Military could reject a White House order to nuke North Korea, senators told

U.S. military commanders can turn down a White House order to launch a nuclear strike--but there is no way to guarantee that they will--according to a former military officer at a Senate hearing Tuesday.
By Tyler Henderson | Nov 17, 2017
President Trump can order the U.S. military to launch a nuclear strike on North Korea, but military leaders can refuse to follow it if they deem the order "illegal," a former military commander said in a Senate hearing Tuesday on nuclear weapons policy. Questions lingered, however, over if and how present-day U.S. military leadership would judge a White House nuclear strike order's legality and whether they would refuse it.

Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command from 2011 to 2013, testified that he personally would have rejected an order if he did not think that it met the standards of necessary force laid out under the laws of armed conflict. He admitted that he did not know what would happen next, adding that "there is the human element to this."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) did not find this at all reassuring. He is sponsoring legislation that would limit the president's ability to launch a first strike. Markey told the Guardian that it is not enough to simply trust U.S. military leaders to resist a White House order to start a nuclear war.

"I think that would be abdicating the responsibility of the US Congress to a group of generals who in many instances would have been appointed by the commander-in-chief, Donald Trump. That's a very thin reed on which to have the fate of the planet being dependent," Markey said.

The Tuesday hearing was the first congressional hearing since 1976 to discuss presidential control of the nuclear arsenal. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed concerns that Trump might drag the United States into a nuclear exchange with North Korea. An unnamed "NATO partner country" also expressed fears this week over Trump's judgement regarding the use of nuclear weapons, according to CNN.

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