Skip to comments.No One Should Have Sole Authority to Launch a Nuclear Attack
Posted on 08/13/2017 12:49:20 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
In just five minutes an American president could put all of humanity in jeopardy. Most nuclear security experts believe that's how long it would take for as many as 400 land-based nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal to be loosed on enemy targets after an initial go order. Ten minutes later a battalion of underwater nukes could join them.
That unbridled power is a frightening prospect no matter who is president. Donald Trump, the current occupant of the Oval Office, highlights this point. He said he aspires to be unpredictable in how he might use nuclear weapons. There is no way to recall these missiles when they have launched, and there is no self-destruct switch. The act would likely set off a lethal cascade of retaliatory attacks, which is why strategists call this scenario mutually assured destruction.
With the exception of the president, every link in the U.S. nuclear decision chain has protections against poor judgments, deliberate misuse or accidental deployment. The two-person rule, in place since World War II, requires that the actual order to launch be sent to two separate people. Each one has to decode and authenticate the message before taking action. In addition, anyone with nuclear weapons duties, in any branch of service, must routinely pass a Pentagon-mandated evaluation called the Personnel Reliability Programa battery of tests that assess several areas, including mental fitness, financial history, and physical and emotional well-being.
There is no comparable restraint on the president. He or she can decide to trigger a thermonuclear Armageddon without consulting anyone at all and never has to demonstrate mental fitness. This must change. We need to ensure at least some deliberation before the chief executive can act. And there are ways to do this without weakening our military responses or national security.
This is not just a reaction to current politics. Calls for a bulwark against unilateral action go back more than 30 years. During the Reagan administration, the late Jeremy Stone, then president of the Federation of American Scientists, proposed that the president should not be able to order a first nuclear strike without consulting with high-ranking members of Congress. Such a buffer would ensure that actions that could escalate into world-destroying counterattacks would not be taken lightly. Democratic legislators recently introduced a law that would require not just consultation but congressional support for a preemptive nuclear attack. Whether or not that seems like the best check on presidential nuclear power is a matter for Congress.
We already know that second-check plans would not compromise American safety. Security experts used to worry that a hair-trigger launch was needed to deter a first strike by an enemy: our instant reactions would ensure that our opponent would feel catastrophic consequences of aggression. In the modern world, that is no longer the case. The U.S. has enough nukes in enough locationsincluding, crucially, our roving, nuclear-armed submarinesthat nuclear strategists now agree it would not be possible to take out all of the nation's weapons with a first strike. The Pentagon, in a 2012 security assessment, said the same thing. It noted that even in the unlikely event that Russia launched a preemptive attack on the U.S.and had more nuclear capability than current international agreements allow forit would have little to no effect on the U.S. assured second-strike capabilities. That conclusion suggests that we will have ample firepower even if two or more people discuss how to use it.
We have come close to nuclear war in the past because of misidentified threats, including an incident in 1979 in which computers at a military command center in Colorado Springs wrongly reported the start of a major Soviet nuclear offensive. Ballistic and nuclear bomber crews immediately sprang into action. Crisis was averted only after satellite data could not corroborate the warning, and American forces finally stood down. In our March issue, Scientific American called for taking the U.S. nuclear arsenal off high alert because of this and other such near misses.
Taking the arsenal off high alert is an important step. But putting another check into the systemremoving one person's unfettered ability to destroy the worldwill create another essential, lasting safeguard for the U.S. and the planet.
Tell it to the NORK Young Un and then get back with us.
I remember Pickles was the one demanding how launch commands had to be obeyed and blabbing about response time.
They were daily, correct?
No. I had given up on SA by the end of the Reagan Administration.
As if Scientific American has the ability to prevent the porcine dictator in North Korea from launching his.
Once again scientists show they are not very smart. They will be collecting data as Congress is debating a proportionate response to a missile attack.
“Scientific American” is neither ...
I agree but only if I am the second person.
Launching should not be a vote by a committee decision.
Debate? No one will debate if Kimmie nukes DC. Just N Korea will be visible at night from the satellite.
Added some truth to this fiasco. Scientific American is nothing but a liberal rag. It has really gone downhill since I subscribed to it back in the 60s and 70s.
Nope...but I remember them in the 1980s. Liberals project their own traits on their opposition.
Also, the silence during Barry’s Lybia excursion was deafening, compared to the calls for Bush to have congressional authorization in Iraq...a delay that likely enabled the smuggling of wmd out of the country.
“In the News/Activism forum, on a thread titled No One Should Have Sole Authority to Launch a Nuclear Attack, 2ndDivisionVet wrote:
Remember these articles during the Obama and Clinton administrations?”
My immediate thought as well.
SciAm has gone downhill fast.
Let the US Senate vote on it. LOL!
“Sorry, but entire article is BS. POTUS cannot launch on his own. SECDEF, SECSTATE, AG or others at that level must “confirm” order.”
Yeah, that’s the other thing. Their premise is wrong.
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