Supersonic bombers scream toward their targets and multiple silo doors swing open in preparation for launch officers to fire their nuclear missiles, as submarines simultaneously begin rising to attack depth — ready to deliver their lethal payloads — after receiving war orders from an unhinged commander-in-chief.
While this scenario is truly the stuff of terrifying nightmares, policymakers in Washington are worried enough about it that they have started discussions on just how to prevent it.
Although there is much ongoing debate over whether Trump really has the power to order a nuclear attack, legislators are now urgently reviewing presidential war-making authority, with the hope of stopping Trump in the event he tries to order a nuclear strike. They also found themselves in the uncomfortable place of having to consider the president’s mental state, as congressmen raised serious doubts about Trump’s fitness to wield the nation’s nuclear launch codes.
One senator even publicly expressed his concern that Trump’s temper might lead to an arbitrary decision to launch nuclear weapons against North Korea or another country that might draw his ire.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke candidly about the distress that a nuclear-armed Trump is causing him and other members of Congress.
“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 U.S. national security interests.”
Sen. Murphy’s angst has been echoed among political pundits, foreign policy experts, and other Americans, as well as leaders of other nations.
Strategic Command chief, Gen. John Hyten, tried to allay growing anxieties during a visit to the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, on Saturday, by announcing that he would consider the legality of any order to launch nuclear weapons before authorizing their release. However, former nuclear missile launch officer Bruce Blair, pointed out that the president could leave Hyten completely out of the loop by essentially issuing strike orders directly to launch officers, according to ABC News.
Although it is impossible to predict whether Trump would order a preemptive nuclear attack, the prospect of the unthinkable was apparently palpable enough to call for the discussion among lawmakers.
The latest debate hinges on if Trump has the weight of law behind him if he tried to order a nuclear missile strike on his own. It is already accepted that the Executive Branch has the power to at least order limited strikes, using conventional weapons, without congressional approval. Several presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have previously exercised this power, with Trump himself ordering a cruise missile attack against the Syrian government in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime.
Currently, the consensus is that the president can unilaterally order nuclear weapons release only in case of an imminent threat to the country. It is also assumed that, even then, the response must be proportionate to the threat.
Obviously, one problem arising here is considering what is proportionate. Another major problem comes up when launching a first strike. How can a determination be made on proportion when dealing with an unknown quantity?
For example, U.S. intelligence recently detected what appears to be North Korean efforts to bolster its war fighting capabilities with ballistic missile submarines. There is no foolproof way to know that North Korea cannot yet attach a nuclear warhead to a missile, or how close it is to being able to fire such a missile from a submarine.
Ballistic missile submarines are of special concern because they can be difficult to detect. A stealthy North Korean sub carrying nuclear-tipped missiles would mean bad news for the U.S.
A situation where Trump is the sole authority on what a proportionate response would be to this perceived threat is troubling, to say the least. In the words of members of his own inner circle, the president has a penchant to launch disproportionate attacks against his enemies — especially if Trump’s Twitter tirades are any sign.
As far as Trump’s mental state is concerned, he has certainly displayed a volatile temperament in the past. Whether what the American public has seen of Trump’s rage capacity is the extent of it, or just the tip of the iceberg, is anyone’s guess. The only ones who can definitively answer that question are those closest to him, and they are not saying much.
[Featured Image by Pool / Getty Images]