Here’s a sentence we never expected to type: this article was inspired by Donald Trump boasting about the size and power of his nuclear buttons on Twitter. Hopefully this is all sound and fury signifying nothing, but regardless, this peculiar reality we happen to find ourselves in is making our skin crawl on a far too frequent basis.
The worrying fact is that, if he chooses, Trump could order a nuclear strike. Yes, people would probably – and hopefully – try to stop him, and not too long ago Air Force General John Hyten, who is the de facto US nuclear commander, said that “we’re not stupid people,” adding that he would tell the President if a strike was illegal and not allow it to take place.
Still, it’s surprisingly easy for Trump to actually order a nuclear strike. With this in mind, it’s perfectly rational to be nervous about this irrational president’s trigger-happy method of diplomacy, which hopefully doesn’t extend militarily too.
Trump’s latest nuke-flavored tweet did remind us that all this talk of a nuclear button – which was probably a terrible metaphor in this case – is, on a technical level, ridiculous, as well as being incredibly inflammatory. There is no “button”, and it certainly wouldn’t be on his desk in the Oval Office, because that would simply fall prey to clumsiness and impulsivity.
Incidentally, the red button that is on his desk is reportedly designed to summon a butler carrying Diet Coke.
The procedure of authorizing and launching a nuclear strike in the United States is far more complex than this, but perhaps surprisingly streamlined just in case global destruction – or a small tactical nuclear strike at first – is the order of the day. So how does it work?
According to Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University who spoke to Vox about the issue, there are two scenarios in which the President, the only person that can order a strike, would wish to do so.
In one, he or she would wake up one day and they would just fancy a bit of Armageddon. Thankfully, this would almost certainly not be authorized by any officials.
Alternatively, they will be woken up by their military advisors who tell them that if Nation X is not attacked right now, they will destroy the United States – and it is this pre-emptive strike that has a better chance of proceeding.