Aug 10th 2017

Congress Should Curb Trump’s Ability to Launch First Nuclear Strike

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

Donald Trump actually threatened North Korea with a nuclear attack if their egomaniacal leader continued to “threaten” the United States.

The idea that the United States of America would seriously consider launching a nuclear war over a verbal taunt is simply unthinkable.

But remember, this is the same Donald Trump who last year is reported to have asked why, if we have nuclear weapons, we shouldn’t use them.

Last January, Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu introduced legislation that would forbid the president to launch a nuclear first strike without a Congressional declaration of war.

It’s time for Congress to enact that legislation.

No one questions that to give deterrence credibility, the President should have authority to retaliate immediately if our country is attacked by nuclear weapons.  But a first strike is a different matter altogether.

The Constitution gives the Congress the ability to declare war.  A nuclear attack is the most extreme attack on another country imaginable.  If the Congress does not have the authority to declare war in those circumstances, the Constitution is meaningless.

The President’s comments implying that he is willing to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea underlines the urgency of Congressional action.

Donald Trump appears to have the emotional stability of an emotionally unstable teenager.  Everyday we hear stories of teenagers who learn that someone they know has been “fooling around” with their girlfriend and shoots them, because they have access to a gun.  If they didn’t have access to a gun they would challenge the offending party to a fist-fight, but having access to a gun allows the level of violence to escalate to a point that it ruins the lives of both the victim and the shooter.

Donald Trump has control of the nuclear launch codes. He didn't threaten North Korea, as some pundits say, to “call their bluff” – or for some strategic reason.  He was responding to a reporter’s question about Korean leader Kim Jung-Un’s threat.  His instinct was that of an emotionally unstable teenager – to say “oh yea – if he keeps talking like that I’ll blow the son-of-a-bitch away.”

We have no reason to believe that one of these days he won’t just try to do it.  We have no reason to believe that one of these days he won’t just try to do it.

Over the last six months Donald Trump has demonstrated that he does not carefully consider his policy options with military and diplomatic experts.  He responds to circumstances impulsively, erratically and emotionally – without consulting anyone.

We cannot allow one person who has a pattern of erratic, impulsive behavior – or anyone else for that matter -- the ability to unilaterally launch a nuclear strike on a country that has not attacked the United States with nuclear weapons.

And the last thing our country, or the world, needs is a situation where two egomaniacal, impulsive leaders – each of them armed with nuclear weapons – have a macho contest over who’s tougher.

Let’s be clear.  Intelligence estimates put total deaths in a new Korean War at about a million dead – and that’s if the war does not go nuclear.  The city of Seoul is 40 miles from the North Korean border.  Shells delivered by North Korean artillery would rain down on Seoul in 45 seconds.

A nuclear exchange would be catastrophic – and could very well engage the Chinese and Russians and launch World War III.

What is needed in Korea is the same approach that curtailed the Iranian nuclear program – strong sanctions and then negotiations that provide security for both parties.

War – and especially nuclear war – is the worst of all options.

That, of course, may be news for Trump, who despite his bluster managed to escape the draft with a series of deferments and avoid becoming personally involved in a real war in Vietnam.

Trump avoided service in Vietnam, but an old interview surfaced in which he explained his personal sacrifices to Howard Stern. Avoiding STDs during his bachelor rampages in the 1970s, he said, was "my personal Vietnam — I feel like a great and very brave soldier." (Reuters)

I remember watching the film “13 Days” – the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In  1962, America and the world came very close to nuclear Armageddon. We avoided nuclear war mainly because the self-confidence and moral compass of President John Kennedy, who rejected the recommendations of some of his top Generals and chose a course that led to resolution and peace.

Had Donald Trump been President, there is little doubt in my mind that the unthinkable catastrophe of a nuclear war would likely have become a reality.

We must act before it is too late.  Democrats and Republicans should strip Trump of his power to unilaterally do a nuclear first strike against a foe that has not attacked the United States.

And to Republicans who refuse to act because they say, “Well, a nuclear winter would be tough, but if we lay off Trump he might at least cut our taxes” – time to think again.

I guarantee that nuclear war is not a politically popular policy option.

And there is much more at stake than the next election.

A few years ago a planetary scientist named David Grinspoon wrote a book called Lonely Planets. It explores the question of extraterrestrial life. 

Toward the end of his book, Grinspoon speculates on the chances of survival for intelligent life in the universe.  He argues that every civilization of intelligent creatures must pass through a gauntlet that tests whether the values and political structures of the society are capable of keeping pace with the exponentially increasing power of the society’s technology.  If its values and political structures can keep pace with technological change, the society may pass into a phase of enormous freedom and possibility.  If it does not, the power of its own technology will destroy it.  Perhaps, he postulates, civilizations are like seahorses.  Many are born, but only a few survive.

For the first time, sixty-five years ago, human society entered that gauntlet.  Our technological growth reached a point of takeoff that for the first time gave us the power to destroy ourselves and all life on our tiny, fragile planet.  From that moment on, the race began.

The next several generations of humans will decide how that race turns out.  We won’t simply observe it, or describe it; We will decide it.  Whatever the future holds will be a result of human decision for which we are all responsible. 

We will decide if we pass through that gauntlet or – like our cousins the Neanderthals – become evolutionary dead ends.  We will decide if humanity passes into a new era of possibility and freedom, or the human story simply ends.


Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book:  Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

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