An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. Pacific Time Oct. 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. 191002-F-CG053-1002 (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong)
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev once said that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” and five major nuclear weapon states, including the United States, repeated this statement earlier this year. Yet many in the US defense establishment—the military, government, think tanks, and industry—promote the perception that a nuclear war can be won and fought. Moreover, they do so in a voice that is influential, respected, well-funded, and treated with deference. The US defense leadership’s methodical messaging to its workforce helps shape the views of this massive, multi-sector constituency that includes advocates, future leaders, and decision makers. It advances a view of nuclear weapon policies that intensifies and accelerates the new nuclear arms race forming between the United States, China, and Russia.
Perhaps these beliefs are unsurprising, coming as they are from the defense leaders of a global superpower. But given humankind’s stake in the information that US service members receive regarding their roles in the nuclear weapons complex, US defense leadership messaging warrants a spotlight. This is especially necessary, given the current crisis in Ukraine.