PREPCOM Nuclear Weapons De-Alerting Briefing


By Hans M. Kristensen

Greetings from Geneva! I’m at the Palais des Nations for the second Preparatory Committee (PREPCOM) meeting for the 2015 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). I was invited by the Swiss and New Zealand UN Missions to brief our report Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons.

With me on the panel was Richard Garwin, an FAS board member who for more than five decades has advised U.S. governments on nuclear weapons and other issues, and Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and now Chancellor of the Australian National University.

The panel was co-chaired by Ambassador H.E. Dell Higgie, the head of the New Zealand UN Mission and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Conference on Disarmament, and Ambassador Benno Laggner, the head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Division for Security Policy and Ambassador for Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. Switzerland and New Zealand have for several years spearheaded efforts in the United Nations to reduce the alert level of nuclear weapons.

I wrote the de-alerting report together with Matthew McKinzie who directs the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Click to download my briefing slides (7.6 MB) and prepared remarks.

One thought on “PREPCOM Nuclear Weapons De-Alerting Briefing

  1. From: Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis.

    There is then in fact no need to “de-alert” as there is no requirement to launch “fast”, as the widespread force of Minuteman and Trident missiles spread over five US states and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans makes any kind of effective attack against the missiles bordering on both the impossible and the irrational.

    But what if everyone simply took their warheads off of their missiles and stored them remotely? This idea sounds workable on its surface.

    But numerous problems arise. You cannot verify such measures. There is also no indication that all nuclear powers, including China and North Korea, Pakistan and India, would follow our lead.

    Unarmed forces in port are sitting ducks. It’s called Pearl Harbor.

    Missiles in silos without warheads cannot respond to threats, their deterrent value being stripped.

    As top nuclear thinkers have concluded, taking our missiles off alert actually makes our nuclear forces an even more inviting target-since they cannot retaliate, the temptation would be for an adversary to seek to take out the platforms so that putting warheads back on missiles becomes irrelevant. And, our forces would not be useable during the time it took for an adversary-who had not de-alerted–to carry out its planned aggression anywhere on the globe. In short, the entire deterrent value of nuclear weapons would be vitiated and we would be giving a permission slip for aggression to every evil regime.

    Because the US has an alert survivable and second-strike capability-submarines at sea and ICBMs that survive, plus bombers that are airborne, the fears of prompt launch in a crisis are overblown. We thus have many hundreds of survivable warheads capable of deterring any current or foreseeable adversary-if we maintain and sustain and modernize our nuclear forces, preserve the stabilizing Triad and maintain a very high ratio of our targets, (near 500) against the array of adversary warheads, now numbering 1500 Russian warheads under New Start.

    De-alerting cannot be verified, and despite demands that we figure out a way to do the impossible and the unnecessary, de-alerting remains a bad idea. Wedded as many are to reducing US nuclear warheads to lower numbers than currently are deployed, de-alerting appears to be a plan of “first the numbers and then the strategy”.

    The most serious problem with de-alerting is when a country might decide to put its forces back on alert. Retired USAF Chief of Staff General Larry Welch has called this a “race to rearm”. In a crisis, that could precipitate open conflict and indeed the first to rearm would have an advantage to going first, the very problem de-alerting is designed to solve.

    Read more: Family Security Matters

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    This is why scientists should never, ever be elected to high office. Detereence WORKS. Get out of the ivory towers once in a while to see how the world really works, all you eggheads.

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