ENDING THE SOLE, UNCHECKED AUTHORITY OF ANY PRESIDENT TO LAUNCH A NUCLEAR ATTACK

Currently there is no check on the president’s authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, either first or in response to a nuclear attack. If the president decided to launch a nuclear strike, he/she would simply notify the military of this decision. He/she would likely consult with advisers first, but there is no requirement for him/her to do so, and there is no one with the authority to countermand a legal order from the president.

Presidential sole authority is an artifact of the Cold War, when the greatest fear was a massive bolt-from-the-blue first strike by the Soviet Union that would wipe out the United States’ missiles before it had a chance to retaliate. But this system is risky and unjustified; no single individual should be able to make such a momentous decision. There are practical ways that the process can be changed to include multiple decision-makers in authorizing the use of nuclear weapons, and the United States should adopt such changes.

 
“No one person should be able to order a nuclear attack. There’s no reason to maintain this dangerous policy, since there are viable alternatives that would allow other officials to take part in any decision to use nuclear weapons, whether it’s a first use or a launch responding to a nuclear attack.”
Lisbeth Gronlund, senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists