First finger may be taken off the button
Congress is to review President Donald Trump’s power to launch a nuclear strike, the first time the commander-in-chief’s control over the US arsenal has been questioned in such a manner in more than 40 years.
The review will be led by Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee and who has been one of Mr Trump’s most strident Republican critics. Last month he said that Mr Trump’s reckless rhetoric could set the US “on the path to World War III”.
US allies are trying to gauge whether Mr Trump would be willing to use a nuclear weapon against North Korea. In August he said that threats from Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Weeks later Kim Jong-un claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb.
Authority to order the use of a US nuclear weapon sits in the hands of the president alone and Mr Trump can order an unprovoked first strike without a congressional declaration of war. When he travels a military aide accompanies him with the “nuclear football”, a briefcase containing launch codes and attack options.
Mr Corker said in a statement: “A number of members both on and off our committee have raised questions about the authorities of the legislative and executive branches with respect to warmaking, the use of nuclear weapons and conducting foreign policy overall.”
It will be the first time since 1976 that the Senate committee or its counterpart in the House of Representatives “have looked specifically at the authority and process for using nuclear weapons”, Senator Corker added.
In January the Democrats introduced legislation that would end the President’s ability to launch a first strike. Senator Edward Markey, one of the authors of the proposal, said: “Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. Yet President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists.
“By maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, US policy provides him with that power. In a crisis with another nuclear-armed country, this policy drastically increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation.”
The nuclear football is returned to the White House during the Obama presidency