Democrats want Biden to give up sole authority for nuclear launches

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Feb 26, 2021, 11:04 PM(IST)

A file photo of US President Joe Biden Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The Democrats have sent Biden a letter according to which, “past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behaviour that causes other officials to express concerns about the president's judgment.”

The US president of the United States has always had the sole authority to order nuclear warfare or respond in kind to an enemy attack. But lawmakers of President Joe Biden’s own party are now asking him to surrender that unilateral power.

The Democrats have sent Biden a letter according to which, “past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behaviour that causes other officials to express concerns about the president's judgment.”

The letter, signed by 31 Democratic lawmakers and led by Representatives Jimmy Panetta and Ted Lieu, both from California, calls for officials, such as the vice president and speaker of the House, to concur with a launch order before it can be issued.

The letter, which was sent to the White House on Monday, “proposes several alternatives to investing the president with the sole, unchecked and final authority to order the use of nuclear weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a professor and a director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, told VOA. “Any of the alternatives would be better than the current arrangement.”

Does former US president Donald Trump have a role to play in this?

Well, the letter to Biden from the Democratic lawmakers, including two members of the House Armed Services Committee, mentions Trump by name only in the footnotes, as well as referring to concerns about the mental stability of President Richard Nixon shortly before he resigned in August 1974.

Also, Trump, during a period of feuding with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, boasted that his nuclear button was “much bigger” and “more powerful” than the one possessed by Kim.

But apparently, there is no nuclear button.

The US president has a briefcase -- that's known as nuclear football. In theory, it never leaves the president's side.

The football has communication tools, and books with prepared war plans, and is expected to help the president make a quick decision.

The US president also has something called a biscuit. It's a card with certain codes.

The president is supposed to carry it all the times. When he wants to order a nuclear strike, he uses the codes to identify himself to the military.

Bill Clinton reportedly lost the codes while in office.

And we do not know if any US president has ever shared the codes.

But here's some trivia. When Trump refused to attend Biden's inauguration, the US was faced with an unprecedented nuclear challenge.

An outgoing president is supposed to discretely hand over the codes to his successor. But Trump left for Florida three hours before Biden's swearing in.

Since he was technically still the president, he took the nuclear football and the biscuit with him.

So for the first time, there was a second active football -- one that was handed over to Biden after his oath.

Biden, currently, still is the only person in the US with the command and control of America's nuclear arsenal.

In India, the launch codes of the nuclear weapons are with the prime minister. They are handed over to the new prime minister after his swearing in.

He is also given a presentation on the location of the nuclear warheads and their strength.

In the UK too, only the prime minister can order a nuclear strike.

In Russia, the power of ordering a nuclear strike lies with its president. It's the same with France.

Little or nothing is known about China though.

And also, North Korea... We assume the control is with Kim Jong-un.

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