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Strategic command and control, redefining the nuclear threat.

An actual button, of course, does not exist. There is no single switch in the White House that allows a president of send a jolt of electricity 3,000 miles cross-country, instantly launching Minetumen from the missile fields of the Great Plains. In reality, control of U.S. nuclear forces is a complicated affair involving, among other things, a book of war plans called "the football," multi-digit codes, two-man silo crews, a command post under a mountain, and planes towing mile-long radio antennas.

This system may in fact be quite tenuous. A mere handful of Soviet warheads--perhaps as few as 250--might effectively destroy U.S. nuclear command and control. Now that controversy over the so-called "window of vulnerability" of American ICBMs has abated, defense experts are focusing increasingly on command structure as the real Achilles heel of strategic forces. Zbigniew Brzezinski, for instance, cites communications fragility when arguing that a limited "Star Wars" missile defense may be a good thing.

As happens with any hot policy topic, there is now a rush to create a literature. A series of command and control studies has appeared in recent months, with these two the latest in the genre. Both are thorough and illuminating. They manage to make similar points while being wildly divergent in tone.

Bruce Blairhs Strategic Command and Control is unmistakably the product of a think-tank fellow. In other words, it tries to convey concern without being alarmist and is very difficult to read. Examining how command and control has evolved since the mid-sixties, Blair shows how technical constraints and sheer bureaucratic indifference have made the U.S. more and more dependent on airborne communications systems--which are vulnerable to many sorts of attack. This weakness virtually dictates that the U.S. have a quick-release, launch-under-attack philosophy of nuclear war, Blair concludes.

Reagan initiatives in this area are all well and good, but won't make that much difference, according to Blair. He has a number of intriguing recommendations, such as the creation of undersea command posts for the president and (my favorite) research into the use of railroad tracks for extremely low-frequency submarine communications.
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Author:Grier, Peter
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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