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Russia, the United States, and Nuclear “Inadvertence”

rosenbaum051208.jpgI don’t know how I missed this great column by Ron Rosenbaum on Slate from Friday, but here it is. Rosenbaum asks a very reasonable question: does Russia’s renewed interest in flexing its military might increase the possibility of an inadvertent, accidental nuclear catastrophe? The article provides a rather comprehensive review of the current early warning systems in place to prevent accidents … and it is absolutely terrifying how these procedures are lacking.

In my last column on this subject, I suggested it was time for both the United States and Russia to publicly define and defend their warning and launch procedures. I’ve now come upon a persuasive set of concrete, achievable steps both countries can take to lower the risk of an accidental launch. These steps would extend the all-too-brief window we now have to evaluate attack warnings, the better to distinguish “false positives” from the real thing. And thus extend the time the presidents of both nuclear superpowers have to decide how to respond. Our current warning decision procedures—both U.S. and Russian—make our nuclear arsenals all too vulnerable to accidental or unauthorized launch. To inadvertence, as the nuclear euphemism has it. It’s time to avert “inadvertence.”