Trends in world politics don't bode well for those who believe security is best achieved through arms control and the establishment of international law.
However, there is at least a move in the right direction when it comes to nuclear weapons. Not since World War II, when our country launched an attack, has a nation state or city state launched a nuclear attack. In recent years, there's been an interest in sharing the authority to launch a nuclear attack.
This started when former President Donald Trump started changing nuclear policy via tweet, as stated by David S Jonas and Bryan McWhorter in their story "Nuclear Launch Authority: Too Big a Decision for Just the President." The calls are continuing under President Joe Biden because of a realization that one person should not have the authority to use these deadly weapons. The destructive technology we continue to develop must be controlled through arms control and constructive politics in other areas, and limiting the power of a launch would be a start.
Proposals to limit the president's power usually leave this power alone in cases of second attack, or when our country is already under attack. The concern is first attack, or when the president might initiate a nuclear attack on an opponent. Some proposals envision the president, vice-president, and speaker of the House of Representatives making the decision together, therefore defusing power away from the office of the president. Requiring some consensus like this seems to be a reasonable thing to do. The biggest obstacle is the poisonous political environment that defines our politics.
There is another proposal alive that would involve the Supreme Court, something that is unlikely to gain much support from that body. Requiring consultation with the defense secretary would be wise. Someone with that level of knowledge should understand the consequences of launching a nuclear weapon. Defense department lawyers, weather in uniform or civilian, regularly make legal-compliance assessments regarding the use of force and targeting with conventional weapons. Should we find ourselves contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, it should consult the expertise of those lawyers.
The secretary of state should also be involved in any decision when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons. The secretary of state negotiates nuclear-weapons treaties and monitors appliance with these agreements. In addition, the state department works to prevent conflict rather than engage in war.
The gravity behind the use of these weapons means there needs to be greater constraints on the president's ability to use them. While this is not a set of arms-control deals that will constrain and abolish nuclear weapons, the goal of national-security pros like Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Schultz, it certainly represents a start.
Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project