Joseph Cirincione in the Washington Post:
Impeachment has a way of bringing out a president’s worst instincts — and the world could end up paying the price.
As impeachment hearings intensified, an increasingly erratic president appeared to finally snap. “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone,” he told visiting lawmakers, “and in 25 minutes, 70 million people will be dead.”
It was 1974, and the president was Richard Nixon. He was right. U.S. policy, then and now, gives the president absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons whenever they want, for whatever reason. No consensus is required. No one else need approve.
Indeed, no other official even need know. The president, on their own, can simply summon the “nuclear football,” open binders of attack options and relay orders to the National Military Command Center. The orders would be sent down to missile control officers — where intercontinental ballistic missiles are primed on “hair-trigger” alert — and 30 minutes later you’d have nuclear explosions over the targets, just as Nixon claimed.