December 14, 2018

For first time in 40 years, Congress debates USA president's nuclear power

15 November 2017, 02:43 | Devin Moran

Senator Chris Murphy: We Are Concerned Trump 'Is So Unstable, Is So Volatile' He Might Order Nuclear Strike

Professor Peter Feaver to testify in front of Senate committee regarding nuclear weapons

Retired Gen. Robert Kehler, who previously headed the U.S.'s command that would be in charge of the nuclear arsenal during a war, said while the us military is obligated to follow legal orders, it is not duty bound to adhere to illegal ones.

The assurances came at the first congressional hearings since 1976 on presidential authority to order the use of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, against a background of mounting concern over North Korea's nuclear programme - and Donald Trump's emotional stability.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has said Trump's threats to global rivals could put the country "on the path to World War III," began Tuesday's session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has "sole authority" to give launch orders there are "no way to revoke".

Senators trying to prevent President Donald Trump from launching an unprovoked nuclear attack were stymied Tuesday, after a panel of experts warned them against rewriting laws to restrain a commander in chief many worry is impulsive and unpredictable enough to start a devastating global crisis.

Not since 1976 has Congress held a hearing to debate the president's authority to use nuclear weapons. "And that is true with nuclear orders as well, and I think that should be a reassuring piece for the American public, and it ought to be reassuring to our allies and our adversaries as well".

The time may be ripe for Congress to look at the command and control system now used to determine whether or not to launch a nuclear weapon, Duke political science professor and former National Security Adviser Peter Feaver testified Tuesday.

"We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national security interests", Sen.

Protesters at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Under certain circumstances, he explained: "I would have said, 'I'm not ready to proceed'".

"Then what happens?" asked Sen.

Mr Kehler admitted: "I don't know". "Fortunately, these are all hypothetical scenarios". "The human factor kicks in".

"I would be very concerned about a miscalculation based on continuing use of his Twitter account", McKeon answered.

Much of the nuclear chain of command is already "devoted to safety and security measures created to minimize these risks" Feaver said. The question is the process leading to that determination and how you arrive at that.

Under current rules, a president could launch a nuclear strike by entering codes into a device known as "the football" - a briefcase that always travels with the president - and is not obligated to consult other government officials.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduces Dr. Scott Gottlieb before a Senate Health Education Labor and Pension Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 5, 2017. "That's a very thin reed on which to have the fate of the planet being dependent".

Raising concerns about the retaliatory strikes and other impacts that could come from a nuclear first strike, the Democrat argued that the power to launch such an attack should not rest in the hands of one person.

But "because even a single nuclear detonation would be so consequential and might trigger an escalatory spiral that would lead to civilization-threatening outcomes, we must also have a high assurance that there would never be an accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons", Feaver added.

On the issue of the President being able to start a nuclear war, he was very direct; "Even in the absence of a nuclear attack against our country, no one can tell the president 'no.' Not Secretaries Mattis, or Tillerson". In such a scenario, the timespan to deliberate is shorter and less subject to legal discussion, Feaver said.

"Certainly in the case of responding to an incoming attack, the lawyers are not involved. And they would be asking the questions that would slow down that process".

"The system is designed entirely for speed, not deliberation", said Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It is not clear it would be any different for a nuclear first strike, despite Gen Kehler's statements".

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