Friday, August 05, 2016

Yes, Trump could go rogue with nukes and no one could stop him

This is according to The New York Times:
The commander in chief can also order the first use of nuclear weapons even if the United States is not under nuclear attack.

“There’s no veto once the president has ordered a strike,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear specialist who held White House and Defense Department posts for 31 years before leaving government service in 2005. “The president and only the president has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.”
...
Some scholars (and Wikipedia entries) insist that a system of checks and balances puts the secretary of defense in the decision loop. But Bruce G. Blair, a research scholar at Princeton University who as an Air Force officer would have launched a nuclear missile if an order had come from the president, said that rule applied in the silos but not at the top of the command chain. 
“There’s nothing the secretary of defense can do,” Dr. Blair, who wrote a book on nuclear command and control, said in an interview. “He has no authority to refuse or disobey that order.”
And as long as we're consulting the Grey Lady, this piece by former CIA director Michael Morell is also worth noting:
During a 33-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, I served presidents of both parties — three Republicans and three Democrats. I was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11; as deputy director of the agency, I was with President Obama when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. 
I am neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican. In my 40 years of voting, I have pulled the lever for candidates of both parties. As a government official, I have always been silent about my preference for president. 
No longer. On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president. 
Two strongly held beliefs have brought me to this decision. First, Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president — keeping our nation safe. Second, Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.  [Emphasis added.]
Worth reading the whole thing.

5 comments:

Steven Lefevre said...

I completely agree this is scary, and that Trump is dangerous, but I do wonder about the chain of command, and I mean the literal chain of command, ala Dr. Strangelove or War Games.

If the president orders a nuclear strike, who does it actually have to go through? The Secretary of Defense may have no authority to countermand or disobey, but that alone doesn't force him to do it. How many people does if have to go through-- i.e. how many potential moral circuit breakers do we have in place?

I would hope that any military leader in the US in that chain of command would disobey a first strike order, and I daresay I would hope for a coup from the top brass or cabinet if a president ever ordered one.

Again, this is all with the caveat that I absolutely agree that Trump is dangerous.

Ron said...

> how many potential moral circuit breakers do we have in place?

Doesn't matter. Anyone who refused the order would be arrested and court-martialed and replaced with someone else.

> I would hope for a coup

Be careful what you wish for. That would be the end of the United States. One of the bedrock principles of the U.S. has been civilian control of the military. Take that away and you don't have the same country any more.

Steven Lefevre said...

> Anyone who refused the order would be arrested and court-martialed and replaced with someone else.

That's true, but it would prevent a nuclear first strike. And in the meantime, a response could be organized. Congress could convene an emergency session and rescind the War Powers act. They could impeach the president. They could immediately defund the military chain of command.

Call me naive, but I have trouble believing that all US military personnel, esp. those literally with their fingers on the button, are just going to blindly follow nuclear strike orders. Especially when they know Trump is commander-in-chief. These aren't 18-year-olds with a gun in Anbar province.

I think after that failed order, the Trump presidency would be over. And I mean in a matter of hours.

> Be careful what you wish for. That would be the end of the United States.

Our country has survived a civil war, numerous presidential assassinations, the great depression, World Wars, etc. A coup, while not good, would not destroy the country IMHO. Even when we reneg on our principles (slavery, Jim Crow, anyone?) we still have remained the US.

In other "failed states", coups happen when another power wants to assume power for themselves. Though they might say they are trying to prevent disaster, they are just looking to rule.

I don't think any in the government or military would be power-hungry enough to see stopping a nuclear strike as their opportunity to finally seize the presidency. Even if they did, you still need co-conspirators for a successful coup (witness recent events Turkey).

What I think instead would happen was that they would depose the president just to avert global catastrophe. Then congress would immediately call a special session (no way are they giving up their power!) and then organize an emergency general election, or perhaps fall back on the line of succession.

So suppose that General whomever or Secretary Otherguy stopped the nuclear strike and was now "Acting Commander in Chief", and they intended to stay their for life. Nobody in the country is going to stand for it very long. Not anybody in the Senate, the House, nor in the streets of Brooklyn or the cornfields of Nebraska. To be a dictator you need an actual base of support (it can be small, but it need be effective-- a Republican guard or brownshirts), something that no actual potential usurper would have.

We're not a 3rd world nation yet.

> One of the bedrock principles of the U.S. has been civilian control of the military.

Also note that I mentioned a cabinet coup, which would still mean civilian control.

That being said, I still believe a president Trump would be an incredible disaster for not only the US, but the whole world, in any capacity.

I don't think the US military would follow a Trump first-strike order. Even taking that into consideration, I still believe it is right to raise the alarm about how close Trump would be to the button.

Peter Donis said...

> Anyone who refused the order would be arrested and court-martialed and replaced with someone else.

On whose orders? The President's? The same President whose SecDef just refused to confirm a nuclear launch order? The same President whose sanity everyone else in the loop now has a credible reason to doubt?

You did point out in the previous discussion on this topic that a Trump administration would probably have already fired all of the cooler heads anyway. But here we're discussing a hypothetical case where that didn't happen--where, at least, the SecDef still has enough of a cool head to refuse to confirm a launch order.

The more dangerous hypothetical, in my view, is the one you imagined in that previous discussion--where the SecDef and the other civilians on the two-man rule list are all as nuts as Trump, because he's hand-picked them that way. In that hypothetical, the launch order would be confirmed. And then it would be a question of whether anyone else in the military chain of command would refuse to execute it.

Peter Donis said...

> If the president orders a nuclear strike, who does it actually have to go through?

The exact number would depend on what particular nuclear capability is being given the launch order--ICBMs, nuclear submarines, nuclear cruise missile launched from an aircraft or a ship, etc. But at a minimum, I believe the order would have to go through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (who is the one receiving it directly from NCA), one of the Unified Commanders (for example, CENTCOM if, say, the strike order were against Iran), and the Commanding Officer of whatever unit was actually going to launch the strike (for example, the CO of a nuclear submarine). At each stage there is a two-man rule, which, as noted in a previous discussion, is only supposed to verify the authenticity of the order, not its sanity; but all the same, that increases the number of people that have to be willing to say it's ok to launch.