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Panel Finds Nuclear Oversight Failings Across Pentagon

(Jan. 8) -Workers conduct maintenance on a U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM. A report issued today found widespread problems with the Pentagon’s handling of its nuclear mission (U.S. Air Force photo). (Jan. 8) -Workers conduct maintenance on a U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM. A report issued today found widespread problems with the Pentagon’s handling of its nuclear mission (U.S. Air Force photo).

A U.S. Defense Department advisory group reported today that nuclear mission oversight has been faulty throughout the Pentagon (see GSN, Sept. 15, 2008).

Commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the task force is recommending that the Pentagon establish an assistant secretary position responsible for coordinating the agency's nuclear management, the Associated Press reported today.

The panel report includes 82 recommendations, mostly focused on a need for more resources, personnel and training to build back credibility for handling of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

The task force, led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, issued its first findings last fall on the Air Force, following a series of nuclear weapons-related lapses in that service.

The new document identifies many similar nuclear oversight failings across the Defense Department, including inadequate training, diffuse authority, and lack of comprehension about the global role of nuclear deterrence. One worrisome result has been an erosion in international confidence in the U.S. ability to extend nuclear deterrence to its allies, according to the group.

Gates issued a statement today saying that "no one should doubt our capabilities or our resolve to defend U.S. and allies' interests by deterring aggression."

The panel found that the Navy's nuclear weapons mission has not been degraded.

At a news conference today, Schlesinger said he sees "a willingness" among Pentagon leaders to adopt the key suggestion about creating the new civilian oversight post. However, Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell later said that Gates wants to discuss the recommendations with senior Defense Department officials to be named by President-elect Barack Obama before commenting on potential implementation (Lolita Baldor, Associated Press I/Yahoo! News, Jan. 8).

In addition to creating the new civilian oversight position, the Pentagon should give the Joint Chiefs of Staff a greater role in overseeing nuclear arms, the group has advised. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the panel also reaffirmed an earlier call for the Air Force to expand the role of its Space Command to include responsibility for nuclear mission effectiveness (Associated Press II/International Herald Tribune, Jan. 7).

Schlesinger today also addressed the matter of rogue nation perceptions about the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Reuters reported. North Korea, he said, "probably ... developed the confidence -- perhaps misplaced confidence -- that the United States, if it were to go after their nuclear capability, likely would do so with conventional forces" rather than atomic arms.

However, Tehran probably would not have the same confidence about a U.S. reluctance to use nuclear force, Schlesinger said. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton told an interviewer in April that Washington could "totally obliterate" Iran, a comment that "I don't think ... will be forgotten in Tehran," Schlesinger said (David Morgan, Reuters/Yahoo! News, Jan. 8).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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