Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley has found himself on the hot seat lately over a January 8 telephone conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which he sought to clarify U.S. nuclear launch procedures. On the one hand, Milley said there are numerous safeguards surrounding the employment of nuclear weapons, which is not true at the presidential level–the president’s launch authority is unilateral and absolute. On the other hand, Milley said he is not competent to judge the mental health of the chief executive, which may be true but is not sincere. If Milley doubted the president’s sanity in a nuclear-launch decision, of course he would intervene, despite the fact that he lacks the formal authority to do so since he is not in the nuclear chain of command. What this all points to is that the president, any president, is a potential weak spot in the U.S. nuclear posture because there are no institutional checks on his or her authority to launch. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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