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US Senate committee questions Trump's nuclear authority

15 November 2017, 04:07 | Taylor George

Lawmakers US allies seek assurance that Trump won’t rashly launch nuclear strike

Lawmakers US allies seek assurance that Trump won’t rashly launch nuclear strike

Corker has become an outspoken critic of the president, although he says Tuesday's hearing was not specific to President Trump.

With tensions rising over North Korea, members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee challenged the decades-old presidential authority to deploy nukes. Mattis was asked whether the president could launch a first strike with nuclear weapons, without consulting Congress, against another nuclear-armed country preparing to attack the U.S.

For the first time in more than 40 years the Senate examined Tuesday the American president's authority to launch a nuclear strike on a foreign enemy.

President Trump, who wrapped up a 13-day trip to Asia, previously called Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions a global threat and once warned Kim Jong Un that if North Korea threatened the U.S., America has "military solutions" "locked and loaded".

Last month, the Senate committee's Republican chairman, Senator Bob Corker, accused the president of setting the United States "on a path to World War III". He said those comments are fueled by Trump's statements about North Korea, including his remark in August that the US could respond to Pyongyang with "fire and fury like the world has never seen".

Retired Gen. Robert Kehler, who previously headed the U.S.'s command that would be in charge of the nuclear arsenal during a war, said while the US military is obligated to follow legal orders, it is not duty bound to adhere to illegal ones.

Democratic Senators were, nonetheless, concerned about the president's previous remarks.

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Another senator on the panel has drafted legislation proposing to curb the president's power to launch a nuclear attack.

Witnesses at the hearing stressed that there are some checks. When the president initiates the idea of using a nuclear weapon, particularly in a case of preventive war, there is a coterie of lawyers and advisors in the White House and Pentagon who openly debate the issue.

Only the president can give the order to pull the nuclear trigger.

Duke University professor Peter Feaver told the committee, "You want to make sure you don't propose a legislative fix that undermines the nuclear deterrent and thus compromises the effectiveness of why we have nuclear weapons".

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., still likened the process to simple technology. Kehler, a retired US Air Force general, said the military principles of "necessity" and "proportionality" also apply to decisions about nuclear weapons.

One issue under debate was the concept of imminent threat, when the president believes a country poses a sufficient immediate danger for the United States to order a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Kehler responded "Yes, if there is an illegal order presented to military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it".



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