In the early morning of December 17, 2013, under cover of darkness, the Air Force launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was a test of a nuclear-capable missile. Despite the claims of the Air Force, such tests do not make us safer or more secure – only more terrifying to others. And when it comes to nuclear weapons we should be terrifying ourselves. These are weapons that could destroy civilization, and yet we have the hubris to play Russian roulette with them and continue to do so more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War.
As Gen. Lee Butler, former commander of the US Strategic Command, said, “Nuclear deterrence was and remains a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships.” We would do well to pay attention to Butler and get on with the hard and urgent work of negotiating to achieve Nuclear Zero globally, as we are required to do under international law.
Following the test launch, Lt. Col. Thomas Vance said, “The test launch is one demonstration of the professionalism and pride all members of Team Malmstrom take in executing our mission.”
The Air Force seems excessively proud of its ability to have “successfully launched” the nuclear-capable Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Is it pride in their ability to obey orders and carry out a mission fully capable of ending civilization should they be called upon to launch nuclear-armed Minuteman III missiles? The Air Force views its test launches as providing “data to ensure a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.” But neither the Air Force nor anyone in authority can assure that nuclear deterrence will be safe, secure or effective.
Nuclear deterrence itself provides only a hypothesis about human behavior, the hypothesis being that if one threatens to totally destroy another, the other country will refrain from attacking. This hypothesis requires, at a minimum, rational political leaders, and not all political leaders behave rationally at all times and under all circumstances.
Test launches of ICBMs do not make nuclear weapons safe, secure or effective. The capability to conduct murderous retaliation does not make us safe, should not make us feel secure and is not effective in protecting us. Rather than protecting Americans, the Air Force is conducting test launches that are provocative, encourage nuclear proliferation and call into question the seriousness of the United States to fulfill its obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.