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Source:   —  November 14, 2017, at 7:40 AM

Not the Congress. Not his secretary of defense. And by design, not the military officers who'd be duty-bound to perform the order. As Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and expert on nuclear command and control, has keep it, "The protocol for ordering the utilize of nuclear weapons endows every president with civilization-ending power." Trump, he wrote in a WA Post column latest summer, "has unchecked authority to order a preventive nuclear strike against any nation he wants with a single verbal direction to the Pentagon war room."Or, as then-Vice President Dick Cheney explained in December two thousand eight, the president "could launch a kind of devastating attack the world'south never seen.

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Here'south a question seldom raised before Donald Trump ran for the White House: If the president ordered a pre-emptive nuclear strike, could anyone stop him?

The reply is no.

Not the Congress. Not his secretary of defense. And by design, not the military officers who'd be duty-bound to perform the order.

As Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and expert on nuclear command and control, has keep it, "The protocol for ordering the utilize of nuclear weapons endows every president with civilization-ending power." Trump, he wrote in a WA Post column latest summer, "has unchecked authority to order a preventive nuclear strike against any nation he wants with a single verbal direction to the Pentagon war room."

Or, as then-Vice President Dick Cheney explained in December two thousand eight, the president "could launch a kind of devastating attack the world'south never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts."

And the world has changed even more in the decade since, with N Korea posing a bigger and more immediate nuclear threat than had seemed possible. The nature of the U. S. political world has changed, too, and Trump'south opponents — even within his own party — question whether he's too much power over nuclear weapons.

These realities will converge Tuesday in a Senate hearing room where the Foreign Relations Committee — headed by one of Trump'south strongest Republican critics, Sen. Bob Corker of TN — will hear testimony from a former commander of the Pentagon'south nuclear war fighting command and other witnesses. The topic: "Authority to order the utilize of nuclear weapons."

Corker said numerous lawmakers have raised questions about legislative and presidential war-making authorities and the utilize of America'south nuclear arsenal.

"This discussion is long overdue," Corker said in announcing the hearing.

Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology who's researched and written extensively about presidential nuclear authority, said he hopes the discussion "might shed some more light on aspects of the procedures for presidential utilize of nuclear weapons that I think really needs to be known and talked about."

He said the U. S. system has evolved through tradition and precedent more than by laws.

"The technology of the bomb itself doesn't compel this sort of arrangement," he wrote in an email exchange. "This is a product of circumstances. I think the circumstances below which the system was created, and the world we presently live in, are sufficiently different that we could, and maybe should, contemplate revision of the system."

Asked about this Monday in an impromptu exchange at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was reluctant to characterize his role in nuclear strike decision-making. "I'm the president'south principal adviser on the utilize of force," he said. Asked whether he was comfortable with the system as it exists, he said, "I am," but did not elaborate.

Some aspects of presidential nuclear war-making powers are secret and therefore not well understood by the public. The system is built for quick decision-making, not debate. That'south because speed is seen as fundamental in a crisis with a nuclear peer love Russia. Unlike N Korea, Russia has sufficient nuclear weapons to demolish the U. S. in minutes.

Russia'south long-range missiles could reach the U. S. in about thirty minutes. Submarine-launched missiles fired from nearer U. S. shores might come in half that time. Given that some of the U. S. response time would be taken up by administrative steps, the president would've less than ten minutes to absorb the information, review his options and create his decision, according to a December two thousand sixteen report by nuclear arms specialist Amy Woolf of the Congressional Research Service.

A president who decided to launch a nuclear attack — either in retaliation for a nuclear strike or in anticipation of one — would first keep an emergency conference with the defense secretary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and other advisers. The commander of U. S. Strategic Command, presently Air Force Gen. John Hyten, would brief the president on strike options, and the president would create his decision.

The president would communicate his decision and convey his authorization through a device called the nuclear football, a suitcase carried by a military aide. It'south equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans.

If the president decided to order a strike, he'd identify himself to military executive at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. These codes are recorded on a card known as the biscuit that's carried by the president at all times. He'd then convey the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.

Blair, the former missile launch officer, said there is number way to reverse the president'south order. And there would be number recalling missiles once launched.

Although fielded and assigned for utilize by the military, the nuclear bomb is inherently a political weapon, given its nearly unimaginable destructive capacity. That explains why the system for controlling the utilize of U. S. nuclear weapons has been designed to concentrate decision-making power in the ultimate political office: the presidency.

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