NYT: “A Nuclear Legacy Within Reach”

The 8 August 2016 lead editorial of the New York Times made a financial argument against modernization of the nuclear arsenal — including the land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.  They then noted that former Defense Secretary William Perry had argued that land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are no longer needed.  Concluding that, “the time has come to think seriously about whether that leg of the traditional air-sea-land triad should be gradually retired”.   Only one letter was published on 15 August that partly addressed the real problem associated with this leg of the triad.  Here is the letter I wrote that addresses the issue:

To the Editor:

William Perry, as you report in your editorial of 8 August, is correct that land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are no longer needed. What was not said is that their mere existence increases the probability of accidental war.  As former defense secretary Perry well knows, these missiles are not survivable under nuclear attack.  Historically, and no doubt currently, the lack of survivability drives national policy to a launch-on-warning posture.  What this means is that when satellite and radar systems both indicate a massive ballistic missile attack, the President is given barely enough time to make a couple of phone calls before he must make the decision to launch the missiles or lose them.  It has happened in the past that both satellite and radar systems have falsely indicated a nuclear attack.  The nation went to the highest defense readiness condition but luckily the indication of an attack was found to be a false alert before the President was called.

At one time land-based ballistic missiles had a greater accuracy than survivable sea-based systems, but this hasn’t been the case for many years.  The country would be well served by taking this opportunity to unilaterally eliminate them.