A group of more than 30 House Democrats has asked President Joe Biden to cede his sole authority to launch nuclear weapons.
In a letter penned by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California, the Democrats want party leaders to change the command-and-control structure so no single person can launch the weapons.
“Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” the letter says, as reported by Politico. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.”
The letter also suggests changing the command structure of the U.S. arsenal to also require approval from officials in the constitutional line of succession, including the vice president and the House speaker. The alleged reason for allowing other officials into the process is because neither “can be removed by the president if they disagree to concur with a launch order.”
The president right now has sole authority to launch U.S. nuclear weapons, and everywhere he goes, a military official carries the “nuclear football,” which contains the codes. During the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, and because nuclear weapons could be launched quickly, the U.S. decided a single authority should have control to respond.
But the 30 Democrats fear a U.S. president could start a war without congressional approval.
“While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”
Panetta wrote on Twitter: “Vesting a single person with nuclear authority entails real risks. I’m leading a group of my colleagues with @RepTedLieu in calling for reform to our nuclear command-and-control structure. It’s time to install additional checks and balances into this system.”
The California Democrat had earlier made the same proposal when former President Donald Trump was in office.
“His blatant disregard for the rule of law, established norms, and strategic thought process present a threat to the nation’s nuclear authority. In the final days of this tragic presidency, we must pursue every possible measure to promote and protect our national security at home and abroad,” he said in January.
In his Jan. 8 statement, he said: “In the coming days, as Trump’s options for remaining in the White House all but disappear, there is a real danger that the President could turn to military action at home or abroad. We are well-aware that in ordinary times, your role is to execute the President’s orders. Unfortunately, we do not live in ordinary times. We believe that critical moments, like that we face today, require us to think of every possible avenue to avert disaster. We therefore ask you to implement additional measures to ensure adequate checks are placed on the President’s nuclear authority at the earliest possible opportunity.”