The NY Times wants to write a scary story about Trump's finger poised over the nuclear but even they are finding it difficult.
Prior to reading this piece, my cocktail party position was that the Pentagon bureaucracy grinds slowly if they have doubts about the mission (cf Rumsfeld and Iraq, and Rumsfeld knew how to operate the Pentagon).
That said, I suppose in a true crisis, with unidentified objects on radar screens and US cities burning, anything is possible.
Well. Over to the Times:
Debate Over Trump’s Fitness Raises Issue of Checks on Nuclear Power
By William Broad and David Sanger Aug 4 2016
Hillary Clinton has fueled a debate over whether her rival for the presidency, Donald J. Trump, is fit to command America’s atomic forces. “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” she said in her address at the Democratic convention last week. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
This portrayal has become such an issue in the campaign that President Obama was asked about it at a news conference on Thursday, where he echoed Mrs. Clinton’s concerns. Her charge raises a question: Is there any check on a president’s power to launch nuclear arms that could destroy entire cities or nations?
Oooh, I'd better clean under my bed since I may want to be hiding there. Oh, wait...
The short answer is no, though history suggests that in practice, there may be ways to slow down or even derail the decision-making process. No one disputes, however, that the president has an awesome authority.
In real life, the lines of authority have blurred — markedly so during the Nixon administration, when there were at least two instances in which top officials tried to slow, or undermine, the president’s nuclear authority. The first came in October 1969, when the president ordered Melvin R. Laird, his secretary of defense, to put American nuclear forces on high alert to scare Moscow into thinking the United States might use nuclear arms against the North Vietnamese. Scott D. Sagan, a nuclear expert at Stanford University and the author of “The Limits of Safety,” a study of nuclear accidents, said Mr. Laird tried to ignore the order by giving excuses about exercises and readiness, hoping that the president who sometimes embraced the “madman theory” — let the world think that you are willing to use a weapon — would forget about his order. But Nixon persisted. Dr. Sagan reports that during the operation, code-named Giant Lance, one of the B-52 bombers carrying thermonuclear arms came dangerously close to having an accident.
Then, in 1974, in the last days of the Watergate scandal, Mr. Nixon was drinking heavily and his aides saw what they feared was a growing emotional instability. His new secretary of defense, James R. Schlesinger, himself a hawkish Cold Warrior, instructed the military to divert any emergency orders — especially one involving nuclear weapons — to him or the secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger.
It was a completely extralegal order, perhaps mutinous. But no one questioned it. “Although Schlesinger’s order raised questions about who was actually in command,” Eric Schlosser writes in “Command and Control,” a 2013 book, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
A totally madcap, out of the blue nuclear attack ordered by Trump in response to a Twitter insult won't be happening. Their conclusion:
“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.”
Mr. Sagan, the Stanford expert, agreed, but noted that there were other ways for the secretary of defense to slow things down. “I think we’d be in uncharted waters if a president ordered the use of nuclear weapons and the secretary of defense refused to concur,” he said. “This has never happened.” No one, he added, could predict what would ensue if the nation’s top defense official tried to declare that the president was unfit to issue such an order.
“In some scenarios,” Mr. Sagan added, “such as an unprovoked nuclear attack by a president in peacetime, a constitutional crisis would be more likely than a prompt following of rules regarding succession and command authority.”