Outside editorial: On nuclear negligence

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sexual assault and torture grab headlines, especially when U.S. military officers are the accused perpetrators. But when it comes to protecting the American homeland - and the rest of the planet - failure to maintain control over U.S. nuclear weapons is the ultimate dereliction of duty. So it is heartening to see that the Air Force, after a six-week investigation, has decided to relieve four colonels of duty and discipline more than 65 lower-ranking personnel in connection with an August incident in which six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently loaded onto a B-52 bomber and mistakenly flown from North Dakota to Louisiana.

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The Air Force deserves kudos for conducting an excellent initial probe. The bad news, as the mortified military brass are painfully aware, is that the investigation revealed a systemic failure in the care, command and control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the most powerful in the world.

This is not a call for the Air Force to find a token general to scapegoat. At least two further probes will reveal whether any other Air Force personnel should be held accountable. More important is that the entire U.S. military realizes the importance of restoring not just command and control but a sense of military and moral seriousness to the stewardship of U.S. nuclear weapons.

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