Ever wonder what it would be like to hold the key to America’s most lethal weapons in your hand? According to a recent expose by Mother Jones, the job is less exciting than one might think.
The U.S. currently maintains some 4,800 nuclear warheads and 454 Intercontinental ballistic missile silos across the country. Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones recently visited the 10th Missile Squadron, Alpha Missile Alert Facility in central Montana to catch a glimpse of the life of the men in charge of the nuclear launch keys.
For a job with such gravity, the day-to-day grind is exceptionally boring. Harkinson writes, “[the] worst part of the gig, the guys agreed, might be the stultifying tedium of being stuck in a tiny room all day and night waiting for an order you knew would never come.” Obsolescence and low morale run rampant among missileers.
This is why Secretary Hagel’s announcement today is welcome, but not a fix for the more important problem at hand. Yes much of the U.S. nuclear fleet is out of date, but so is its cause.
While the ICBM program ostensibly exists to deter our nuclear-armed adversaries abroad, according to Lt. General James Kowalski, the real nuclear threat for America today is not Russia or North Korea, but “an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”
According to Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control, “you can’t screw up once—and that’s the unique danger of these machines.” Having a flawless safety record is imperative; but “nuclear bases that were once the military’s crown jewels are now ‘little orphanages that get scraps for dinner”’.
Harkinson sheds light on the fact that the dangers of maintaining the ICBM program outweigh its purpose as a viable deterrent–not to mention how expensive it is: “ditching the ICBMs would save taxpayers $14 billion over the next 10 years.”
Ultimately, the fewer nuclear weapons we maintain, the less risk for nuclear disaster. Scrapping the ICBM program would be a good start.