The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

The Button

The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

Update June 23, 2020: Read the new op-ed from the authors of The Button in The New York Times: Who Can We Trust With the Nuclear Button? No One.


Get started on your summer reading! You can now order a new book from former Secretary of Defense and Stanford professor of international relations William Perry and Ploughshares Fund policy director Tom Collina. 

The Button is a fascinating narrative of our living nuclear history—one in which the players hold the fate of the whole world at their fingertips—and a look at presidential power from Truman to Trump.  Enjoy the video above, and order the book today on

Here is the description from the publisher, BenBella Books:

The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

The President has the power to end the world in minutes. Right now, no one can stop him.

Since the Truman administration, America has been one “push of a button” away from nuclear war—a decision that rests solely in the hands of the President. Without waiting for approval from Congress or even the Secretary of Defense, the President can unleash America’s entire nuclear arsenal. 

Almost every governmental process is subject to institutional checks and balances. Why is potential nuclear annihilation the exception to the rule? For decades, glitches and slip-ups have threatened to trigger nuclear winter: misinformation, false alarms, hacked warning systems, or even an unstable President. And a new nuclear arms race has begun, threatening us all. At the height of the Cold War, Russia and the United States each built up arsenals exceeding 30,000 nuclear weapons, armed and ready to destroy each other—despite the fact that just a few hundred are necessary to end life on earth.

From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy here at Ploughshares Fund, The Button recounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump’s tweet about his “much bigger & more powerful” button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others.

Written in an accessible and authoritative voice, The Button reveals the shocking tales and sobering facts of nuclear executive authority throughout the atomic age, delivering a powerful condemnation against ever leaving explosive power this devastating under any one person’s thumb.

You can order The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump on


Transcript of the video at the top of this page:

William J. Perry: Our nuclear weapons policy is obsolete and dangerous. I know, I helped to design it. And we have to change it before it is too late. That’s why I wrote this book. During the Cold War, when I was at the Pentagon developing new nuclear weapons, we were planning for a bolt from the blue,” a surprise nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. That is why the president had sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, with no second opinions from anyone. But there was a cost. By shortening the presidents decision time, by being ready to launch at any minute, we ran the risk that we might blunder into nuclear catastrophe, that we might start a nuclear war by mistake because of a miscalculation or a false alarm. Back then, we thought the threat of a nuclear surprise attack was real. We believed that we had to take that risk.

Tom Collina: The Cold War ended thirty years ago. There is no longer a real risk of surprise attack, if there ever was. So, you would think, you would hope, that the United States would have changed its Cold War policies, to reduce the risk of accidental war. But you would be wrong. Today, right now, President Trump has sole authority to launch one thousand nuclear weapons. No one can stop him. That is why I wrote this book.

William J. Perry: No president should ever have the unilateral authority to end our civilization. It is just too dangerous.

Tom Collina: We are putting the lives of hundreds of millions of people at risk— for no good reason. There is a better way.

To find out more, please read our new book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump, and please visit Thank you.



I already ordered #TheButton by @SecDef19 and @TomCollina.

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