April 22, 2021

Democrats Asked Biden to Relinquish Sole Authority for Nuclear Launches

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The United States President, always accompanied by a military aide carrying a satchel with nuclear launch codes, has sole authority to order nuclear warfare or respond in kind to such an enemy attack.

Now, lawmakers of the current president’s own party are asking President Joe Biden to give out that unilateral power.

Giving one person such authority “entails real risks,” according to a letter endorsed by 31 Democratic members of the House. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that causes other officials to express concerns about the president’s judgment.”

The letter, led by Representatives Jimmy Panetta and Ted Lieu, both from California, calls for officials, such as the vice president and speaker of the House, to concur with a launch order before it can be issued.

“My colleagues and I are requesting a straightforward review of our nation’s nuclear command-and-control structure to determine how we can have a safer nuclear weapons launch authority, not to jeopardize but to enhance and bolster our national security,” said Panetta in a statement to VOA on Thursday.

“Based on our president’s distinguished record and leadership on nuclear arms control, for our country’s nuclear forces, we’re recommending that he continue his thoughtful and professional analysis of ways for additional checks and balances within the nuclear command-and-control structure.”

The letter, which was sent to the White House on Monday, “proposes several alternatives to investing the president with the sole, unchecked and final authority to order the use of nuclear weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a professor and a director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, told VOA. “Any of the alternatives would be better than the current arrangement.”

On January 8, two days after a mob supporting then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her fellow Democrats she had spoken with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “about preventing an unstable president” from ordering a launch of nuclear weapons.

“The situation of this unhinged president could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy,” Pelosi said in a letter.

The letter to Biden from the Democratic lawmakers, including two members of the House Armed Services Committee, mentions Trump by name only in the footnotes, as well as referring to concerns about the mental stability of President Richard Nixon shortly before he resigned in August 1974.

“Since there are inherent risks in the present system, as was made apparent by our ex-president, it’s our responsibility in Congress to ensure that the administration conducts this type of review in order to have a safer, more secure nuclear weapons launch authority,” Panetta told
VOA.

“The old argument was that it was safe to give the president this power because the election was the ultimate safeguard,” Lewis said. “Trump’s election shows that an unfit, amoral and dangerous person can, in fact, gain power in the United States.”

Trump, during a period of feuding with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, boasted that his nuclear button was “much bigger” and “more powerful” than the one possessed by Kim.

The proposed change is being criticized by three prominent Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee.

In their statement, Liz Cheney, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner contend “the president of the United States must have the exclusive ability to command and control our nuclear deterrent. Democrats’ dangerous efforts suggesting a restructuring of our nuclear command-and-control process will undermine American security, as well as the security of our allies.”

VOA

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