Should Only One Person Really Hold The Nuclear Launch Codes?

Should Only One Person Really Hold The Nuclear Launch Codes?

Trump's Dangerous Rhetoric Forces Consideration Of Who Should Handle Nuclear Codes

The events of the past week have been interesting, to say the least. At their worst, they offer a disturbing account of what an agitated president’s actions can lead to — and bring us to question why we allow a man like Donald Trump to have sole control over this nation’s, and the world’s, most dangerous weapons.

Most of all, this past week has demonstrated that when the president makes statements of a nuclear nature (threatening “fire and fury” against another nation), the world listens, and fears the consequences of those words.

Hillary Clinton was right — “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” — and while Trump’s latest outburst this week didn’t occur on Twitter, it might as well have. It was reckless, foolish and may have made the situation with Pyongyang even more difficult to resolve than it was before.

The launch codes, carried in a metal briefcase and always kept near to the president, allows the commander-in-chief to respond to a nuclear attack in kind. It also allows him to launch nuclear warheads in a first-strike scenario, which the Trump White House has left on the table as a way to pre-emptively deal with the rising tensions and nuclear capabilities of North Korea.

That’s not a statement that’s actually unusual for a president to make. But it’s a frightening one to hear come out of this specific White House, given Trump’s flippant attitude and unique way with words. The president, who pushes buttons at a whim without thinking of their repercussions on Twitter, has his finger on the proverbial button that could lead to the annihilation of the entire human race. Not exactly the most inspiring moment this nation has witnessed.

Which begs the question: should one person, the president, have sole control of the nuclear launch codes? Shouldn’t that awesome power require, at the very least, dual control?

The answer to that question only brings about more problems as we consider military logistics and response times. If we do have a second dual controller, for example, who should it be? The vice president? A senior member of Congress? A four-star general? And how do they ensure that a swift response is possible? Does this person have to have direct contact with the president at all times, or at the very least a direct line to his cell phone?

(It turns out, Russia isn’t that much better. They have three briefcases, but only one — President Vladimir Putin’s — allegedly has control of anything. And in the event that he’s incapacitated, neither holder of the other two briefcases can do anything — their cases alert them of an impending attack, allowing them to contact and advise the president, but not to launch any attacks on their own or jointly.)

Concern over the president’s capability to employ the launch codes properly, and without acting irrationally or out of anger, didn’t begin with Trump. President Richard Nixon, at the height of the Watergate investigation, was noticeably agitated by his personal circumstances, so much so that advisers near to him asked aides to warn them if Nixon made “unusual orders,” the Washington Post reminds us. He also bragged about being able to kill tens of millions of people within a half hour, shortly after a meeting with members of Congress during that same time period.

But that issue was never resolved. The president’s cabinet, of course, can remove the president from power upon a majority of his advisers and vice president agree to do so, according to provisions found in the 25th Amendment. But the actual act of launching a nuke is a move that the president, as commander-in-chief, makes on his own. His advisers can give him input, or otherwise try to dissuade him, but ultimately the decision is his and his alone.

The president should, in theory, be able to make that call, and make it fast. The very nature and politics of nuclear weaponry requires swift and rational decision making.

Unfortunately, we may not have that sort of leader running our nation. A rational person wouldn’t lose their temper on a social media site. A rational person wouldn’t make up fake phone calls he had with leaders (either heads of state or from the Boy Scouts). And a rational person wouldn’t use inflammatory rhetoric seemingly threatening nuclear war.

So Trump has done us a favor of sorts, without realizing it. He’s made us ask the difficult question of whether the president should be the sole holder of the nuclear launch codes. It’s a topic that we may not have the answer to — but one we better figure out, and figure out fast.

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