Of all the weapons in America's military inventory, the most powerful by far are in our nuclear arsenal. The officers and enlisted personnel who oversee these weapons need to operate at the highest level of professionalism.
There is no doubt about the overall competence of our nuclear forces. “I still have 100 percent confidence that the nation's nuclear deterrent force is safe, secure and effective,” the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, told the Associated Press.
But recent events do point to problems that need to be remedied.
Last Friday, the Air Force removed Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was in charge of its nuclear missiles, from his post in the wake of an inspector general's investigation into his conduct.
Two days before that, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the second-in-command at U.S. Strategic Command, was removed from that position amid an investigation into the alleged use of counterfeit gambling chips at a Council Bluffs casino.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is working to remedy major subpar performance by nuclear missile crews at bases in North Dakota and Montana.
This string of missteps deserves a strong, effective response from our military.
First, the word needs to come down strongly from the top brass that the highest standards of conduct are required of senior officers. Kehler commendably communicated that by suspending Giardina from overseeing nuclear weapons and recommending his dismissal from the position.
Second, procedures and communications should be overhauled so that all personnel involved in nuclear operations get the message firmly and clearly: The recent missteps and inadequate performance must come to an end.
It's true that the Cold War is now history and our nuclear forces are not in the forefront of attention as during the last half of the 20th century. But the mission — albeit with a reduced nuclear inventory and adjusted strategies — remains critical.
So does the need for our nuclear forces to operate at the standard that military necessity and public expectations demand.