Could Trump start a nuclear war?
By Linda Pentz Gunter
All that’s involved is a satchel, a biscuit, and a football.
It sounds so benign, doesn’t it? Like schoolboy games. It’s anything but. If the President of the United States opens that satchel with his biscuit to access the football, that simple action could propel us into Armageddon.
The satchel, which goes everywhere the president does, contains the nuclear “football.” Only the president can open the satchel, using an ID card known as the “biscuit”.
As Time magazine explained it — the first time alarm bells rang around the possibility that an unhinged Donald Trump might “press the nuclear button” — the “biscuit enables him to identify himself to officials at the Pentagon with unique codes letting them know he is authorizing a nuclear strike. He would also need to specify the type of attack he wanted to carry out; the different options are delineated in the nuclear football.
“Once Trump has successfully conveyed his orders, Strategic Command, which has operational control over U.S. nuclear forces, would implement them.”
So while there is no actual nuclear button — Trump’s boasts to North Korea about his big one notwithstanding — it would be all too easy for a petulant madman to start a nuclear war. And we have one in the White House.
No one here needs to be reminded of the eye-stretching scenes of mob violence that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6, egged on by Trump on the day itself, and fueled by the reckless rhetoric and actions of the White House and its Republican lackeys over the past four years.
The events of January 6 in part prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to speak to the “Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.
“The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy,” Politico reported Pelosi as saying on Friday.
In a statement issued on January 7, Physicians for Social Responsibility wrote that the scenes of mayhem at the Capitol, brought on by Trump’s “increasingly irresponsible and reckless behavior” should finally “put to rest any doubt about the danger posed by giving any president sole authority for the decision to launch a nuclear weapon. While the incident yesterday did not directly involve that power, President Trump’s alarming conduct demonstrated incontrovertibly why providing a president with the sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon needs to be changed—right now.”
How easy would it be for Trump to launch a nuclear strike? Global Zero explains it, chillingly, in this video, which suggests that starting a nuclear war would be “as easy as ordering a pizza.”
In a January 24, 2018 article in The Straits Times, Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, was quoted in an interview he gave to the BBC.
“There are no checks and balances on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike,” he said. “But between the time he authorizes one and the time it’s carried out there are other people involved.”
We’ve been saved more than once from nuclear disaster, most notably by Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces who, on the night of September 26, 1983 just happened to be in charge of monitoring his country’s satellite system that watched for a potential launch of nuclear weapons by the United States. In the early hours, such a launch appeared to have happened.
Petrov had only minutes to decide if the launch was genuine. He was supposed to report the alert up the chain of command. Doing so would almost certainly have led to a counterstrike, triggering a full-on nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Instead, Petrov decided to check if there was a computer malfunction, later discovered to have been the case. Petrov became known as “the man who saved the world.”
But back at the White House, with only conspiracy-theory believing acolytes left around a man who doesn’t in any case listen to anyone’s advice, we cannot count on there being any Petrovs to save us this time.
Of course, as the PSR statement concluded: “the best way to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger posed by the dysfunctional leadership of a nuclear-armed nation is to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.
“The incoming Biden administration should embrace the principles of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and lead negotiations that move us toward a nuclear-weapons free world.”
That Treaty will become international law on January 22. Not a moment too soon.
Headline photo by By Bucyfon for Shutterstock.