Photo via Wikipedia

Yes, Donald Trump Could Launch Nukes On His Own

But it doesn’t have to be this way

David Axe
David Axe
Jan 18, 2017 · 3 min read


Believe it or not, once Donald Trump is president on Jan. 20, 2017, he could unilaterally launch nuclear weapons at any country that pisses him off.

Don’t take it from me. Here’s physicist and nuke-expert David Wright, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Once the president has provided the proper codes for the day, no one has the authority to stop the launch process. …

Officers in the Pentagon’s “war room,” or National Military Command Center … send out encrypted messages, called the Emergency Action Messages.

The EAMs are the actual launch orders giving the details of the launch. The EAMs would go, for example, to the officers in the various underground Launch Control Centers who would launch U.S. land-based missiles.

The EAMs specify the launch plan, including the targets and number of warheads to be launched, and the time of the launch. They also contain launch authorization codes that allow the launch crews to confirm that the order is real by comparing it to codes they have in their safes. These are called “sealed-authentication system” … codes.

Once the EAM arrives, ICBM crews can launch their missiles in 60 seconds and submarine crews can launch in 12 minutes. In that time, the U.S. could launch some or all of the roughly 900 nuclear weapons it keeps ready for immediate launch.

Wright believes it’s time to change this process. “The reasons behind it” — basically, the need to respond quickly to a Soviet surprise attack — “are now outdated,” Wright asserts.

There’s precedent for a change, Wright reminds us:

On at least one occasion White House officials were worried enough about the mental state of the president that they tried to insert roadblocks in the way of a potential launch decision.

That was in 1974, late in the Nixon administration. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger grew concerned that President [Richard] Nixon still had control of U.S. nuclear weapons despite the fact that the Watergate crisis had rendered him depressed, emotionally unstable and drinking heavily. Schlesinger instructed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to route “any emergency order coming from the president” — such as a nuclear launch order — through him first.

The question is — would James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, be willing and able to do to Trump what Schlesinger did to Nixon, and quietly remove the president’s finger from the nuclear trigger?

Follow Defiant on Facebook and Twitter.


We are the loyal opposition

David Axe

Written by

David Axe

I write about war and make horror movies



We are the loyal opposition

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade