Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War
The Cold War has been over for over two decades, but the nuclear peril persists. Two thousand nuclear weapons remain on a hair trigger alert status in the United States and Russia. Although both countries have proclaimed their “de-targeting” of the other side, that step is meaningless when both sides maintain a launch-on-warning posture.
1995: Near Disaster Over Norway
On January 25, 1995, an unidentified ballistic missile was detected over the Norwegian Sea by Russia’s nuclear command center. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had only four minutes to choose whether or not to retaliate against the U.S.
The missile turned out to be a Norwegian weather rocket. The Russians had been notified in advance but the message was not relayed to their nuclear weapons command center. Fortunately Yeltsin decided not to retaliate with a nuclear strike.
While improved relations between the United States and Russia makes a deliberate nuclear attack a more remote possibility now than during the Cold War days, the weakening of command and control structures in the former Soviet Union has actually increased the chance of an accidental nuclear war. One sensible way to lessen nuclear danger is for Russia and the U.S to de-alert their nuclear weapons.
WHAT IS DE-ALERTING?
De-alerting does not mean retiring or dismantling weapons, only lengthening the time which must elapse between an order-for-launch and the actual launch. De-alerting would not compromise national security or reduce the ability of the United States to defend itself against attack. De-alerting would, however, be a vital step toward nuclear safety, and thus would increase our security. De-alerting can be done in a variety of ways, including: storing warheads separately from their delivery systems, removing guidance systems from missiles, and pinning open the switches that fire missile motors.
De-alerting will provide additional time for communication and diplomacy between nuclear powers in a time of crisis. De-alerting will be widely welcomed around the globe as a key step away from the nuclear abyss. Presently all the nations of the world must live with the risk that the U.S. and Russia may set off a nuclear conflagration that will bring great harm to everyone. The United Nations General Assembly has passed many resolutions which call on the nuclear weapons states to de-alert.
De-alerting U.S. nuclear weapons would enhance U.S. and global security by reducing the possibility of an accidental nuclear war or unauthorized launch of a nuclear weapon. PSR urges the President and the Congress to work together to take immediate action to de-alert U.S. nuclear weapons and encourage Russia and other nuclear weapon states to do the same.
Launch-Ready Nuclear Weapons: A Threat to All Nations and Peoples
Recent peer-reviewed scientific studies make it clear that the environmental consequences of virtually any nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions of people from the war zone. The detonation of only a tiny fraction of U.S. and/or Russian nuclear arsenals in conflict will gravely damage the global environment and ecosystems that support the agricultural systems which human society depends upon. Since about one-third of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons remain on high-alert, these launch-ready weapons represent a well-maintained self-destruct mechanism for most humans and many other complex forms of life. The article linked above is a piece by Dr. Steven Starr, PSR Senior Scientist, that provides analysis behind this important issue.
De-Alerting Fact Sheet