A former Secretary of Defense acknowledged cabinet officials would be legally unable to stop President Trump from ordering a nuclear strike, much to the chagrin of Politico, The Hill, several Democratic members of Congress – and even one Republican.
Bill Perry, who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, dashed the hopes of many opponents of President Trump who hoped either Secretary of Defense James Mattis or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could somehow counteract an order calling for a nuclear strike.
“The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command. The defense secretary is not necessarily in that loop. So, in a five- or six- or seven-minute kind of decision, the secretary of defense probably never hears about it until it’s too late,” he explained in an interview with Politico. “If there is time, and if he does consult the secretary, it’s advisory, just that.”
“Whether [the president] goes with it or doesn’t go with it—[the secretary] doesn’t have the authority to stop it.”
As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the president has the sole authority to order a nuclear strike. While the president must first consult with military and civilian leaders, the final decision rests with him.
Democratic members of Congress, specifically Representative Ted Lieu of California and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have introduced legislation to curtail Trump’s powers as commander-in-chief, specifically requiring Trump to seek Congressional authorization before launching a nuclear strike.
In addition, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has emerged as a staunch opponent of President Trump, has announced plans to hold Congressional hearings on nuclear authorization Tuesday – the first such hearings on the topic since President Gerald Ford.
“The Nov. 14 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing is a long-overdue conversation that should prompt changes in outdated Cold War-era policies that give the president sole authority to make decisions in a matter of minutes that could result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people,” wrote Daryl Kimball and Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association in an op-ed for The Hill.
“Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person is undemocratic, irresponsible, unnecessary and increasingly untenable.”
Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, caused a stir among some earlier this year when he indicated he would obey a hypothetical order from President Trump for a nuclear strike on China, arguing every member of the military has sworn an oath to obey the Constitution and the commander-in-chief.
“Every member of the US military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” he declared.
“This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.”
Perry further expressed concern over the future of the United States in the event of a nuclear attack, acknowledging the attacks on 9/11 were used as justification to pass laws restricting our freedoms and worrying a nuclear attack would lead to the passage of more draconian legislation.
“If you look at 9/11, besides the 3,000 casualties, there were very significant economic and political and social consequences. There were new laws passed. There were new restrictions put on our freedoms because of that. All of those effects would probably be magnified tenfold or a hundredfold if a nuclear bomb goes off in Washington,” Perry said.
“If you imagine that some sort of a law passed—10 times the Patriot Act, for example—that’s the sort of thing we would see. You might see attacks on citizens who were believed to be somehow related to or associated with the terror attack. It would be ugly.”