War/Security

Nuclear weapons’ lofty safety standards often go unmet

 Courtesy DIA Historical Collection


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

Nuclear war hawks forget to factor human error into their national-security equation.

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”

Hellman is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and one of the inventors of the technology that secures credit card transactions on the Internet. In recent years he has become an authority on nuclear risk ― the calculations in his essential 2008 article Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons pack a punch that will knock the existential wind out of you. Of Hagel’s comments, Hellman notes:

Unfortunately, saying that perfection is required, does not mean perfection is achieved. After all, “to err is human.” So why are we relying on nuclear deterrence when just one mistake could destroy our homeland, and us along with it?

While reading that, I experienced an “epiphany.” Right smack dab in the middle of the word “deterrence” fall the three letters “err”! (I know – kind of sophomoric.) After sharing this with Hellman, he replied, “To err is part of deterrence.” Integral even, I would add.

For their part, nuclear hawks have a convenient habit of leaving human error out of the national-security equation.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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  1. Herr Wellen: We must have faith in our brave and heroic missile warriors who, amply treated with antidepressants and other pharmaceutical marvels, defend our county’s sacred shores. Recently it was revealed that the launch of nuclear projectiles necessitated a cumbersome and time consuming code. Thankfully our wise and clever generals in a stunning display of professional military acumen simply bypassed it by using 00000000 enabling a speedy response that would dismiss the enemies of freedom to nuclear oblivion without troubling the White House. As a safety precaution a checklist with this code was provided (in English, Spanish and urban argot) to the control officers making their job no longer subject to human error. As we enter the last days of joyous shopping, be confident that our nuclear umbrella will prevent our enemies from ‘catching us with our pants down” and ruining the Holiday. Wishing you the best in your practice of proper mental hygiene. .