In a sane world, the malfunction of a squadron of ICBMs would cause great alarm at the instability of the US maintaining so many irrelevant nuclear missiles on a hair trigger alert. After all, the Cold War ended 20 years ago and the US has no peer nuclear threat. Yet, in the current reality-warped world of tea-party gripped America, the mechanical failure of a squadron of ICBMs has actually prompted demands for more nuclear weapons.
Last week, a mechanical failure caused the Air Force to lose control of 50 ICBMs. This is not the first incident of its kind; a few years ago a B-52 flew across the country with “hot” nuclear weapons aboard, unbeknownst to the pilots and crew. Also, throughout the nuclear age there have been a number of mechanical and human errors that have almost led to absolute catastrophe, making a nuclear accident in many ways a greater and more likely danger than nuclear war.
Yet, as Marc Ambinder reported, to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the malfunction is actually a reason not to pass the New START treaty:
If new START had been in place on Sunday, we would have immediately been below an acceptable level to deter threats from our enemies. Before ratifying this treaty, the Senate must ensure we modernize our own nuclear weapons and strengthen our national security.
Honestly, what is Barrasso talking about? The notion that the US was left exposed by this failure is laughable. Does Barrasso seriously think that having only 375–400 ICBMs ready to roll instead of 450 would have put the US below “an acceptable level to deter threats from our enemies.” And what enemies is Barrasso talking about? Iran? China? Iran doesn’t even have a nuclear weapon yet and China has about 300 nuclear weapons total (compared to our roughly 2,000). Perhaps he is talking about Russia. But does he not realize the Cold War ended a long time ago, and does he really think that Russia would suddenly launch a first strike? It’s absurd.
Furthermore, Lt. General Dirk Jameson said that the interruption had “no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces to carry out their deterrent mission.” And if the modest reductions contained in the New START treaty had already taken place when this incident happened it would have made zero difference. Joe Cirinicione of the Ploughshares Fund explained that the incident shows that we have significant overkill capabilities:
Even with the 50 missiles off-alert, we still had 400 nuclear missiles each armed with a warhead twenty times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima ready to launch in 15 minutes, plus 1,500 hydrogen bombs on submarines and bombers.
Really, Barrasso is just talking nonsense. He is, after all, from an ICBM state and wants to keep the nuclear pork flowing; Obama is for New START, therefore Barrasso thinks he must be against it. But his comments also just demonstrate how untethered from actual reality the far right in the Senate has become. As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said this week:
There are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they’re ballsy by saying, ‘we’ve got to keep those nuclear weapons… [They think] that’s very rugged, when you say that. It’s not rugged at all. It’s an idiot that says that. It’s stupid to say that.