Ever since the Cold War ended, successive U.S. administrations have warned repeatedly about the dangers of unsecured nuclear weapons. But just before Labor Day an incident occurred which calls into question the kind of security the U.S. itself is maintaining over its own nuclear weapons.

Since the late 1960s, bombers loaded with nuclear weapons have not been allowed to fly over U.S. territory. But now the Air Force has admitted that on Aug. 30, a B-52 bomber left North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base on a three-and-a-half hour flight to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, as six cruise missiles loaded with nuclear warheads hung from its wing pylons. The error was reportedly not discovered until the plane had sat on the runway at Barksdale for some hours.

Air Force officials acknowledged that the nuclear warheads should have been removed from the missiles before they were flown to Barksdale to be dismantled.

In an article posted on the Center for Defense Information’s web site, leading arms expert Philip Coyle wrote that “the accident appears to have been the most complete and dangerous breakdown in the command and control of nuclear weapons in U.S. history.”

Nuclear arms are still the only weapons that could do away with life on earth as we know it.

Leaving aside some observers’ theories that the high-flying nukes might have been involved in a secret plan to bomb Iran, the incident raises to a new level the concerns felt at home and around the world over our government’s view that nuclear weapons are vital to national security and should continue to be developed and improved.

In the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the world’s five acknowledged nuclear weapons powers agreed to negotiate an end to the nuclear arms race and to move toward general and complete nuclear disarmament under effective international control.

As the first country to develop nuclear weapons and to date the only country to use them in war, the United States needs to lead in ridding the globe of the only true weapon of mass destruction.