Minunteman III missile (Source: Dept. of Defense)
David Wright, physicist & co-director, Global Security | January 17, 2017, 11:42 am EDT
David Wright, is a physicist and co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, is an established expert on the technical aspects of arms control, particularly those related to missile defense systems, missile proliferation, and space weapons.
One of the narratives that arose during the presidential campaign was that a Trump finger on the nuclear button would increase the risk of nuclear war because he is seen as impulsive and unpredictable.
Whatever the merits of those arguments, the public seemed shocked to learn that the US president has the authority to decide—on his or her own, for whatever reason—to launch nuclear weapons, and that no one has the authority to veto that decision. There are military and political experts in advisory roles, but the final authority rests just with the president.
It’s time to change that policy. The reasons behind it are now outdated.
On at least one occasion White House officials were worried enough about the mental state of the president that they tried to insert roadblocks in the way of a potential launch decision.
That was in 1974, late in the Nixon administration. US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger grew concerned that President Nixon still had control of US nuclear weapons despite the fact that the Watergate crisis had rendered him depressed, emotionally unstable, and drinking heavily. Schlesinger instructed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to route “any emergency order coming from the president”—such as a nuclear launch order—through him first.