Today, when we think about nuclear weapons, we think of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Or, perhaps, we worry about a terrorist attack here involving a nuclear weapon, such as the much-discussed “suitcase bomb.”
But several events in 2013 show we need to pay more attention to the safety and security of our own nuclear weapons.
In November, the U.S. Air Force relieved Maj. Gen. Michael Carey for “personal misbehavior” in a foreign country, namely excessive drinking, sexual escapades and gambling.
It later turned out that Carey was on assignment in Russia when he went on a bender.
Carey isn’t just any general, he was the man responsible for 450 nuclear missiles at land stations across the U.S. He is an official responsible for safely maintaining our nation’s most destructive weapons and setting an example for the thousands of soldiers beneath him.
Only days after Carey was disciplined, the Navy demoted Vice Adm. Tim Giardina and relieved him of his post as second in command of U.S. nuclear forces.
Giardina was accused of using fake gambling chips at a casino in Iowa.
All this follows the publication of a book in 2013 by Eric Schlosser tracing incidents of nuclear mishaps back to the 1940s.
The list of accidents is remarkably long and includes nuclear bombs inadvertently dropped over the U.S. or destroyed in accidents. A variety of other nuclear weapons have been lost at sea.
Schlosser makes the point that the U.S. has courted nuclear disaster any number of times over the past 60 years, sometimes escaping either by luck or God’s grace.
This track record is even more frightening when we consider that India, Russia, Pakistan and North Korea also maintain nuclear warheads.
But the problem in the U.S. should not be underestimated. In November, The Associated Press reported on burnout, low morale and “rot,” as one officer put it, inside the U.S. nuclear force.