Strategic Nuclear Decision Making In The Age of Trump

Strategic Nuclear Decision Making In The Age of Trump

Nuclear weapons have been in the news recently. First of all, some Democrats want to curb President Trump’s ability to unilaterally use nuclear weapons without external input (either from Congress or some military officials I presume). Another news story involves a US general having stated in public that he would disobey an illegal order from Trump. That in and of itself isn’t news, soldiers are obligated to disregard illegal orders already. That being said, saying it out loud in public is sadly a sign of our times. Both the media and this general apparently took the opportunity to bash Trump.

The debate over the morality of nuclear weapons is a digression, they are unfortunately a fact and we have to deal with them. Idealistic (leftist) sentiments about abolishing them altogether is not feasible. I refer to the plot of Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor” as my case in point. (Russia and the US get rid of all their nukes and Japan secretly develops them and occupies US territory). Having established that nuclear weapons exist and will continue to exist forever, at least until more destructive weapons are developed, we must address the logic of their use in regards to Trump.

The internal logic to nuclear deterrence isn’t compatible with the suggested limitations to Trump’s ability to order a strike. Even the most minute and inconsequential restriction could have serious geopolitical consequences. What maintains the balance and credibility of nuclear deterrence is the knowledge that any nuclear attack will be met in kind, guaranteed. The span of time from a warning about detected incoming missiles until it is too late to order a retaliatory strike is narrow. Hillary Clinton spilled the beans during a debate last year and told the world that it takes four minutes from the order is given until missiles are in the air. Any serious student of Cold War history can tell you about the numerous cases of false positives. On several occasions on both sides of the Atlantic early warning systems reported that the opposing side had launched their missiles. That we are still here today is proof of the importance of verification.

Both sides have proven that they will not launch their missiles willy-nilly. They seek confirmation beforehand. Thus, there is a span of time from the first report until confirmation is provided and then the order to launch is given. A delay to Trump’s ability to unilaterally order a retaliatory strike would alter the strategic and tactical feasibility of nuclear weapons entirely. If Trump by law had to seek Congress’s approval before use, then America’s antagonists like Putin, Iran (if they successfully develop nuclear weapons), Kim Jong-Un or others could theoretically launch submarine launched ballistic missiles (they have the shortest flight time, thus the shortest warning window). A pre-emptive nuclear strike would enter the realm of being seriously contemplated.

A shorter delay, like extra confirmation or seconding of the order from additional military officials would still be dangerous. A wacky tin pot dictator or a similar lunatic could gamble on the delay being long enough to decapitate the ability of the US to retaliate. With all the general craziness and religious zealotry in the world today, this isn’t as far-fetched as we might hope. Thus the proposal to curb Trump’s ability to single handedly launch is a potential mortal danger to US national security.

A tiny fraction of this negative effect has already taken place with the careless comment from the aforementioned general. It plants the seeds of doubt in the minds of America’s enemies about the credibility of the nuclear deterrence of the US. In conclusion, the forces that are screaming the loudest about the danger of Trump’s fingers on the button are the real danger to world peace and national security. As we have seen a nuclear free world is not realistic, rogue regimes or terrorist groups would certainly use the opportunity to acquire this 70+ year old technology and use it for nuclear blackmail or for pure mass destruction. Say what you will about the ethics of this class of weapons, they have prevented a major world war since their inception (although there has been some close calls). Comments and proposals that haven’t been carefully thought through will only do more harm than good. I only wish that the “Resistance” would take this lesson to heart.




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