Nuclear Buttons (continued)

Right now, I gather the President of the United States has the authority to unilaterally fire off the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal on a whim. Whether this would actually happen if he tried to order this is hard to say. But I gather there is no real legal impediment to him waking up one morning and deciding to nuke some city and that there is no formal process in place that actually stops him from doing this.

This is a set of conditions that came into being during the Cold War for the sake of making our nuclear deterrent and strike and counterstrike capability more credible. The U.S. and Russian no longer have their nukes targeted at each other. This is more a matter of good manners and is something that could be changed in a moments notice.

Is it time for the United States to consider placing the authority to launch nuclear weapons under control of more than one person? Perhaps the authority of three people, the president, a senior military leader, and a representative of congress?

 

There is a little technical difficulty here, for in the case of an emergency, the President, Vice-President and Speaker of the House would be shuttled off to separate locations. Still, there could be a designated representative for the military (commanding general or his representative at United States Strategic Command) and one of our 535 congressmen or senators appointed as a representative for congress. There are any number of ways to make sure that three people would be required to authorized a launch of a nuclear weapon, as opposed to leaving a decision that could exterminate millions in seconds in the hands of one man. With the Cold War now in the distant past, and nuclear strike forces a fraction of their original size, maybe it is time to consider changing this.

 

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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