Accidents happen. The least accident-prone nuclear weapons are the ones that are not in motion — but not always: see Eric Schlosser’s account of the Damascus incident in Command and Control.
Nuclear weapons in transit are more accident prone. The dangers associated with transit multiply with the number of vehicles carrying weapons in transit, which can spike during a crisis. The most accident-prone nuclear weapons are those in motion when hostilities commence, when standard operating procedures are subject to change. In this event, the most accident-prone nuclear weapons are those moved close to the forward edge of battle.
Nobel Prize-winning economist and strategic thinker Thomas C. Schelling (right) wrote about accidents in the September 1960 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Here are some excerpts from “Meteors, Mischief and War:”
“The point is that accidents do not cause war. Decisions cause war. Accidents can trigger decisions; and this may be all that anybody meant. But the distinction needs to be made, because the remedy is not just preventing accidents but constraining decisions.
“If we think of the decisions as well as the accidents we can see that accidental war, like premeditated war, is subject to “deterrence.” Deterrence, it is usually said, is aimed at the rational calculator in full control of his faculties and his forces; accidents may trigger war in spite of deterrence. But it is really better to consider accidental war as the deterrence problem, not a separate one…