Our military’s nuclear forces received attention in two significant ways this week. The developments point not only to the continuing importance of these forces but also to the military’s need to address significant personnel problems.
First, news coverage explained the findings of a new RAND Corp. report that looked at missile crews in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere.
The report “says that court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as those in the overall Air Force,” the Associated Press reported. “Administrative punishments, such as written reprimands for rules violations and other misbehavior, also were higher.”
The report, the AP said, also “found that job satisfaction was low and that workers were distressed by staff shortages, equipment flaws and what they felt were stifling management tactics.”
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry delivered a speech in which he explained the continuing importance of American nuclear forces as one of the tools for global nuclear deterrence.
Given the reality of nuclear weapons, currently in the hands of nine nations, “the purpose of those weapons is to prevent their use,” said Fortenberry, whose 1st District now includes Offutt Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Strategic Command.
Fortenberry is co-founder of the Nuclear Security Working Group, congressional lawmakers who are focused on nuclear weapons issues.
The RAND report comes after the removal of two top military officers from their nuclear-related posts this fall: Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was in charge of the Air Force’s nuclear missiles and removed in the wake of an inspector general’s investigation into his conduct; and Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the second-in-command at StratCom, removed amid an investigation of the alleged use of counterfeit chips at a Council Bluffs casino.
At the same time, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the recently retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the AP this fall, “I still have 100 percent confidence that the nation’s nuclear deterrent force is safe, secure and effective. ”
Several responses by the military are appropriate in the wake of the recent problems. The military command should send a firm message that nothing short of highly professional standards of conduct and performance will be accepted. Procedures and communications should be adjusted to promote such behavior and performance.
It’s also important that needed information move up the chain of command so that legitimate concerns of service personnel can be understood and addressed.
In his remarks at the Heritage Foundation, Fortenberry told the audience that the United States is “experiencing a rapid shift from the post-Cold War construct for global security” that featured a relatively straightforward U.S.-versus- Soviet competition. “We may face a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if Iran gets close to having nuclear weapons,” Fortenberry cautioned.
More than ever, deterring the development and use of nuclear weapons abroad will require a multi-pronged approach, he said, including not only U.S. military capability but, just as important, effective diplomacy plus “international resolve and the threat of economic sanctions.”
Part of that deterrence will require the operation of our nuclear forces at the needed high standard. All the more reason, then, for our military to address the concerns included in the new report.