On June 1, 2009, while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, Air France 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean for no apparent reason, killing all 228 passengers and crew. A massive search recovered the “black box” flight recorders this May, and a just released report shows that a “combination of multiple improbable factors led to the disaster.” Unless we start to pay attention to similar dangers in our nuclear weapons strategy, another “combination of multiple improbable factors” could lead to the loss of all 7 billion passengers on space ship Earth.
As explained in my article, “Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons,” the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis occurred as a result of six key mistakes. Each, by itself, would not have been so dangerous, but taken together, they brought the world to the brink of the nuclear abyss. Similarly, a false alarm in an early warning system normally has but a small chance of triggering a nuclear exchange. But, if the false alarm occurs during a crisis such as the 2008 Georgian War, the risk is magnified many times over.
Pilots agree that complacency is our worst enemy. It is high time we stopped complacently assuming that, because we have escaped a nuclear disaster thus far, our luck will hold forever. Even a cursory examination of the history of the nuclear age will show that to be dangerous, wishful thinking. To survive, we must become more responsible pilots of our ship.
For Further Reading, please see our related web site, Defusing the Nuclear Threat.