Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Center for International Security and Cooperation Stanford University


Publications




Human Reliability and Safety in the Handling of Nuclear Weapons

Journal Article

Author
Herbert L. Abrams - Stanford University

Published by
Science & Global Security, Vol. 2, page(s) 325-349
1991


The problem of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war has been couched largely in terms of superpower confrontations during a crisis. Whether the focus is on the major powers, or on developing nations with ballistic missiles and probable nuclear weapons capability, stability in those who handle weapons and effective safeguards on use are essential preventive measures. The United States and the USSR have been careful to guard against unauthorized launch. All nuclear nations have been concerned with retaining ultimate control of nuclear weapons in civilian hands; with monitoring the reliability and stability of the forces that handle the weapons; and with preventing weapons from coming into the possession of outsiders. In 1986, an analysis of the sources of human instability in those who handle nuclear weapons concluded that thousands of unstable individuals were involved in "minding our missiles."1 The present paper serves as an update on the problem and links it to potential areas of increasing risk as the world changes.