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On October 24th at the Warren Air Force base in Wyoming, the United States Air Force lost communication with a sizeable portion of America’s nuclear deterrent: a squadron of 50 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In the past, this type of disruption was rare, limited to individual missiles. The scale of this incident is broader, representing one of the most serious and sizable ruptures in nuclear command and control in history. Given that each missile is responsible for covering a number of targets and that New START, a major nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, is set to further reduce the ICBM missile force, the gravity of the incident may have been exacerbated had the treaty been in effect. The 50 ICBMs that went down represent one ninth of the U.S. ground-based ICBM arsenal.
The incident underscores the need for a robust nuclear modernization and recapitalization of the U.S. arsenal and infrastructure, which has been atrophying since the end of the Cold War. The breakdown occurred in the midst of the Obama Administration’s effort to push the U.S. Senate to grant its advice and consent to New START in the upcoming “lame duck” session of Congress, and may necessitate a delay of New START’s consideration until critical questions about the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal are answered. Join us for a discussion on this incident and its potential implications to New START’s cuts to delivery systems and warheads and the pressing need for modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad.
More About the Speakers
Policy Advisor, Foreign Policy Initiative
Vice President, National Institute for Public Policy
F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy, The Heritage Foundation
Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy