PICTURED: President John J. Kennedy returns to the White House in 1962 alongside an Air Force aide carrying the nuclear launch controls.
WASHINGTON D.C., February 23rd, 2021. In what would be the first major change in U.S. domestic nuclear authorization policy since the start of the Cold War, 31 Democratic representatives have sent a letter to President Biden asking him to consider adding checks and balances to the necessary procedure for launching a nuclear first strike.
The letter suggests adding the approval of members of the government which the executive can’t fire, like the Vice President and the Speaker of the House, as well as other members of the cabinet like the Sec. of Defense, Attorney General, and Chairman of the JCOS.
Since the beginning of the Cold War, the President of the United States has had the sole authority to authorize nuclear strikes, and the famous image of the man following presidents everywhere with the “nuclear football” in tow, became iconic of the dread forces waiting on standby during the last 60-70 years.
The letter was penned by two California Democrats, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, son of Leon Panetta, former Sec. of Defense under Obama, and Ted Lieu, an outspoken critic of America’s ongoing war with North Korea.
“As president, two of your most critical and solemn duties are the security of the country and the safeguarding of its nuclear arsenal,” the letter began. “However, vesting one person with this authority entails real risks”.
End of an era type stuff
Debate has never really ended on whether or not it’s the smartest or most correct choice of national policy to allow the president exclusive control of the nuclear launch codes, to which Panetta and Lieu alluded as much.
“Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment,” they wrote, referencing Donald Trump’s Twitter beef with Kim Jong Un.
Lieu entirely objects to the consensus that the Korean Peninsula could be denuclearized through military force, calling any attempt to do so a “stupid war,” and so it’s perhaps not surprising that Lieu, whose family hails from Taiwan, would like to see greater safeguards in place.
“The only way to take out [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons would be through a ground invasion,” Lieu said at an an event held by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Lieu was part of a Congressional research panel that found casualty figures resulting from a war between the Koreas would be about 25 million.
Another situation of similar danger is that of malfunction. The history of the brinksmanship in atomic warfare is riddled with near-misses. In Daniel Ellsberg’s book, Confessions of the Nuclear War Planner, the father of American whistle-blowers reveals the month to month activity as former-Def. Secretary Robert McNamara’s nuclear war planner.
In one instance, he tells the story of a nuclear weapon that was accidentally launched by the government of America aimed at America, and during it’s plummeting to the ground, 8 of the 10 electronically installed failsafe triggers were unresponsive.
Perhaps even more disturbing, Ellsberg details that the contingency plan in case the weapon detonated was to be an immediate, no holds barred attack against the Soviet Union under the guise that their catastrophic blunder was actually a Soviet first strike.
Panetta suggests that certificates would be required from the the Sec. of Defense stating that a strike has been correctly authorized by the various parties, and from the Attorney General that it would be legal, under U.S. and International Law. Lieu and Panetta also suggested that an authorization from Congress could be required, and that a declaration of war would be necessary.
“We note your distinguished record and leadership on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation as senator and vice-president. We ask you to lead again,” the letter concludes. “As president you will have the final say on any changes to U.S. nuclear policy. We respectfully request that you, as president, review ways in which you can end the sole authority you have to launch a nuclear attack”.
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