- August 10, 2017 in Columnists
He’s got the whole world in his tiny hands
On the August 3, 2016 episode of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough reported that a foreign policy expert told him that in a one hour discussion with then-candidate Donald Trump, Trump asked him three times why we couldn’t use nuclear weapons. That chilling conversation holds new resonance in the aftermath of Trump blustering that the North Koreans should expect “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen” should he continue to make threats against the U.S. Pyongyang called Trump’s bluff two hours later by threatening a strike on Guam.
No fire. No fury. Just egg on the face of the United States.
But suppose Donald Trump is thinking about ordering the first nuclear strike since the ones President Harry Truman ordered against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. How would that happen? Could he be stopped?
There is supposed to be a consultation with the Pentagon, U.S. Strategic Command and others before a decision to launch a nuclear strike. But the president alone determines how long that consultation is. It could be a minute. The president alone has the ultimate authority.
Contrary to public imagination, there is no physical nuclear button the president pushes to launch a missile attack. Everywhere Trump goes he’s accompanied by an agent carrying the “nuclear football,” a 35lb. leather case that enables a president to order a nuclear strike. Another agent accompanies Vice President Pence with a similar case. The president or an aide carries an identification card (nicknamed “the biscuit”) at all times that, used with the contents of the case, proves that he is the president of the United States.
At that point the president can choose from a menu of options. Would he like to order a strike using land-based ICBMs, the 400 Minuteman lll missiles in silos in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana? Or would he like to order a strike using 1.2 megaton bombs dropped from B-2 Spirit stealth bombers? Or perhaps he’d like to order an attack from one or more of our 12 Ohio class nuclear submarines, each holding 24 SLBMs with each missile carrying 8 independently targeted warheads for 192 targets per sub? The president can mix and match attacks in predesignated configurations. If he wants to know expected casualties he can be provided that information.
When he confirms the order it’s done. There is no Congressional oversight or review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Pentagon. When the president orders a nuclear strike, it is carried out within minutes, the delay only being the time it takes to unlock safes for the verification codes and to punch in the targets. ICBMs will come roaring out of their silos within five minutes. Within 15 minutes, submarine launched Trident D5 missiles, carrying warheads with 30 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb, will erupt from the sea streaking towards space to their targets at more than 17,000 miles per hour.
This is the awesome power voters handed to Donald Trump. It’s scary to think that one man holds the power to wipe countries off the face of the earth. He can also start a chain reaction that results in a nuclear holocaust with few humans left surviving the smoldering aftermath.
When pundits muse that new Chief of Staff John Kelly or Secretary of Defense James Mattis can somehow rein Trump in, halt or second guess his decision-making on this, they’re either uninformed or being dishonest.
There are those in Congress advancing legislation to remove this power from the president. It seems absurd that one man should hold the keys to life and death for millions. But then again, in a surprise attack we would have only minutes to decide to launch a counterstrike. Going to Congress in that scenario seems unworkable.
So as it stands, Donald Trump, for any reason he chooses, can call for that leather case to be opened and order a nuclear strike. He literally has the fate of the planet in his hands. No exaggeration.
Fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen in the shaking hands of an intemperate man the likes of which the country has never seen.