Four days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without first having Congress expressly authorize such a strike.
The current U.S. “launch under attack” nuclear posture calls for the president to order the launch of hundreds of nuclear warheads deployed on alerted strategic land-based and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. The orders can be executed by the president within a matter of a few minutes without the approval of any cabinet official or any members of Congress, according to specialists familiar with the procedures.
The bill, which was originally introduced in 2016, is a response to what Lieu calls Trump’s “desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons.” The country’s founders “created a system of checks and balances, and it is essential for that standard to be applied to the potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear war,” Lieu said in a Jan. 24 joint statement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said in Jan. 11 remarks that “it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or make sense” and that he and President Barack Obama came to the conclusion that “deterring a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”
Yet, there is no official policy of no first use of nuclear weapons; and there is no requirement that Congress must authorize the use of military force, formally declare war, or even be consulted before the president orders a U.S. nuclear strike.
“Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law,” Markey said in the Jan. 24 statement.