President Donald Trump alone controls the US nuclear arsenal. He alone decides whether to use one or one thousand nuclear weapons. He does not have to check with anyone, not even Steve Bannon.
At a moment’s notice, he can launch some 900 nuclear weapons with the destructive power of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs, and there is nothing anyone could do to stop him.
Thirty minutes after launch, the missiles would hit their targets. Just this fraction of our total active arsenal of some 4,000 weapons would be enough to destroy all humankind has built over the millennia.
Why does he have this power? Why does anyone have this power?
In America, the world’s greatest democracy, there are no checks and balances on the president’s ability to launch nuclear war. He doesn’t have to ask Congress for permission, or consult with the Joint Chiefs; there is no possible appeal to the Supreme Court. He simply has to give the order to launch. As President Nixon said, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in twenty-five minutes seventy million people will be dead.”
But we have never had a president this unpredictable, this impulsive, in charge of the most powerful nuclear arsenal on the planet.
This is undemocratic. This is un-American. That is why Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress. This would block the president from launching nuclear weapons first in a crisis, unless he gets approval from the most democratic branch of our government.
As Rep. Lieu has said, “Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew the President could launch a massive, potentially civilization-ending military strike without authorization from Congress.”
“It is a frightening reality,” said Lieu, “that the US now has a Commander-in-Chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons, and as President-elect was making sweeping statements about US nuclear policy over Twitter. Congress must act to preserve global stability.”
“While it won’t go anywhere in this Republican-led Congress,” The New York Times editorialized, endorsing the bill, “it sends a clear message to Mr. Trump that he should not be the first since World War II to use nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump could more usefully deploy his energies engaging with Russia to further reduce both countries’ nuclear arsenals, maintaining the Iran nuclear deal and finding new ways to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.”
This is not a theoretical problem. “President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists,” warns Senator Markey. “Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.”
If President Trump’s administration continues to flounder, the risk of a “wag the dog” scenario increases. Trump could create a national security crisis, I told Bill Press on March 28, to repress opposition or efforts to remove him. Many believe this was precisely the motivation behind President Richard Nixon taking the nation’s military to DEFCON 3 when he was threatened with impeachment.
What can we do?
Ploughshares Fund has joined with 16 organizations to support this bill. With our partners, we have collected over 400,000 signatures on petitions backing its passage. We hope to get to a half million before this petition is delivered to Congress next week.
Senator Markey, Representative Lieu and other patriotic members of Congress will have a press conference to receive the petition, highlight this danger and focus on this common-sense fix.
Please, take a moment to stand with them. Please, sign the petition. Tell Congress that it is time to end this nuclear insanity.
Photo: Earth. Flickr / Beth Scupham (cc)