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Former ICBM Launch Officer Calls for Reforming Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority

By J C Suresh

Photo: Testing of the Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles at the Kwajalein Atoll. All eight fired from only one missile. Each line, if its warhead were live, represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT, about nineteen times larger than the detonation of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

TORONTO | WASHINGTON, DC (IDN) – Cofounder of the organization Global Zero, and a former Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile launch officer has called for major changes to prevent a U.S. President from ordering the use of nuclear weapons.

In a new article published in the forthcoming issue of Arms Control Today, Bruce Blair, who is also a member of the Princeton University research faculty, provides an authoritative summary of current U.S. nuclear launch protocol and its dangerous liabilities. The article includes new information about the process, including who is involved and how a nuclear use order would be executed.

Blair also offers several possible reforms to the current protocol to provide the president with more warning and decision time and reduce the risks of faulty decision-making.

The backdrop to the article are bipartisan concerns about President Donald Trump’s temperament, loose talk about nuclear weapons, and bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea.

These have prompted renewed interest in and questioning of U.S. nuclear launch protocol, which gives the president the sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, hundreds of which are available for prompt launch, says the Arms Control Association in a press release.

In November 2017, for the first time in over 40 years, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the subject of nuclear weapons launch authority.

The article comes after Trump reacted to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s annual new year’s day address by tweeting: “Will someone from his [Kim Jong-Un’s] depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but that it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.”

In the article, titled “Strengthening Checks on Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority,” Blair writes that “[m]ajor changes are needed to constrain a president who would seek to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause and to prevent him or her from being pushed into making nuclear retaliatory decisions in haste.”

“No single reform suffices,” writes Blair. “A combination of reforms is needed to reduce the risk.”

The reforms proposed by Blair include altering the current prompt-launch posture, adding more people to the chain of command, greater congressional involvement, and re-evaluating the legality of nuclear war plans.

Blair’s article will appear in the January/February 2018 issue of Arms Control Today.

The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. Arms Control Today is a publication of the Arms Control Association. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 January 2018]

Photo: Testing of the Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles at the Kwajalein Atoll. All eight fired from only one missile. Each line, if its warhead were live, represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT, about nineteen times larger than the detonation of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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