Nukes: Could Someone Else Call the Shots?

By Ashley Moreda

As the people of the US watch Congress convene to debate the President’s ultimate power over nuclear weapons, more fear seems to permeate minds of a possible war with North Korea. The question is, does he actually have ultimate control, or is there something or someone who can stop him?

While President Trump might be the one who gives the order to launch a nuclear weapon, he isn’t the one who actually pushes the button. However, if he were to give that order, Vox reports, “It could take about five minutes for intercontinental ballistic missiles to launch from the time the president announced his order. Missiles launched from submarines take about 15 minutes. The whole process is designed to be fast because if missiles are heading toward the United States, they could land within 30 minutes. If the president chose to, he could launch US missiles before the enemy ones hit.”

It’s one thing to respond to an attack, but quite another to fire first. His work at building up the nuclear weapons arsenal certainly has everyone doing a double take including Congress, especially with quotes such as, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said during a meeting on opioids from his golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen ... he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” (CNN)

An article from the New York Times reported, “Congress has been sufficiently alarmed to consider legislation that would bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress…” But changing law could take time, so who could stand in the President’s way? Airforce commander of the US Strategic Command, General John Hyten who is in charge of the nuclear arsenal for the United States.

In Nova Scotia at the Halifax international security forum, the General said, “‘And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ’Mr President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ’What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.’” He went on to say, “‘If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.’” Of course the prospect of jail time seems insignificant next to a nuclear winter.

General Hyten also mentioned to the audience, reported by The Guardian, “‘I think some people think we’re stupid,’ Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. ‘We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?’”

Many hope that until Congress makes a decision limiting our current President’s trigger finger, that General Hyten is responsible enough to say no.

Ashley Moreda is a veteran and student editor of the Dominican of University of California Beat newspaper.

Photo via Chris Cillizza