Nuclear weapons, President Trump, and General Mattis

By | December 21, 2018


Lisbeth Gronlund writes:

Many people trusted that Secretary of Defense Mattis would be able to rein in the dangerous impulses of his erratic boss who, as commander-in-chief, has the authority to order the use of military forces—including nuclear weapons.

Indeed, General Mattis may have privately assured some members of Congress that he would get into the loop to restrain President Trump if it looked like a nuclear crisis was brewing. So people are naturally worried that Mattis’ resignation will put Trump back in full control of US nuclear weapons.

But regardless of what Mattis may or may not have told members of Congress, the secretary of defense is not in the decision chain for a nuclear launch and has no ability to stop a launch order from going through. Perhaps Mattis could have talked Trump out of ordering an attack in the first place, assuming he knew the president was considering such an attack, but he had neither the legal authority nor the ability to prevent one from being carried out.

The fact is that the US president has sole and complete authority to order a launch of nuclear weapons. No consultation with military or political advisors is necessary.

It’s just the president’s finger on the button, and no one gets a veto.

To order the use of nuclear weapons, the president would simply call the Pentagon’s “War Room,” read a code to an officer to confirm that he or she is indeed the president, and specify what targets to attack. (If the president is not at the White House or other location with secure communication, he or she would use the so-called nuclear football to order the use of nuclear weapons.)

After confirming the president’s identity, the War Room would send an encrypted launch order directly to aircraft pilots, the underground crews that launch land-based missiles, and/or the submarine crews that launch submarine-based missiles. This whole process would take only minutes and does not involve anyone else in the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Mattis might only find out after the fact. [Continue reading…]

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