or longer. Not all weapons would have to be de-alerted at the same time or by the same mechanism. De-alerting could proceed gradually. As a first step, NATO and Russia should agree to reduce the number of submarines on patrol. They also should download all warheads from submarines in port, especially submarines on 15-minute launch readiness at pier-side, and place them in local or central storage. …

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