Warren Mishap No Bar To START

"My sense is that the START Treaty ought to be ratified and ought to be ratified as soon as possible." Those are the words of one of America's most experienced and respected nuclear arms experts, Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, who also happens to be the man in charge of protecting, arming and delivering the Air Force's share of nuclear weapons.

“My sense is that the START Treaty ought to be ratified and ought to be ratified as soon as possible.” Those are the words of one of America’s most experienced and respected nuclear arms experts, Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, who also happens to be the man in charge of protecting, arming and delivering the Air Force’s share of nuclear weapons.

Klotz, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command and who was director for nuclear policy and arms control for two years at the National Security Council, put his considerable reputation on the line as he addressed calls by conservatives to kill the treaty. Some of them argue that the Warren Air Force base mishap, which left crews unaware of the status of 50 missiles for 46 minutes and triggered the deployment of nuclear missile security forces, marks “one of the most serious and sizable ruptures in nuclear command and control in history.”

Those words appear in a Heritage Foundation email sent out today. Here is how Heritage described the incident: “On October 24, 2010, at the Warren Air Force base in Wyoming, the United States Air Force lost communication with a sizeable portion of America’s nuclear deterrent: a squadron of nuclear-armed 50 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).”

Here is how Klotz described it. He said the missile crews “…temporarily lost the ability to monitor the status of 50 missiles…” The problem was caused by an “equipment malfunction in one of the silos.” Once the crews had gone through their checklist and isolated the problem they were able to fix it. Klotz told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast today that this is not the first time such incidents had occurred. “I think it has absolutely no link at all to the START Treaty,” he said. Two “similar events” took place in 1998, he added. Senior Air Force leaders have been at pains to make clear that the US retained the ability to launch the missiles and never lost command and control between the silos and the national command authority.

GOP Sens. Jon Kyl and John Barrosso have argued the nuclear enterprise is underfunded and believe the new START Treaty could worsen the situation. “The recent failure reinforces the need for the United States to maintain 450 ICBMs to ensure a strong nuclear defense,” Barrasso has said. “Before ratifying this treaty, the Senate must ensure we modernize our own nuclear weapons and strengthen our national security.”

A congressional aide who follows nuclear issues closely said this after seeing Klotz’ comments: “The significance of the FE Warren event is that the reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent needs to be taken into account when determining how many nuclear delivery systems are necessary to carry out U.S. deterrence requirements. At lower numbers of operationally deployed nuclear weapons, the implications of what happened at FE Warren become more important to consider. I’m not suggesting that our deterrent capability was weakened by what occurred, just that it should give one pause when considering lower force levels –- particularly after New START, which we know is the intention of this administration.”

Kyl has never wavered in his opposition to the new START Treaty. Klotz’s views, no matter how authoritative, are likely to be dismissed since the administration supports the new treaty and Klotz is a serving officer who is expected to support the administration’s position, Kyl and his are likely to argue. But Klotz stepped out this morning, putting his personal experience and judgment on the line and he deserves to be taken seriously.