- In a concrete capsule buried 100 feet
under the Wyoming plains there are two soldiers on duty round the clock
- These are the men who would have to push
the button if America ever went to nuclear war.
- From their subterranean shelter they
can fire off ten Minuteman missiles, each with three atomic warheads, in
a matter of minutes.
- The army insists that an accidental launch
is impossible as the soldiers cannot activate the system unless they are
given a secret firing code by the president.
- Atomic arsenal under attack
- Despite these assurances, some former
advocates of the nuclear deterrent question whether in the post-Cold War
era it is really necessary or safe to have thousands of warheads in a state
of constant readiness.
- Some have joined the bands of nuclear
campaigners who have long called for partial or total disarmament.
- Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman battery
commander, says that Russia's nuclear stockpile is in such a dangerous
state of disrepair that there is a serious risk of an accidental launch
which could lead to swift retaliation by the US.
- "We currently have thousands of
strategic weapons poised for immediate launch on both sides," says
Mr Blair, now an arms analyst with the independent research organisation
the Brookings Institution.
- "It's excessive from the standpoint
of deterrents, and it's excessive from the standpoint of the risk of their
mistaken or inadvertent use," he adds.
- New nuclear nations
- But Russia is no longer the only other
country in the atomic equation.
- This year new nuclear powers have appeared
on the scene in the shape of India and Pakistan. Both countries have suffered
American economic sanctions for holding missile tests. But they have countered
by accusing the US of hypocrisy for lecturing them when it retains a vast
- International disarmament agreements
are poised to slash the number of American warheads by two thirds over
the next few years.
- However, President Clinton's key advisor
on nuclear issues, Bob Bell believes that America must hold on to some
nuclear weapons in order to make rogue states think twice before attacking
- "When you are talking about evil,
truly evil acts on a catastrophic scale, like a country considering whether
to unleash biological warfare on the civil population of the United States
or Great Britain for that matter, you want them to pause and ask themselves
what they think the consequences will be," he says.