Democratizing the Decision to Use Nuclear Weapons

James Comey, Stephen King and George Will walk into a bar . . .

It could be a lead-in to a joke, but unfortunately, it is not.

All three gentlemen share a concern about our President’s increasingly erratic and irrational behavior. That concern should rightly increase exponentially when considering that President Donald Trump presently has sole authority in the United States to fire nuclear weapons and launch a nuclear holocaust.

After his firing, Mr. Comey told associates, “The President was ‘outside the realm of normal,’ even ‘crazy.’”

Author Stephen King tweeted: “That this guy has his finger on the nuclear trigger is worse than any horror story I ever wrote.”

Columnist George Will opined: “The United States is rightly worried that a strange and callow leader controls North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea should reciprocate this worry.”

At present, there are no checks and balances on the President’s use of nuclear weapons. No one has the ability to block this presidential action, not even if the President decides to start a nuclear war.  Not the Supreme Court. Not the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not Congress.

It is right to be worried over North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Il and his frequent missile and nuclear tests and his threats to use his nuclear weapons. But as George Will suggests, the rest of the world has the same worry about President Trump.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) have introduced a bill to ameliorate the problem. Their bill, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act, was first introduced in September 2016 when President Barack Obama was still in office. 

The measure would give Congress the ability to review any President’s choice of launching a nuclear first-strike. This is in line with Congress’ constitutionally-mandated power to declare war, since there is no greater act of war than launching a nuclear attack.

Importantly, the bill would not undercut a President’s ability to respond to a nuclear attack in any way.

The Markey bill has been co-sponsored by eight Senators so far: Feinstein (CA), Franken (MN), Markey (MA), Merkley (OR), Sanders (VT), Van Hollen (MD), Warren (MA) and Wyden (OR).

The Lieu bill has 33 co-sponsors.

The offensive use of a nuclear weapon is the most consequential action the United States can take. That is why Council for a Livable World strongly backs the Markey and Lieu bills to ensure that a decision of such a magnitude is taken with the full consent of our democratic institutions.