Limiting the President’s Ability to Start a Nuclear War

Published Mar 28, 2017


The decision to use nuclear weapons is potentially the most important decision this nation could ever make. A single warhead could kill hundreds of thousands of people; nuclear war could change the face of the planet.

Yet, despite the risks, there is no check on the president’s authority to order a nuclear strike.

There’s no requirement that the president check with advisors, Congress, or the courts; a call to the Pentagon war room with his personal authentication codes is all that’s needed. Thousands of nuclear warheads—a few hundred of them on hair-trigger alert—are at his command.

Congress could counterbalance this power by limiting the president’s authority to order first strikes. Specifically, Congress could require a declaration of war before the president uses nuclear weapons for anything other than retaliation. Doing so would lessen the chance of an impulsive or irrational launch, while retaining the president’s ability to quickly respond to incoming nuclear threats.

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