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Who Should Manage the Nuclear Weapons Complex, Civilians Or Military? 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-we-just-outsource-it dept.
Lasrick writes "For the first time since 1946, Congress is seriously debating whether the U.S. nuclear weapons complex should be under civilian or military control. That the article is in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is significant, as it was many of the scientists who founded BAS who argued for civilian control in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They believed that atomic energy was too destructive, and the military too secretive, which would possibly thwart scientific discovery and erect a major obstacle to international control and cooperation. The article talks about how management has changed over the decades and explains the discussion that needs to happen before Congress acts."
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Who Should Manage the Nuclear Weapons Complex, Civilians Or Military?

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  • by EdZ (755139) on Friday December 21, 2012 @02:50PM (#42362281)
    Who do you trust less: the military, or a whatever corporation would be set up to run it? Personally, I'd take the one where people of whatever level of management can be held accountable by court-martial.
    • by Infiniti2000 (1720222) on Friday December 21, 2012 @02:54PM (#42362339)
      Whoa, easy, this isn't about government vs. commercial (private), this is about Civilian (government) vs. Military (government, specifically the DOD). So, the mention of a corporation isn't correct.
      • by TheLink (130905)
        So I guess outsourcing to India or China is out of the question? ;)
      • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Friday December 21, 2012 @03:16PM (#42362571)

        In fact, if anything, corporations are more entangled in the military side of government than the commercial side. DoD facilities are full of commercial contractors of various kinds, some of which only exist to get government contracts (i.e. they have no real private-sector clients).

        • by Trepidity (597)

          Hah, I meant "...than the civilian side", of course...

        • But the contractors cannot commit the government to do, not do, or pay for anything. They perform work, manage other contractors, etc. The government civilians and military personal make all the decisions. Should be no threat of contractors deciding what to do with WMDs other than in an advisory role.
          • by Sentrion (964745) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:08PM (#42363259)

            The problem is how you define "advisory". Some of the worst acts from our government, both from civilians and military, can be traced back to a private contractor who "advised" a government official to do one thing or another. Sometimes it was "advice" that was just biased to serve the interest of the contractor and the official just wasn't smart enough to pick up on it. Other times free dinners, Christmas presents, "business entertainment", and an implied offer of future employment accompanied the so-called "advice". And more common than we would like to see officials have been simply flat-out bribed to knowingly serve the interests of private corporations and individuals at the expense of taxpayers and risk to citizens.

      • Which I would say is worse. The military isn't as swayed by public opinion as the civilian government is.

      • by magarity (164372)

        Whoa, easy, this isn't about government vs. commercial (private), this is about Civilian (government) vs. Military (government, specifically the DOD)

        Since the civilian, elected President has to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, what's the debate, exactly?

      • by Jawnn (445279)

        Whoa, easy, this isn't about government vs. commercial (private), this is about Civilian (government) vs. Military (government, specifically the DOD). So, the mention of a corporation isn't correct.

        You're being sarcastic, right? Right? You don't seriously believe that the U.S Government actually represents the will of the people anymore. Right? No one on /. would be that stupid. Right?

      • The mention of a corporation is not incorrect.

        Consider your money. The United States owns no money. The Department of the Treasury doesn't print money, possesses no gold to back up any currency, has no authority to set lending rates, nothing. The GOVERNMENT itself has abdicated all such authority and privilege. The currency of the United States is a fiat currency, issued and controlled by a private bank, at usury interest rates. That bank sets lending rates, and in fact, intentionally precipitates rece

      • this is about Civilian (government) vs. Military (government, specifically the DOD).

        Ok, so we are effectively talking TSA airport security vs. the US military and the TSA is already irradiating millions of people without access to nuclear weapons. Is there really any question who you want to be in control?

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 21, 2012 @03:04PM (#42362449) Journal

      Corporate executives can be tried under criminal law, just as generals can be court-martialed. The problem is, neither of them will be. Our legal system is completely incapable of extracting justice from the powerful. No general has been prosecuted for torture after the Bush administration, and no executive has been prosecuted for fraud following the 2008 financial crisis. There is no justice or rule of law left in the US. Who you are and who you know matters a lot more than what you did.

      • by PRMan (959735) on Friday December 21, 2012 @03:29PM (#42362739)

        Corporate executives can be tried under criminal law

        Link?

        • Rare, but it does happen, remember Bernie Madoff?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ShanghaiBill (739463) *

            Rare, but it does happen, remember Bernie Madoff?

            and Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, etc, etc.
            Now show me a list of generals court-martialed over the last few decades.
            The idea that generals are more accountable than CEOs is absurd.

            • by niado (1650369)

              Rare, but it does happen, remember Bernie Madoff?

              and Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, etc, etc. Now show me a list of generals court-martialed over the last few decades. The idea that generals are more accountable than CEOs is absurd.

              Well, there are a lot more CEO's than generals, so that would affect the statistics. CEO's also on average make significantly (orders of magnitude) more money than generals, so it should be worth a bit more risk!

            • by Quila (201335)

              First, generals are less likely to pull the antics commonly found among CEOs. For the most part they weren't born with a silver spoon. Usually they started with a bachelor's degree paid for by the military (either through a service academy or ROTC). All hold a master's, usually gained mid-career at a military command college, not as a drunk frat boy at a business school. They all worked their way up. They define their own success by the success of the units they command, by doing so well they get promoted t

          • by Sentrion (964745)

            Again, I think the question here is referring to the control of civilian government employees versus military officers, not control by private corporations run by civilian business executives and a board of civilian directors. I haven't checked recently, but I still don't think any private coporations own and maintain their own missile silos, complete with nuclear warheads and staff to maintain and launch attacks. Though I'm sure Blackwater would jump at the opportunity if it were available.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          fraud is a crime.
          keeping slaves is a crime, fucking over the environment is a crime. fucking over people in several other ways is a crime.

          and actually people, private company executives, do get sued and tried under criminal law for these things all the time - it's just that it seems if the operation hits 50 million+ nobody will get sued.

      • by Quila (201335) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:11PM (#42363287)

        No general has been prosecuted for torture after the Bush administration

        If you mean that rendition stuff, that's because it has been determined they didn't break any laws. Sorry, but if you're talking accountability by the top brass for that, anything they did was at the direction President Bush and his civilian leadership. They can't go down unless he goes down since it appears Bush didn't take the convenient step of throwing one of them under the bus.

        If you mean the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, up to lieutenant colonel rank was tried, as that was the highest level of person who was actually involved (unfortunately, someone didn't read him his rights, letting some charges be dismissed). Above that, his colonel received non-judicial punishment for dereliction of duty, and his general was demoted just because that happened under her command.

        But as far as generals in general (haha) being court martialed, it does happen. Just recently they tried the highly respected BG Jeffrey Sinclair of the 82nd Airborne for sexual misconduct with subordinate officers and abuse of his power. This guy was like a god in his unit, practically revered like Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and he still went down. Even if found not guilty, his career is over.

        There is much more accountability if it's military. They don't even have to break a regular criminal law to go down, a simple finding of dereliction of duty is enough. Imagine if our recent high-profile CEOs could have been criminally prosecuted for dereliction of duty, without even having to try to prove intentional fraud.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          I'm talking about waterboarding. It's a war crime, and we hanged Japanese for it. Anyone who waterboards should get the same treatment.

          Sorry, but if you're talking accountability by the top brass for that, anything they did was at the direction President Bush and his civilian leadership. They can't go down unless he goes down since it appears Bush didn't take the convenient step of throwing one of them under the bus.

          If you notice, officers take an oath to uphold the constitution. Not obey the president.

    • by yurtinus (1590157)
      If there's anything I've learned from Stargate SG1 - it's that the military is far more competent than civilian organizations when it comes to handling advanced weaponry and technology.
    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      Wait, the nuclear weapons complex is managed?

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Who do you trust less: the military, or a whatever corporation would be set up to run it? Personally, I'd take the one where people of whatever level of management can be held accountable by court-martial.

      ...and really long prison terms (not club fed) ....and executions. It's in the UCMJ.

  • Civilian control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Friday December 21, 2012 @02:58PM (#42362387)

    Isn't the military supposed to be under civilian control already? Have they gone rogue and I just haven't heard of it until now?

    • by cpghost (719344)
      The military is under civilian control, but the military are better at controlling their own weapons than some private corporation, IMHO.
    • The military is subordinate to the President (and in some ways to congress). The President is the ultimate command authority. However their day to day stuff? That's all internal. There aren't a bunch of civilian overseers who pass the final ok on everything. It isn't like a general makes a decision and then looks over at a civilian who gives the thumbs up or down to the plan.

      So while the civilian government maintains the ultimate control, they can fire or promote military leaders, controls their budget, and

      • there is little civilian control over the details.

        If that is true, why did civilian leadership revoke DADT? Isn't that a little detail?

        • That is a high level policy. The details were the individual cases involved, the over all policy is something that is up to the civilian government.

          A small detail thing would be if an individual was being prosecuted under it and the President stepped in and ordered that to stop. He has the authority to do that, but doesn't do that sort of thing in reality.

          The individual DATA cases, those were all handled by the military.

          The President can theoretically control any detail of the military being the commander i

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      Isn't the military supposed to be under civilian control already?

      No, you have that confused with our political syst... oh, wait...

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      the word you want is "oversight".

      in theory, the civilians, not necessarily knowing what or how to run a war, simply tell the military "we're at war with X...go get them!", and the military does so.
      sometimes they micromanage and screw things up. sometimes they dont have enough oversight and screw things up.

    • by edjs (1043612)
      The summary could use some work. The article is talking about the the agency (National Nuclear Security Administration) that controls the design, development and maintenance of nukes and related facilities, said agency being created in 1999 and placed under the Energy Department (civilian) control. What's up for discussion is are plans to move it out from under the Energy Department.
  • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Friday December 21, 2012 @03:05PM (#42362455)

    Major Jack D Ripper : Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?
    Captain Lionel Mandrake : No, I don't think I do, sir, no.
    Major Jack D Ripper : He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.

    • It is all about flouridation and our fluids...
    • by pesho (843750)
      You forgot the most important part of Major Jack D Ripper's argument:

      General Jack D. Ripper: He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

  • by jdavidb (449077) on Friday December 21, 2012 @03:07PM (#42362479) Homepage Journal

    Noone. It should be destroyed in the fires of Mt. Doom.

    • by jdavidb (449077)
      Who should have the power to indiscriminately target civilians, noncombatants, children, everybody within a rival gang's given radius?
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      I would welcome your solution if we could be certain everyone else would also dispose of their rings too. which leaves us at a bit of an impasse.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Well, you could get rid of at least 90% of them and still be capable of annihilating any country in the world and bringing about a global nuclear winter. You can always make more if something changes.

        • Master Blaster!

          Seriously, that would be a rockin' flick. Max vs the Nazgul, Frodo busts a deal.

        • I don't get what that is supposed to accomplish. I can see that if it is a budgetary argument, that we spend too much maintaining them (we don't spend much on it but it always could be less). However if your argument is one of destruction then who cares how many the US has? It is all or nothing, going part way gets you nowhere. It is a silly feel-good measure with no actual use.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            There is a finite chance of there being an accident with each one. The more you have, the higher the chance.

      • I would welcome your solution if we could be certain everyone else would also dispose of their rings too. which leaves us at a bit of an impasse.

        It is not so easy because, while the knowledge on how to make nuclear weapons remains we are still are risk of rouge states or powerful terrorist groups eventually creating one. So really you need to eliminate the knowledge of how to make them at the basic physics level because anyone who understands enough basic nuclear physics behind how these things work will be able to figure out a means to make one given enough time and resources. Frodo had it a lot easier - destroying his ring got rid on the only per

  • They should have to vote on each and every target and its subsequent launch.

    • Nah, just diffuse them. Don't ever launch them, outlaw that shit. Use 'em for powering space stuff or energy plants, never weapons. We've got other better more precision weapons. Think about Nuclear Retaliation... really? Even if fired on, or as a last ditch effort to win some war, wouldn't it be better not to launch a nuke? I mean, imagine you're now going to die... Soooo... what? You whip an Uzi out from under your death-bead pillow to take a few others down with you? FUCK THE LIVING! I'M DYING

      • the point of MAD is that it keeps you from being on the metaforical deathbed in the first place because the people that would put you there don't want you to kill them out of spite

  • i can say from experience that neither one is even remotely qualified to manage nuclear weapons. hell, lets be honest, most people people at the management level, civilian and military alike, shouldnt even be managing their own breakfast choices, let alone nuclear weapons, or worse- other people (yes, i consider people much more dangerous than nuclear weapons, but thats just my opinion).
  • Because Artificial Intelligence beats Natural Stupidity. I propose to call the computer to which we give the control of the nuclear weapons Colossus.
  • Military handles security and civilian technical community handles operations. Each one thinks they are in charge.
  • I'm not sure how this changes the question, but either way the nuclear weapons complex is ultimately under civilian control. My understanding is that a nuclear device can not be deployed without an order from a civilian commander. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the order to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki solely under orders from a civilian?

    Another thing to think about: Look at how other civilian government organizations are managed, and imagine a network of nuclear missiles under the s

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:12PM (#42363297) Homepage Journal

    100% of the wars the US initiated have been initiated by a civilian government.

    The current structure is that the military is a tool used by politicians to exert pressure on foreign nations. Having a military layer between the civilians and the big red button seems better than no layer at all.

  • I don't say this about many things being the progressive technologist that I am, but this case really seriously calls for it:
    DO NOT FIX WHAT'S NOT BROKEN
    Just saying, when it comes to managing out nuclear weapons, what we have right now seems to be working just fine, so please please just leave it the hell alone!!

    That said, I trust the military in this particular case over the civilian portion of the government. One thing about the military portion of the government is for all the DoD contractors there
  • Seriously this is slashdot.. wasn't this already polled about 100 times about who is gonna screw the pooch and end the world.
    Military, Polititians, SKYNET, or Programming Snafu.

  • by Paracelcus (151056) on Friday December 21, 2012 @06:08PM (#42364627) Journal

    I'm sorry but I'll listen to a general before some political reptile, politicians are the least trustworthy members of society.

  • who gets to blow up the world?

    Like why have the ability.... unless you are going to use it.

  • We've seen the military purposes to which weapons were arbitrarily dropped on Japan. History teaches nuclear weapons did not end WWII with Japan, only destroying Japan's Emperor form of gov't. So...that precedent speaks to the country of Iran, its form of gov't today and nuclear weapons locked, loaded and ready for duty in the middle east. This is not a military decision nor should it be

    • arbitrarily dropped on Japan

      Dude, stop the heavy drug use; your brain performance will improve slowly and you may even qualify to be a janitor someday

      The civilian President of the U.S. (not the military) decided to drop the weapons on Japan (not an arbitrary target ... the nation that attacked Pearl Harbor). Even the target cities were carefully selected. Each did have a large population (cities get bombed in "total war", ask the people of London or Dresden) but also had significant military-industrial as

  • I may be biased by living in San Diego, but the "civilian" oversight of nuclear energy has failed. We have a nuclear power plant here 60 miles from downtown which is bogged down in endless hearings and oversight. Taking the safety issues seriously is great, but it's obvious the government teams lack the expertise and will to actually help get the reactor running again or decide to shut it down permanently.

    Meanwhile there are 3+ perfectly fine nuclear reactors running on aircraft carriers and subs docked r

    • by tiqui (1024021) on Saturday December 22, 2012 @04:44AM (#42367825)

      I was based in San Diego, and once lived up near the San Onofre plant (had a good friend who worked there). I would have no worries having my family live right nearby in San Onofre (the neighboring community, for those not familiar with the area). First, the plant has a containment facility designed to handle a direct impact by an airliner or a worst-case meltdown, and also designed for SoCal earthquakes. Second, while I have MANY issues with the horrendous civilian oversight of nuclear activity in the US, my main complaint is that they are far too stringent on things that do not matter and not strict enough to make me happy on some things that do. Having said that, however, the record is that the civilian overseers in the US are sufficiently cautious that no American plant has ever killed anybody. Even three Mile Island where the operators completely screwed-up harmed precisely zero people. Unlike Chernobyl, we mandate adequate containment.

      You are correct that the US Navy has an amazing track record with nuclear power. I used to have a buddy who was an engineering officer on a boomer, and he and his associates were sterling. I never cease to be amazed that the US Navy can take a bunch of 18 year-old kids from high school and 22 year old college kids and teach them to be competent, disciplined, and exacting ..... and then put them in charge of nuclear reactors, jet aircraft, nuclear weapons, etc and have such results.

      I have long thought that no nuclear plant in the US should be civilian ... working in these plants ought to be a second career we offer to the best members of our nuclear navy when they choose to retire and want a stable family life at a fixed street address. Such people could not only be trusted to be fully-competent and willing to sacrifice to protect their fellow citizens, but also would be competent to defend the facility should that need ever arise.

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