On Jan. 18 of this year, I trespassed onto property of U.S. Naval Base Kitsap at Bangor as part of a demonstration against nuclear weapons by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Why would I commit this act which, from practical considerations, accomplished little and brought no benefit to me? My intention was to demonstrate to the U.S. government and to the public, through an act of civil disobedience, that nuclear weapons are a perilous threat to life on earth and that U.S. policy with regard to these weapons is disturbingly immoral.
There is little discussion or thoughts these days about the threat posed by nuclear weapons to all life on earth. Such complacency is dangerous, because 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, nuclear weapons pose as much of a threat to life on earth as they ever have. They are the greatest threat that mankind faces.
With the Bangor submarine base, which houses one of the greatest collections of nuclear weapons on earth, located only 20 miles from Seattle, residents of the area would stand no chance if there ever were a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia.
As recent events in North Korea and Ukraine have dramatically demonstrated, the possibility of global confrontation escalating into nuclear war is still very real. However, a more likely possibility may be accidental nuclear annihilation: the launching of nuclear weapons because of an odd juxtaposition of technical failures, because of false warning, or because of misjudgment by an individual or individuals.
In his seminal work, "The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons," published in 1993, Dr. Scott Sagan, professor of Political Science at Stanford University, demonstrates in convincing fashion that nuclear weapons command and control systems are governed by the principles of "normal accident theory." According to this theory, systems which are complexly interactive and tightly coupled — meaning that they involve processes which are hard to stop and happen with rapidity — are virtually impossible to make fail-safe.
The principles of this theory are most clearly seen in catastrophic accidents involving nuclear power plants and chemical manufacturing processes. Yet, the history of nuclear weapons command and control is littered with many accidents, though none have proved catastrophic to this point. However, a few of these accidents have brought the world perilously close to annihilation. Two examples serve to illustrate how close the world came to oblivion.
On Nov. 9, 1979, U.S. command and control computers all showed that the Soviet Union had launched a massive nuclear attack on the the United States. Minuteman missile silos and the continental air defense system were put on alert with a number of interceptor fighters taking off. It was later discovered that a realistic training tape had been inserted into the computer running the nation’s early-warning programs and had been mistaken for a real event.
In January of 1995, American and Norwegian scientists launched a missile off the coast of Norway for the purpose of studying the northern lights. To Russian radar technicians the missile flight appeared similar to one that a U.S. Trident missile would take to blind Russian radars prior to an attack. For the first time in history, the nuclear football, which allows a commander to order a nuclear attack, was opened and presented to President Boris Yeltsin. It is thought that his military attaches advised a counterattack, but Yeltsin refused to do so.
The Bangor submarine base has had its own problems. On Nov. 7, 2003 a nine-inch hole was punched into the nose cone, where the weapons are housed, of a Trident I missile aboard the USS Georgia by a ladder which had not been removed from the missile tube. Recently, the Navy reported a 150 gallon oily water spill in Hood Canal which turned out to be closer to a 2,000 gallon oil spill that created a nine mile long sheen in the water. Operations which need to be perfect to be fail-safe are anything but perfect.
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