UCS Webinar on Nuclear Hair-Trigger Alert and Launch-on-Warning

April 29, 2015
David Wright
Former contributor

As the NPT Review Conference gets underway at the UN in New York, the increasingly frustrated non-nuclear weapon states will be looking for the U.S. and other nuclear weapon states to take meaningful steps to reduce nuclear risks.

An important step that will be discussed is for the U.S. and Russia to eliminate the option of launching nuclear missiles on warning of an incoming attack, and to take their nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert. Ending these vestigial Cold War practices would be a significant step that would reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized launches and eliminate the risk of a launch on erroneous or misinterpreted warning. Moreover, this change could be made quickly.

There’s deep support in the international community for these steps. Last year at the UN, 166 countries voted for a resolution (L.22) that called for removing all nuclear weapons from high alert. This year, a group of states including U.S. allies like Japan, Canada, and Germany will present a working paper at the NPT conference calling for de-alerting.

Webinar title slide 4-22-15

And there’s support for removing weapons from hair-trigger alert among high-level U.S. political and military officials, including some of the people who were in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

To learn more about these issues, watch our webinar from last week, which explains the dangers associated with hair-trigger and launch-on-warning policies, the security benefits of eliminating these Cold War policies, and how the United States could remove its land-based missiles from hair-trigger alert.