Senator Markey Remarks at Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Presidential Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons

Washington (November 14, 2017) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), top Democrat on the East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks today at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons”. Video can be found HERE.
 
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Few questions are as important to U.S. national security as the question of Presidential authority to use nuclear weapons, not only to deter or defend against a nuclear attack but also to start a nuclear war.
 
“Nuclear weapons are for deterrence – not war-fighting.  Launching nuclear weapons first would be an unprecedented act of aggression and war.  Whether ‘limited’ or ‘massive,’ any first-use nuclear strike would devolve into retaliatory strikes and war causing unimaginable death, suffering, and destruction.
 
“Absent a nuclear attack upon the United States or our allies, no one human being should have the power to unilaterally unleash the most destructive forces ever devised by humankind.  
 
“Yet under existing laws, the President of the United States can start a nuclear war – without provocation, without consultation, and without warning.  It boggles the rational mind.
 
“I fear that in the Age of Trump the ‘cooler heads’ and ‘strategic doctrine’ that we once relied upon as our last, best hope against the unthinkable seem less reassuring than ever.  
 
“In other areas of government, our Constitution’s system of checks and balances ensures that the President does not have sole power to make extreme decisions without some level of national consensus.
 
“But on the President’s sole authority to start a nuclear war, even in the absence of a nuclear attack, no one can tell the President no.  Not Secretaries Mattis or Tillerson.
 
“Even General Kelly, the President’s Chief of Staff, can’t control the President’s Twitter tantrums.
 
“As a result, many Americans share my fear that the President’s bombastic words could turn into nuclear reality.
 
“The fact that any American President has this unilateral ability to start a nuclear war is why I have introduced legislation with Congressman Ted Lieu of California, and co-sponsored by 13 of my Senate colleagues to restrict any President’s authority to launch a first-use nuclear strike without Congressional authorization.
 
“The founding fathers believed that Congress has an integral role in any decision to start a war and today more than ever it is imperative that Congress reassert this Constitutional authority.”
 

###