TAKE ACTION 

 

See H.R. 669 and S. 200 the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017.” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and J. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have sponsored legislation that would require the president to receive congressional approval before initiating a first-use nuclear strike from the United States. 

 

BACKGROUND 

No one person--in any country--should have the sole power to launch nuclear weapons.  Currently there is no check on the U.S. president’s authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, either first or in response to a nuclear attack. If the president decided to launch a nuclear strike, he/she would simply notify the military of this decision. He/she would likely consult with advisers first, but there is no requirement for him/her to do so, and there is no one with the authority to countermand a legal order from the president. 

Presidential sole authority is an artifact of the Cold War, when the greatest fear was a massive bolt-from-the-blue first strike by the Soviet Union that would wipe out the United States’ missiles before it had a chance to retaliate. But this system is risky and unjustified; no single individual should be able to make such a momentous decision.  

The nuclear danger makes everyone a stakeholder.  We must democratize decision-making processes on the declaration of war, the use of weapons of mass destruction.

If we adopt a no-first-use policy, as recommended in Step 1, a clear marker would be established in limiting the president’s leeway to initiate a first strike.  As nuclear security expert Bruce Blair emphasizes, operational plans for nuclear launch would also be modified in ways that would hamstring any effort to order the use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause. For more in-depth discussion of what practical measures can be taken to check presidential authority, see article by Bruce Blair.

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