Atomic Flashback

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Air Force / Zachary T. C. Hada

President George H.W. Bush ordered B-1s like these off "strip alert" in 1991.

Interesting to read the back-and-forth between Robert Zarate of the Foreign Policy Initiative, and Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, over how big the U.S. nuclear stockpile should be.

It resurrected a pleasant memory.

In his post earlier Friday, Reif mentions the deep cuts in nuclear weapons made by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev 22 years ago:

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (and later Russian President Boris Yeltsin) mutually reduced significant numbers of shorter range (or nonstrategic) nuclear weapons without a formal treaty. Under these so-called Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, the United States and Russia are believed to have reduced their deployed shorter range stockpiles by an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 warheads, respectively….What is often forgotten about this Bush policy is that he was prepared to retire those nuclear weapons with — or without — Russian reciprocity. The fact that the Soviet Union and later Russia followed suit turned out to be icing on the cake. All told, between 1988 and 1992 Bush reduced the total size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile (both strategic and non-strategic warheads) by nearly 50%, from 22,217 to 11,511 warheads.

Battleland recalls when the news of the deal broke, walking out of his downtown Washington office and feeling the sun was brighter. Traffic seemed less frantic. Lunch was cheaper…and better-tasting. Women were prettier and, in fact, Battleland had a spring in his step — he must have lost a few pounds.

Writing stories like this was refreshing:

WASHINGTON — After 34 years of waiting for the launch order that never came, Air Force nuclear bombers designed to destroy the Soviet Union were taken off alert yesterday.

Bombs were unloaded, flight crews went home and a new era began for superpower relations and U.S. military strategy.

The stand-down order from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney marked the Pentagon’s first step in the sweeping nuclear arsenal cuts announced by President Bush on Friday night. Cheney also ordered the Air Force’s 450 Minuteman 2 missiles off alert status.

The superpower nuclear arsenal was shrinking! There was a sense of daring about the deal, and a giddiness among those paying attention. Battleland is no peacenik, mind you. But there was an almost-tangible frisson of excitement associated with the event.

Don’t fret. It passed, and Battleland hasn’t felt that way about anything in the arms-control world in the nearly quarter-century since.