Ambassador Rocca is getting lambasted for stating that US nuclear forces are not on hair trigger alert:
It is popular to call for removing nuclear weapons from “hair-trigger alert.” Frankly, in order to take action to comply with this request, we would first have to put our weapons on “hair-trigger alert,” so we could then de-alert them. The fact is that U.S. nuclear forces are not and have never been on “hair-trigger alert.” U.S. nuclear forces are planned and postured to provide the President with maximum decision time and flexibility. Multiple, rigorous procedural and technical safeguards exist to guard against accidental or unauthorized launch.
I remind you that then-Governor George W. Bush once called on the Clinton Administration to “remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status.”
But I digress.
She’s actually getting kind of a rough time for saying something that has been an Administration talking point since Candidate Bush became President Bush and ordered a nuclear posture review.
The debate over the term “hair trigger” is fascinating because it is doesn’t seem to have any technical meaning. For example, here is how Admiral Ellis explained the issue in his answers to questions during his confirmation to command STRATCOM:
27. In your view, do U.S. ICBMs or SLBMs maintain a “hair trigger alert?”
ANSWER: No, they do not. “Hair trigger” is an inaccurate assessment. Multiple stringent procedural and technical safeguards have been in place and will remain in place to guard against accidental or inadvertent launch. These safeguards exist to ensure the highest level of nuclear weapons safety, security, reliability, and command and control. We can not launch without Presidential direction.
28. How do you define “hair trigger alert?”
ANSWER: It is any alert status that would allow the launching of nuclear weapons in a less than deliberate manner –without the stringent procedural and technical safeguards.
That’s wonderfully circular. Hair trigger is dangerous and, since our forces aren’t dangerous, they aren’t on hair trigger.
Well, that is an enlightening policy debate, isn’t it?