30 years ago tonight, Pres. George H.W. Bush ordered the unilateral elimination of all land-based US nuclear weapons in Europe and S. Korea, all naval tactical nuclear weapons, the end of ground alert for all bombers, and the immediate de-alerting of all 450 Minuteman II ICBMs.
This sweeping move—which was fully supported by US military leaders—was unprecedented and came as a complete surprise to almost everyone. “America must lead again as it always has, as only it can,” said President Bush. Here's why he announced these dramatic changes when he did:
And here’s what those momentous orders looked like as transmitted to Strategic Air Command:
Thanks to these unilateral cuts and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, in just four years in office President Bush reduced the bloated US nuclear stockpile by 41% (9,487 warheads), the largest reductions by any president and a generally unheralded achievement, even today.
As Bush had hoped, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev offered a detailed reciprocal response in a televised address to the nation on October 5, 1991. On January 29, 1992, Russia's new president, Boris Yeltsin, reaffirmed and expanded on Gorbachev's statement in his own address.
For more on what came to be known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, see nti.org/analysis/artic… and ndupress.ndu.edu/portals/68/doc….

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More from @AtomicAnalyst

26 Sep
Just past midnight today in 1983, thanks to “a funny feeling in my gut,” 44 year-old Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov’s calm assessment that a satellite warning of the launch of five US Minuteman ICBMs was a false alarm likely averted a catastrophic nuclear war. washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/l…
Petrov's story—including his treatment by Soviet military authorities after this incident (which was hushed up for 15 years until his superior officer published a memoir)—is told in the 2014 hybrid documentary-drama “The Man Who Saved the World.”
Petrov died in May 2017 in Moscow of hypostatic pneumonia. He was 77. nytimes.com/2017/09/18/wor…
Read 4 tweets
17 Sep
Today in 1955, a specially-modified B-36 bomber—the NB-36H—made its first test flight out of Carswell AFB, Texas, carrying (but not powered by) an operational 1-Megawatt air-cooled nuclear reactor. It would make 46 additional flights over Texas and New Mexico through March 1957.
The NB-36H flew directly over Lake Worth, the principal water source for Fort Worth. A B-50 carrying specially-trained paratroopers escorted each test flight. Had the NB-36H crashed, they would jump into the impact zone to prevent any unauthorized entry.
A 12-ton lead-and-rubber-shielded cockpit with windows 10-12 inches thick protected the flight crew from the otherwise lethal amount of radiation emanating from the reactor hanging in the bomb bay. Special water pockets installed aft of the cockpit also absorbed radiation.
Read 16 tweets
16 Sep
This memorable episode aired less than two months after President John F. Kennedy—in a nationally-televised speech as the Berlin crisis rapidly escalated—urged Americans to start making plans for fallout shelters to save themselves and their families in case of a nuclear attack.
Almost overnight, Kennedy's address set off a nationwide fallout shelter frenzy. Heated debates ensued on the morality of turning away or even shooting neighbors trying to enter a family shelter in an emergency. Here's an article in TIME from August 18, 1961: “Gun Thy Neighbor?”
Harshly criticized (incl. by Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Billy Graham) for triggering the hysteria, JFK subsequently pleaded, “Let us concentrate more on keeping enemy bombers and missiles away from our shores and concentrate less on keeping neighbors away from our shelters.”
Read 5 tweets
15 Sep
Tonight in 1980 at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, the number five engine on the right wing of a B-52H on ground alert caught fire during a drill. The aircraft was loaded with 8 Short-Range Attack Missiles (armed with 170-200-kt W69 warheads) and 4 B28 bombs (70 kt to 1.45 Mt).
That night, a southeast wind gusted up to 35 mph. The B-52 pointed in that direction. That alone kept the flames away from the fuselage. Had the nose been facing west, the fire would have incinerated all six crew members as they evacuated and burned the weapons in the bomb bay.
Because the crew did not follow the correct procedure to shut off the fuel lines before evacuating, the fire burned for three hours. Eventually, a crew member broke through the fire line, climbed into the B-52, and properly engaged the shutoff valves, extinguishing the blaze.
Read 12 tweets
14 Sep
Alarmed by Trump's irrational behavior and the insurrection, Gen. Mark Milley took the extraordinary step of ordering officials at the National Military Command Center not to accept any orders—incl. to launch nuclear weapons—unless he was directly involved.cnn.com/2021/09/14/pol…
While somewhat reassuring given the circumstances, Milley's Jan. 8 actions were arguably extralegal because the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff only advises the president and others and does not have the legal authority to impede or override a president's military orders.
Flashback to Trump's State of the Union address on January 30, 2018:
Read 4 tweets
14 Sep
OTD in 1954—for its ninth nuclear test—the USSR staged a live-fire nuclear wargame near Totskoye, ~600 mi. SE of Moscow. At 9:33am (local), a 40-kt atomic bomb exploded 1,150 feet in the air between two groups of soldiers, some just 2 miles from the blast.
The roughly 45,000 soldiers were then ordered into mock battle under highly radioactive conditions for the remainder of the day. Most had no protective equipment and were not warned about the dangers. Some who were issued gas masks removed them in the oppressive 115F (46C) heat.
Exposures that day were reportedly ten times the maximum allowable level for US soldiers for an entire year. The 1,000,000 people who lived within 100 miles of the blast were given no warning at all. For more about this "monstrous" exercise, see washingtonpost.com/archive/politi….
Read 9 tweets

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