General in charge of US nukes says he can defy an ‘illegal’ strike order from Trump
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said he would not blindly follow whatever order comes from US President Donald Trump, noting that the law of armed conflict that prohibits the use of disproportionate force and inflicting unnecessary suffering would be a higher authority when it comes to decision-making.
"I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do. And if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen? I'm going to say, 'Mr. President, that's illegal.' And guess what he's going to do? He's going to say, 'What would be legal?' And we'll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that's the way it works. It's not that complicated."
Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday, Hyten said the US military is not exactly unprepared to hear the nuclear order.
"We're not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?" he said.
In his capacity as STRATCOM commander, Hyten oversees the US strategic nuclear triad, consisting of long-range bombers, land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
It comes amid a debate over whether certain checks and balances should be put on the president’s authority to use nukes. At the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday, the first one of this kind in over 40 years, some senators raised the alarm about Trump, who has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea, pulling the nuclear trigger.
“We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national security interests,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said.
Adding fuel to the fire, Republican Senator Bob Corker, who last month accused Trump of running the country as a reality show on course to a third World War, noted that “once that order [to launch a nuclear strike] is given and verified, there is no way to revoke it.”
Although the former STRATCOM commander Robert Kelly attempted to reassure the committee that the US military would not comply with an order that infringes international law, some US media responded to the hearing by stoking alarmism.
The Los Angeles Times published a column by Doyle McManus, which had the question and answer in the headline: “Is there anything stopping Trump from launching a nuclear strike? Nope.”“Nobody can stop Trump from launching nukes — and it’s freaking senators out” Vice News’ Alexa Liautaud wrote.
Since Trump came into office, the US has taken a much harder stance on North Korea with the US leader regularly trading verbal barbs with the with the pariah state’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
While Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in his notorious speech at the UN, calling Kim a “rocket man…on a suicide mission,” Pyongyang responded by threatening to reduce the US to “ashes and darkness,” and North Korean state media “sentenced” the US leader to death.
Hyten's attempts to calm the waters, however, might not come entirely from a desire for world peace. His own well-being is at stake as well.
"If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life," Hyten said.