Beyond the Nuclear Shadow: A Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S.-Russian Relations

By David E. Mosher; Lowell H. Schwartz et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter One
BACKGROUND AND MOTIVATION FOR IMPROVING
NUCLEAR SAFETY

Since the dawn of the missile age, national security decisionmakers have sought to achieve a delicate balance between having a credible nuclear deterrent and ensuring the safety of nuclear weapons from unauthorized or accidental use. During the Cold War, when the United States and Russia perceived each other as a serious threat, the balance was weighted heavily toward the credibility of the deterrent, which was seen in terms of the ability to mount a massive and immediate nuclear retaliatory strike. Nevertheless, both countries took strong steps to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use to the extent their nuclear postures would allow. Today, with the Cold War over, the ideological sources of the superpower conflict gone, and growing concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a shift in the balance toward nuclear safety seems appropriate. The attacks of September 11, 2001, have underscored the need for this shift by pointing out the nature of the new nuclear threats that both the United States and Russia are likely to face. Moreover, Russia's reaction to the attacks and its support for the war on terrorism have demonstrated both the broad improvements that have been made in the relationship between the two former Cold War antagonists and the feasibility of pursuing such a shift.

This report provides a roadmap for how this shift toward nuclear safety could take place. First, it examines the types of scenarios that might lead to unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons. It then considers contributing factors (such as nuclear forces being kept on high alert and short decision times) that might lead to unauthorized or accidental use. Finally, it develops a set of options

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