Loose Nukes Followup
If blogging has any genuinely innovative quality about it, it's surely its ability to, on occasion at least, rapidly deepen one's understanding of an issue by attracting commentary and links from intelligent, informed people. In some 42 posts to my discussion of Larry Johnson's alarm about the loose nukes, a large collection of links were offered by readers to help make sense of what happpened.
Andrew Foland, a physics professor runs a blog, Nuclear Mangos, that is motivated by "the incredible amount of lies & hyperbole on the Iran situation of early 2006. The blog title is to remind you constantly of the quality of minds in charge of our nuclear security today." He called our attention to this post of his:
Myself, I lean to the explanation that this was in fact a simple but terrible screw-up. There are surely already plenty of American nuclear weapons on board subs and carriers in the Middle East, and even if some new ones were needed, there are plenty of ways to get them there without flying them loaded on B-52's across the country, and subsequently having the news leaked. I honestly believe they have the operational capability to carry out the real thing in secret. (I can't totally dismiss the idea that this was meant as a message, though usually sending such messages do not involve imposing radiation risk on civilian areas of the United States.)Josh Marshall takes much the same view, based on his inquiries (perhaps even to Andrew Foland and his colleagues).
Professor Foland also links to this post from Strategic Security Blog by Hans M. Kristensen which addresses a disturbing trend (in comments):
The really important implication is beyond the immediate: The United States is in the beginning of a transition to a deep integration of nuclear and conventional capabilities. The Navy has already proposed, and the Air Force is about to propose, replacing some nuclear warheads on long-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. From outside the weapons will look the same.I don't have time to comment on these links, but they also attracted my attention as ones that improve our understanding of this extremely bizarre and dangerous event. Enjoy (if that is the right word) and thanks, all, for taking the trouble to comment.
The long-range bombers are already highly dual-capable and U.S. B-52s have been used repeatedly to launch conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles against high-value targets. The Minot bomber was on its way to Barksdale, but it could hypothetically have been on its way to Iraq or - in a potential future conflict - North Korea, Iran or China with nuclear cruise missiles.
If the B-52 incident tells us that the military's command and control system cannot ensure with 100% certainty which weapons are nuclear and which ones are not, imagine the implications of the wrong weapon being used in a crisis or war. "Sorry Mr. President, we thought it was conventional."
Total WonKerr: How'd Those Nukes Get There?
ArmsControlWonk: US Bomber Accidentally Transports Nukes
james_nicoll: B-52 carried nuclear armed cruise missiles by mistake
One final thought: Perhaps it really was a mistake. If so, it was a mistake in keeping with the mistake of not paying attention to the incoming info about bin Laden in Summer '01, the mistake of not preparing for Katrina, and so on. The notion that this is "mere" incompetence does not reassure me in the slightest. "Ooops" gets no one off the hook. Heads should roll over this.
Wanna bet it happens, esp. if loyal Bushies were the fuckups?