Friday, August 5, 2016
Nukes R Us
We are terrified that the idiot-leader in North Korea might use his growing missile/rocket payload capacity to deploy a nuclear warhead against the United States or one or more of our allies. We still dread the nukes that went missing when the Soviet Union fractured into component nations back in 1991. Policy-makers fear the risks of a nuclear “dirty bomb” in the hands of Jihadist terrorists or, worse, through complicity or coup, some of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads find their way to the wrong hands. And then there is the potential of Iran’s nuclear capacity.
Could Israel deploy its nukes against Middle Eastern targets? How about a mistake that looses nukes between Pakistan and India? How about Russia or China? And then there is the “under the radar” question right here in the good ole USA. Can the president really start a nuclear attack by him or herself?
The complexity of the issue resides with the incredibly short time it would take an enemy to mount a nuclear strike against the United States. “The president’s authority over nuclear decision-making challenges the Constitution’s clear declaration that only Congress holds the power to declare war. In practice, the arrival of the nuclear age dismantled the traditional rules by rewriting the timelines of war. It would take 12 minutes or less for weapons fired from submarines to reach Washington, and 30 minutes for warheads from most intercontinental missiles. Bombs dropped by aircraft, if they could pierce the country’s air defenses, would take only hours.
“As a result, Congress began delegating the powers of nuclear war-fighting to the president, starting with Harry S. Truman — the only president who has ever ordered a nuclear strike against another nation.” New York Times, August 4th. So the president can…
And clearly, a presidential candidate’s temperament has become a hot political issue in this November election. Hillary on Donald Trump: “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” MSNBC reporter asked Donald Trump: “Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” Trump: “I would never take any of my cards off the table.” The arsenal at a president’s command is truly potentially world-changing.
“If the United States appeared to be under nuclear assault, the president would have minutes to decide whether the threat was real, and to fire as many as 925 nuclear warheads with a destructive force greater than 17,000 Hiroshima bombs, according to estimates by Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington.
“The commander in chief can also order the first use of nuclear weapons even if the United States is not under nuclear attack… ‘There’s no veto once the president has ordered a strike,’ said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear specialist who held White House and Defense Department posts for 31 years before leaving government service in 2005. ‘The president and only the president has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.’” NY Times.
Would the fear of a retaliatory counterstrike constitute a sufficient deterrent against an American president’s pulling that nuclear trigger? Remember that the United States is the only country on earth that has ever actually used a nuclear weapon against an enemy… Japan in WWII. Japan marked the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima on [August 5th and pictured above] as its mayor urged world leaders to follow in U.S. President Barack Obama's footsteps and visit, and ultimately rid the world of nuclear arms.” Reuters.com, August 5th.
What are the restraints that could be applied against a rogue president? We all know that there is an impeachment procedure in the U.S. constitution. “The right to impeach public officials is secured by the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Sections 2 and 3, which discuss the procedure, and in Article II, Section 4, which indicates the grounds for impeachment: ‘the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.’” InfoPlease.com. But this is a slow and tedious procedure.
There is a secondary constitutional provision, not so well-known, that could apply a more rapid check on such a president. “Article II Section IV reads: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”
“The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967, as a clarification to Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution. The 25th Amendment deals with the succession of the Presidency, especially at a time when the sitting President becomes unable, incapable or unfit to perform the duties of his or her office. It also establishes procedures to fill a vacancy left by the Vice President. It is essentially a safeguard against a president who runs amuck, or who goes insane, or who cannot fulfill his or her duties as commander and chief and leader of the union of 50 states.” TheHill.com, August 3rd.
The problem, of course, is that neither of the above alternatives is really fast enough to stop nuclear holocaust before it occurs. We’ve witnessed détente among traditional nuclear powers, disarmament, treaties and stand-downs. Recently, we have focused on terrorist shootings, old-world-explosive bombings and down-and-dirty knifing and even using a large truck as an offensive killing machine. Nuclear capacity has faded from the headlines, dropped to a second or third tier consideration among American voters.
We really don’t believe anyone would really launch a nuclear attack against the United States… or that the United States would administer a first strike nuclear attack. Most of us think that the only real use for our nuclear arsenal is to serve as a deterrent against those who might believe that could attack us with nukes. But then, we only have to be wrong once in those opinions for the earth to change beyond recognition. Whom do you trust with that awesome power?
I’m Peter Dekom, and technology has advanced in exceptionally good and diabolically bad directions, and our political systems haven’t really kept up with the changes.