US Senate Holds Hearing on President's Nuclear Authority

Democrats fear Trump's 'instability' could trigger nuclear war no-one wants

The leaders of France, North Korea and the United States have unilateral authority to order a nuclear strike.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the president's authority to launch a nuclear attack, the role of Congress in such a decision, and the process and timeline under which such decisions are executed. It was the first time in over 40 years since such a debate was convened on Capitol Hill, not since 1976 when Richard Nixon was about to be ousted. That's a tough message to explain to one's constituents.

If the president decided to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. "We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national security interests".

Let's look at them separately.

The bizarre thing about the focus on the military option is that there are plenty of worthwhile diplomatic options.

For the past five decades America has been the world's strongest nonproliferation activist, creating more programs, finding more efforts, and supporting more non-governmental organizations than any other nation.

At his town hall meetings, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, despite being the highest ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, typically gets questions that are close to home. Bob Corker (R) who leads the committee, insisted that the hearing was not about criticizing President Trump. Muskets and bayonets, not weapons of cataclysmic consequences, were the rule of the day. "And it's also important that our adversaries have complete faith in the credibility of U.S. deterrence", said Thomas Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Our military is built to fight and win wars through the use of conventional weapons. and conventional weapons alone. Other democracies, particularly those with parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom or Canada, put career civil servants in charge of agencies, with overtly political jobs limited to groups of special advisers hired by the government in power. He warned in an October interview that Mr Trump risked steering the country toward "World War III". "He can only give an authenticated order which others would follow and then missiles would fly", he said.

Kehler said this obligation to refuse orders applies to all presidents.

Much of the nuclear chain of command is already "devoted to safety and security measures designed to minimize these risks" Feaver said. It is an open challenge to Trump's ultimate authority.

Trump has said, though, that there are positions his administration might never fill. He is impetuous and reckless in his rhetoric.

But now, Senator Edward Markey has emerged from the shadows to challenge President Trump's authority to issue a nuclear first strike.

And the world has changed even more in the decade since, with North Korea posing a bigger and more immediate nuclear threat than had seemed possible. He called Jong Un "Rocket Man", and more recently, "short and fat" after Jong Un called Trump old. Buzzfeed and Vice News covered the Senate hearings, so the word may be getting out to younger generations.

Under current protocol, "there is no secret alternative chain of command in place", says CNN.

By contrast, a legislator opposing it sends the message that he or she thinks the president is insane, but that shouldn't bother anyone.

Kehler: "Well, you know ... as I say - I don't know".

The Defense Department's underground testing in the essential military science of "nuclear weapons effects" is in even worse shape, as their national lab for this purpose (Defense Nuclear Agency) was terminated twenty years ago. It would constrain President Trump from launching pre-emptive nuclear war, while still allowing him to respond.

"I would be very worried about a miscalculation based on continuing use of his Twitter account with regard to North Korea", Mr McKeon said.

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