WASHINGTON — Here’s a question rarely raised before Donald Trump ran for the White House: If the president ordered a pre-emptive nuclear strike, could anyone stop him? The answer is no.
Not the Congress. Not his secretary of defence. And by design, not the military officers who would be duty-bound to execute the order.
As Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and expert on nuclear command and control, has put it, “The protocol for ordering the use of nuclear weapons endows every president with civilization-ending power.” Trump, he wrote in a Washington Post column last summer, “has unchecked authority to order a preventive nuclear strike against any nation he wants with a single verbal direction to the Pentagon war room.”
Or, as then-Vice-President Dick Cheney explained in December 2008, the president “could launch a kind of devastating attack the world’s never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts.”
And the world has changed even more in the decade since, with North Korea posing a bigger and more immediate nuclear threat than had seemed possible.