Mislaid Weaponry Prompts U.S. to Order Nuclear Inventory

March 28, 2008 08:12 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Defense Department mix-up that sent nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan went undetected for 18 months. New scrutiny is to follow.

30-Second Summary

On Tuesday, Pentagon officials admitted to a mistake that has been “deepening concerns about the security of the nuclear arsenal,” reports The Washington Post.

Taiwan was supposed to receive helicopter parts. Instead it got four nuclear nose-cone assemblies in a package sent in August 2006.

The Post explains that “the fuses help trigger nuclear warheads on Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles as they near their point of impact.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reacted by issuing a memo Wednesday ordering an inventory of all nuclear weapons and related technology to be completed in the next 60 days.

China has expressed “grave concern” over the incident. Beijing regards Taiwan as a “breakaway province,” and maintains a one-China policy, asserting that there is one indivisible China, of which Taiwan is a part.

The United States officially acknowledges the one-China policy, but, as the Slate "explainer" on the issue puts it, "practices a de factor two-China policy."

The “disconcerting” incident, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates described it, is the military’s second nuclear mix-up in the last six months.

In August, the Air Force lost track of six nuclear warheads for 36 hours after they were unintentionally flown on a B-52 bomber between bases in North Dakota and Louisiana.

But in the Taiwan case, the United States may have violated non-proliferation agreements and U.S. export laws by sending the items to Taiwan.

Nonetheless, Leonard S. Spector, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the incident does seem more like “mismanagement rather than a nefarious scheme to get them to Taiwan.”

Headline Links: ‘Nuclear Parts Sent to Taiwan in Error’

Reaction: ‘U.S. Feels Heat over Nuke Fuses in Taiwan’

Opinions & Analysis: How could this happen?

Related Topics: The nuclear threat in Russia and Korea

Background: Warheads go missing over U.S. skies

Reference: Non-proliferation, the one-China policy and the Defense Science Board


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