Trump's power to launch nuclear strike under scrutiny
15 November 2017, 02:43 | Erica Roy
ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA REUTERS
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Tuesday's hearing marks the first time since 1976 since either the House or Senate Foreign Relations Committees have examined the president's ability to use nuclear weapons.
"We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national security interests".
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, tried to highlight what he views as a grave situation in the Oval Office. "So let's just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment and the discussion that we're having today".
"If we are under attack, the president would have the authority under Article 2 to defend the country and there's no distinction between his authority to use conventional or nuclear weapons in response to such an attack", McKeon told lawmakers.
"The military does not blindly follow orders", he told the committee.
"If there is an illegal order presented to the military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it", he said. "I would concede to you that would be a very hard process and a very hard conversation".
What would happen next also remained unclear. He added that if he was uncertain of the legality, he would consult his own advisers.
"Then what happens?" asked Sen.
"I don't know", Kehler admitted, to nervous chuckles in the chamber.
"We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if the U.S. is forced to defend itself, he said in a speech to the United Nations in September.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has said Trump's threats to global rivals could put the country "on the path to World War III," began Tuesday's session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has "sole authority" to give launch orders there are "no way to revoke".
Republican members on the committee said they anxious that adversaries would see and read about the committee hearing and infer that Trump was losing support in his role as commander in chief, making them more likely to attack the United States or its allies.
"It boggles the rational mind", said Sen.
"I don't think that the assurances that I've received today will be satisfying to the American people", Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said. "Even General Kelly, the president's chief of staff, can't control the president's Twitter tantrums". Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said at the hearing Tuesday.
The experts attempted to reassure senators there are processes in place to ensure many seasoned military and legal experts review nuclear orders before they are acted upon.
Some of the witnesses agreed.
Addressing the committee, Brian McKeon, a former top Pentagon official, said Trump's tweets during the ongoing stand-off with North Korea should not be taken lightly given that North Korea does not have the capabilities to check to see if some of Trump's comments are mere bluster. Many people, government officials and civilians alike, have been anxious about the possibility of President Trump unilaterally taking the country into a nuclear war. Feaver, who has served under two presidential administrations, was formerly on the National Security Council for President George Bush. "There would be a large group of advisers and legal advisers weighing in on this". Separately CNN reported on Tuesday that a "Nato partner country" had raised concerns about Trump's command of the U.S. nuclear launch system, under which the president alone can order a launch.
On Tuesday, former officials cautioned that adding Congress to the equation would hamper the U.S. response in a high-stress scenario without a lot of time.
The best measure to secure the "Nuclear Triad" - the land, air and sea-based options for delivering a nuclear strike - may not be legislating the president's nuclear authority, Feaver said, but improving the nuclear chain of command's human capital and training. Gerald Ford was president.
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