Frank Von Hippel: Biden should end the launch-on-warning option

Dr. Frank N. von Hippel, a member of GSI’s Board of Advisors, is co-Director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security. In the 1980s, as chairman of the Federation of American Scientists, he partnered with Evgenyi Velikhov in advising Mikhail Gorbachev on the technical basis for steps to end the nuclear arms race. In 1994-5, he served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama came into office proposing to take US intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) off their “hair-trigger alert” status, which keeps them ready at all times to launch within minutes. The time is so short for a president to have to decide to launch in response to Strategic Command’s assessment of an incoming attack that President Bush reportedly complained it might not even be enough time for him to get off the “crapper.”

While in office, Bush failed to act on his concerns. President Obama pursued the issue but retreated in the face of opposition from Strategic Command. The most he could get in the 2013 Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States was a promise to look into the matter

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