He is the author of 22 novels. Transcript This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. His writing career spans half a century, during which he established himself as a master spy writer.
Print Page Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.
In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college in a single launch control center to fire a missile.
The three War nuclear power essay launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. When he quit the Air Force inBlair was haunted by the power that had been within his grasp, andhe resolved to do something about it.
But when he started lobbying his former superiors, he was met with indifference and even active hostility. As Blair well knew, there was supposed to be a system already in place to prevent that type of unilateral launch.
But in practice, the system of command and control has been organized so as to leave a president facing reports of incoming missiles with little option but to launch.
When his pleas drew rejection from inside the system, he turned to Congress. Even then, the Navy held off safeguarding its submarine-launched nuclear missiles in this way for another twenty years. Following this small victory, Blair continued to probe the baroque architecture of nuclear command and control, and its extreme vulnerability to lethal mishap.
In the early Eighties, while working with a top-secret clearance for the Office of Technology Assessment, he prepared a detailed report on such shortcomings.
Hidden away in the Pentagon, the report was withheld from both relevant senior civilian officials and the very congressional committees that had commissioned it in the first place. Needless to say, this was a tightly held arrangement, known only to a select few in Moscow. Similarly chilling secrets, Blair continued to learn, lurked in the bowels of the US system, often unknown to the civilian leadership that supposedly directed it.
As a result, part of the nuclear war machine had been dismantled—warhead numbers were reduced, bombers taken off alert, weapons withdrawn from Europe. But at its heart, the system continued unchanged, officially ever alert and smooth running, poised to dispatch hundreds of precisely targeted weapons, but only on receipt of an order from the commander in chief.
The destructive power of the chief executive is sanctified at the very instant of inauguration. Even as commonly understood, the procedures leading up to a launch order are frightening.
Early warning satellites, using heat-seeking sensors, followed a minute later by ground radars, detect enemy missiles rising above the curve of the earth. The projected flight time of the missiles—thirty minutes from Russia—determines the schedule.
Within eight minutes, the president is alerted. He then reviews his options with senior advisers such as the secretary of defense, at least those who can be reached in time. The momentous decision of how to respond must be made in as little as six minutes.
Using the unique codes that identify him to the military commands that will carry out his instruction, he can then give the order, which is relayed in seconds via the war room and various alternate command centers to the missile silos, submarines, and bombers on alert.
The bombers can be turned around, but otherwise the order cannot be recalled. Fortunately, throughout the decades of confrontation between the superpowers, neither US nor Soviet leaders were ever personally contacted with a nuclear alert, even amid the gravest crises.
Today, things are different. The nuclear fuse has gotten shorter. Though the shift, which dates to the George W. Bush era and was additionally confirmed to me by a former senior Pentagon official, may appear to outsiders as a merely bureaucratic rearrangement, it has deadly serious implications.
But intelligence of a possible attack now goes almost directly to the head of Strategic Command. From his headquarters, far from Washington at Offutt Air Force Base, this powerful officer, currently an Air Force general named John Hyten, reigns supreme over the entire US strategic nuclear arsenal.
He now dominates the whole nuclear countdown process: But it appears there was a more significant motive for the decision. The men and women of this command are responsible for strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike, missile defense, analysis and targeting.
Furthermore, as befits an administrator, this officer is often absent from the command center buried deep under the Pentagon. The actual watch officers pulling eight-hour shifts in the center are colonels, even more lowly and therefore unpardonably reluctant to disturb or wake the commander in chief for what could be a false alarm.
Four-stars, on the other hand, are the gods of the military hierarchy, accustomed to deference from all around them.Mikhail Gorbachev was the president of the Soviet Union and is the author of The New Russia.
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S erving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people.
His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear. Lastly, I will explain how nuclear power had a positive effect on the war, due to its influence via deterrence.
Finally, I will summarize the importance of nuclear power in the Cold War. A controversial, but positive role of nuclear power in the Cold War was the use of the atomic bomb, "Fat Man," in Nagasaki.