Editorial

原潜衝突の瞬間(When Nuclear Subs Collide)


Published: February 23, 2009, New York Times

今月(2月3日)、全部で100個以上の熱核弾頭を装備した、英仏2隻の核弾頭ミサイル潜水艦が、大西洋海面下で衝突した。 このニュースによって、途方もなく破壊的な兵器が日常的に配備されており、しかも、その安全性の最大限の確保が、ほとんど考慮されていないことを、身にしみて思い知らされた。

冷戦終結後20年間、すべての核強国は、核兵器戦略を再考することに、許しがたいほど怠慢であった。つまり、核兵器備蓄を激減させ、今回の衝突事故の原因だった不必要で危険な演習を中止するなど、戦略の見直しをしなかった。

(不幸中の)幸いにも、潜水艦の被害は小さいく、核弾頭に損傷はなかった。英、仏のミサイルには、 合衆国のミサイルと同様に、事故発射および弾頭の暴発に防止がかけられている。 しかし、もっと強い衝撃があれば、潜水艦も乗組員も海底に沈み、プルトニウムがあたりの海水に流出したかもしれない。

衝突した2隻の潜水艦の核弾頭は、もし発射されれば、何百万人もの人々を殺せるものだ。 英、仏は全部で、1,000発よりかなり少ない数の核弾頭を持っている。 合衆国とロシアには、まだ2万発以上ある。

オバマ大統領は、ロシアとの軍縮交渉を早急に再開するべきである。つまり、配備核兵器と、それより数千発も多い備蓄核兵器の大幅削減( deep reductions )協定である。そして、英国、フランス、中国を会談に参加させるべきである。

いかなる核兵器備蓄の削減の場合でも、保有し続けることになる最重要な核弾頭ミサイルは潜水艦装備となるだろう。 ミサイル装備潜水艦は発見されることなく、絶えず移動するので、原理的に、先制攻撃を免れる。 また、それらを使用するのも、失うのも、プレッシャーが低い。この利点が今回の事故の根源でもある。

大西洋で作戦中の、米、英、仏、露、4つの核装備海軍は、それぞれのミサイル潜水艦が海洋のどの部分で作戦に従事しているか、情報の開示を拒否している。今回のような事故はまれではある。 しかし、さらにその可能性を低下させられるし、またそうするべきである。安全保障に打撃をあたえることなく、それはできる。

そこでなさねばならないことの全てとは、4国の海軍が、それぞれの固有の潜航深度を守ることに(航空機の空中衝突防止のように)同意することだ。実際の場所は機密のままで残る:大西洋のどこにでもいられる。その潜航深度割り当ては、数カ月ごとに4国間でローテーションすれば、どの国も有利、不利を感じなくて済む。

わが国の安全保障が核兵器に依存する限り、私たちは不愉快な危険を受け入れなければならないだろう。 政府は、これらのリスクを最低限度まで低下させるべきだ。それには、軍事的合理性がない何千発の核兵器を廃棄し、可能な限り高い安全基準を確保すべきである。

LONDON ? In a freak accident, two submarines carrying nuclear missiles, one French and the other British, collided while submerged on operational patrols in the Atlantic early this month, the British and French defense ministries said Monday.

Both vessels returned damaged but otherwise safe to their home ports, with the 250 crew members aboard uninjured and with “no compromise to nuclear safety,” the defense ministries said in terse statements that appeared to have been agreed upon by the nations. The reference appeared to cover the nuclear reactors that power the submarines and the 16 ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads that the British and French vessels each routinely carry on patrols.

But military experts said the episode raised troubling questions about the safety of ballistic missile submarines patrolling the oceans while hiding their whereabouts even from NATO allies. They said that agreements on “waterspace management,” requiring NATO nations to advise one another of the whereabouts of submerged submarines, did not include vessels carrying ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, the most potent and most carefully guarded of all.

The collision spurred a fresh outcry from groups in Britain and France that have demanded that the nations scrap their nuclear arsenals, with representatives saying that only chance had prevented a more serious impact that could have sunk both vessels, along with their missiles. The collision “could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabeds,” said Kate Hudson, the chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a long-established protest group in Britain.

The collision of the vessels on the night of Feb. 3, at a location neither nation disclosed, was described by military experts in London and Paris as a one-in-a-million occurrence, given the expanse of the oceans and the low number of submarines carrying ballistic missiles on patrol at any time. The nations with such vessels are the United States, Russia and China, as well as Britain and France.

Just as startling, the experts said, was that the French Defense Ministry appeared not to have known in the immediate aftermath that its submarine, Le Triomphant, had struck the British submarine, H.M.S. Vanguard. On Feb. 6, the ministry released a statement in Paris saying that the French vessel had “collided with an immersed object,” which it described as probably a drifting cargo container, and that the submarine’s sonar dome, located in its nose and crucial to its ability to track other vessels, had been seriously damaged.

Official confirmation of the collision came only after a report of the episode appeared Monday in The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper. French officials said Monday that they realized that Le Triomphant had rammed the British vessel only after sending inquiries to other navies about the deep-sea impact ? an admission that appeared to underline the extreme secrecy NATO allies impose on the whereabouts of their missile-carrying submarines.

The Vanguard, which is 492 feet long, was towed back to its home port, at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, near Glasgow, Scotland, with “very visible dents and scrapes,” according to the BBC. The similarly sized French submarine took three days to get back to its home port, at L’?le Longue near Brest, according to French news reports.

Official statements in Paris and London appeared eager to play down the seriousness of the collision. The French Defense Ministry said that the impact occurred “at very low speed” and that the submarines had been in physical contact only briefly, without any effect on nuclear safety. In London, Adm. Sir Jonathon Band, the top officer in the Royal Navy, gave a virtually identical account.

He said the two submarines “were conducting routine national patrols in the Atlantic Ocean” and “came into contact at very low speed,” with both submarines remaining safe and with no injuries to crew members. “We can confirm that capability remained unaffected and that there was no compromise to nuclear safety,” he said.

Military experts said there were a number of collisions between western and Soviet submarines during the cold war. In 1992, an American nuclear submarine, the Baton Rouge, was struck by a surfacing Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. But they said the latest episode underscored the need for the three NATO nations with submarines carrying nuclear warheads ? Britain, France and the United States ? to seek new accords on the secrecy that made the collision this month possible.

Stephen Saunders, a retired British naval officer who is editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, a publication respected among naval experts, said that an investigation would need to cover a variety of technical issues. However, he said, the heart of the problem appeared to be procedural, meaning that neither vessel knew where the other was because of the importance attached to remaining undetected.

But Lee Willett of the Royal United Services Institute in London said the NATO allies would be very reluctant to share information on the whereabouts of their nuclear submarines.

“These are the strategic crown jewels of the nation,” he told Agence France-Presse. “The whole purpose of a sea-based nuclear deterrent is to hide somewhere far out of sight. They are the ultimate tools of national survival in the event of war. Therefore, it’s the very last thing you would share with anybody.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

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