January 15, 2021

The President (Probably) Isn’t Going To Nuke Anything This Week

By Tom Shugart

While the entirety of the Trump presidency has seen calls for limits on presidential sole authority with respect to nuclear weapons employment, the days following the January 6 Capitol riot have seen the issue raised to a fever pitch, in particular after the specific revelation that Speaker Pelosi raised the issue with General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While reasonable people can, and do, disagree on whether current policy — under which the president does have sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons — is best for controlling them, the idea that presidents are able to use nuclear weapons in any way they personally desire is not correct.

While some caveats were provided deep within the subtext of recent media discussion of the issue, the resulting headlines were clear and alarming: that “there is no legal way” to stop the President from launching a nuclear strike, that the President has “sole, unfettered authority to order the use of nuclear weapons,” and that no one can do much about it if he chooses to “blow up the world.” While reasonable people can, and do, disagree on whether current policy — under which the president does have sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons — is best for controlling them, the idea that presidents are able to use nuclear weapons in any way they personally desire is not correct. As is often the case with any topic worthy of controversy, the truth is more complicated. And compared to the long list of things to truly be worried about in a time of turmoil and threats to democracy, in my assessment the associated risk is relatively low.

Read the full article from Inkstick.

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