Senators scrutinize Trump's power to launch nuclear strike

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But while some senators, including Democrat Edward Markey, expressed fear that in the age of Trump, an impulsive commander in chief has the power to unilaterally unleash a nuclear fusillade, the experts cautioned against legislative alterations that would broaden nuclear command authority to lower echelons.

Military experts testifying before the committee noted that, while presidents have ultimate authority to order nuclear strikes, there are safeguards in place to ensure those orders are considered first. Kehler, a retired US Air Force general, said the military principles of "necessity" and "proportionality" also apply to decisions about nuclear weapons.

"This is a system controlled by human beings. nothing happens automatically", he said, adding that the USA military does not blindly follow orders and a presidential order to employ nuclear weapons must be legal.

Raising concerns about the retaliatory strikes and other impacts that could come from a nuclear first strike, the Democrat argued that the power to launch such an attack should not rest in the hands of one person. Kehler, who led the agency responsible for nuclear launches, insisted on several occasions the military could refuse to act on any nuclear launch order it determined to be illegal - and there is time to push back against a president in any situation, apart from responding to an imminent attack. Many in Congress believe there should be a mechanism for the president to get their approval before launching.

In August, the national security adviser, HR McMaster, raised the prospect of a "preventative war", but many observers of the Korean standoff said any conflict was highly likely to quickly escalate into a nuclear exchange. "I would concede to you that would be a very hard process and a very hard conversation".

Members of the Senate foreign affairs committee called into question a decades-old presidential authority to deploy nuclear weapons in what was the first congressional hearing on nuclear authorization in decades.

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"Making the decision to go to war of any sort is a heavy responsibility for our nation's elected leaders", Senator Corker said.

U.S. senators probed the limits of a president's unilateral power to launch a nuclear attack Tuesday, an increasingly weighty debate as tensions rise between an unpredictable Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Republican members on the committee said they anxious that adversaries would see and read about the committee hearing and infer that Trump was losing support in his role as commander in chief, making them more likely to attack the United States or its allies.

Corker publicly questioned Trump's decision-making abilities last month when he expressed concern over the president's heated rhetoric that, in his view, undermined USA diplomatic efforts with foreign adversaries and put the country "on the path to World War III".

"We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests", Murphy explained.

"Let's just recognise the exceptional nature of this moment". Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., to write Iran-related legislation that could pass with bipartisan support.

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Congress held a hearing about the authority of the president to launch nuclear weapons.

"The president would not make this decision by himself", said Brian McKeon, a former acting undersecretary for policy with the Department of Defense.

Feaver added: "In the context where the president is waking up the military in an extreme funk, saying I'm angry and I want something done, he would require a lot of people cooperating with him to make the strike happen". The question is the process leading to that determination and how you arrive at that.

Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear weapons policy expert and the editor of "Atomic Audit", which assesses the costs of the USA nuclear weapons program, said in an interview that the nation is closer than it ever has been in the post-Cold War era to a miscalculation that could lead to nuclear war. "The process was probably necessary during the Cold War, but that time has long passed and now it's worthy of continued review".

"It boggles the mind that there is not at least one Constitutional office holder that has to be consulted before a nuclear strike is ordered", he said.

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