Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The Air Force nearly eradicated eastern North Carolina with an H bomb in 1961 — and thoughts about that sort of thing now

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They’re good.) My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They're good.)

My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel of the U.S. military, with resources and top-level attention lavished on it. If I recall correctly, the Air Force's budget in the late 1950s was for a time about twice that of the Army's.

The situation is different now. Nuclear warfare is no longer a focus of intense top-level attention at the White House and the Pentagon. I don't know who they are recruiting to fly the B-52s and run the missile silos, but we've seen some weird problems in the nuclear Air Force lately. I've previously quoted nuclear expert Bruce Blair's warning that the American nuclear force is demoralized and marginalized. Sounds like a bad recipe. I sure hope there are no Aaron Alexises drumming their fingers down in those silos.

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They’re good.)

My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel of the U.S. military, with resources and top-level attention lavished on it. If I recall correctly, the Air Force’s budget in the late 1950s was for a time about twice that of the Army’s.

The situation is different now. Nuclear warfare is no longer a focus of intense top-level attention at the White House and the Pentagon. I don’t know who they are recruiting to fly the B-52s and run the missile silos, but we’ve seen some weird problems in the nuclear Air Force lately. I’ve previously quoted nuclear expert Bruce Blair’s warning that the American nuclear force is demoralized and marginalized. Sounds like a bad recipe. I sure hope there are no Aaron Alexises drumming their fingers down in those silos.

So: Given the problems in the nuclear Air Force, are the chances of a recurrence of a Goldsboro-like incident actually increasing? It would not be good if, after years of worrying about terrorism, we nuked ourselves.

Bonus fact: The last U.S. nuclear test was Sept. 23, 1992. I didn’t realize it was that recent. How did they get that past the EPA? Overall, the U.S. government detonated a total of 1,056 nuclear devices.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.