Science Group Urges Biden Administration to Limit Presidential Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons

Statement by Laura Grego, Senior Scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jan 7, 2021

WASHINGTON (Jan. 7, 2021)—President Trump’s provocation of the shocking violence that rocked the Capitol yesterday highlights the risks inherent in having invested the sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons in the president. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is renewing its call to limit presidential authority to launch a nuclear attack.

UCS urges the incoming Biden administration to quickly implement a new decision-making process that would require two additional elected officials who are in the presidential line of succession to concur before a launch of a nuclear missile could proceed.

UCS developed this more sensible nuclear command policy, also explained in an article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that would rely on existing Federal Emergency Management Agency tracking of elected officials to ensure a rapid decision could occur if required.

Below is a statement by Laura Grego, senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The existing system gives the president the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons without requiring the agreement of anyone else. Yesterday’s violence and governmental chaos reinforced what we already know: no one person, not even a president, should be given the sole authority to start a nuclear war, which could lead to the immediate death of millions. The existing system invests the president, no matter how capable or how reckless and impulsive, with such devastating power.

“We urge the president-elect to change this policy as quickly as possible after taking office to require that two other elected officials in the line of succession concur with a presidential order to use nuclear weapons before the military carries out an attack and unleashes a nuclear war.

“President-elect Biden should further reduce the risks of these dangerous weapons by adopting a No First Use nuclear policy. The United States should make clear it will never again use nuclear weapons first, for any reason, and until these weapons can be eliminated the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter and, if necessary, respond to their use by others against the U.S. or its allies.”