Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Update on my "Nuclear Neglect" Posts

Just a quick update on a subject high on this blogger's list of concerns: America's slumping nuclear posture since the end of Cold War I. I was unaware of the fact that this issue was being studied by a special task force appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates; unaware until today, that is, when I ran across this story posted at, a news source I highly recommend for folks interested in a below-the-surface look at the federal government's inner workings.

Here's an excerpt:

"In June, Gates tapped former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, to lead the Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management, following an internal investigation into Air Force lapses that led pilots to fly nuclear weapons unknowingly from North Dakota to Louisiana last August and accidentally ship ballistic missile fuses to Taiwan in 2006, a mistake that was discovered only earlier this year.

As a result of that initial Defense Department investigation, Gates fired the Air Force's top civilian and military leaders, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Mosley, explaining in a June 5 press briefing that "the focus of the Air Force leadership has drifted with respect to perhaps its most sensitive mission."

The investigation that led to the firings was conducted by Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion and the senior military official responsible for nuclear weapons safety. According to Gates, Donald identified "a substantial number of Air Force general officers and colonels potentially subject to disciplinary measures, ranging from removal from command to letters of reprimand."

One senior Air Force official told Government Executive that as many as 20 officers could be disciplined as a result of the lapses."

Gates deserves credit not only for ordering up the study, but for moving swiftly to hold people accountable when lapses are identified. One possible shortcoming of Schlesinger's work, though, may be its limited scope. How the current stockpile is handled and managed is only one area that needs attention; of equal importance is the question of whether the aging systems we have in place remain safe and reliable, and whether we are retaining the expertise and infrastructure required to modernize these weapons, when the time comes to do so.

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