A nuclear brain-drain in the military has shown signs of reversing course in the decade-plus since the mistaken delivery of nuclear-armed cruise missiles to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, the head of the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory’s Center for Global Security Research said Monday.
“My sense of it is that that bottomed out,” Brad Roberts, director of the Livermore internal think tank, said in a webcast hosted by the Washington-based non-government group, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “The mis-transit of the weapon to Minot [Air Force Base] and the subsequent Schlesinger panel findings about the loss of leadership focus and loss of service and other commitments to institutional excellence turned the corner, bottomed out.”
Roberts was deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, years after the event that prompted some admonishments and early retirements among senior officers. He was responding Wednesday to an audience member’s assertion that “the U.S. defense establishment’s nuclear IQ has decreased dramatically since the end of the Cold War.”
Despite allowing that the nuclear know-how among post-911 military professionals has rebounded from a nadir in 2007, when Air Force personnel improperly loaded off nuclear-armed Air Launched Cruise Missiles aboard a B-52H bomber at Minot base, Roberts said that it is still “very difficult to find evidence of nuclear focus in the professional military education system.”
Roberts said the group he now leads seeks to improve that status quo by encouraging nuclear professionals to look at nuclear weapons as one part of a post-Cold War strategic picture that emphasizes space, cyber and regional security in ways that the U.S.-versus-Soviets competition of the late 20th century did not.
“The nuclear problem today is not the problem of the Cold War,” Roberts said. “[I]t’s unhelpfully similar to the Cold-War problem … in the sense that there are elements that are similar, and so we sort of ignore the differences.”