Donald Trump's comments about nuclear weapons create unease in the majority of Americans. He suggested Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear weapons, disregarding decades of bipartisan work to stop nuclear proliferation. He questioned why we make nukes if we can't use them. He refused to rule out a nuclear weapon strike against Europe.
But perhaps even more frightening than Trump's rhetoric is that our nuclear system is designed to give a President Trump launch authority over thousands of nuclear weapons. As Hillary Clinton explained in the last debate, "when the president gives the order [to launch nuclear weapons], it must be followed. There is about four minutes between the order being given and the people responsible for launching nuclear weapons to do so." Four minutes is an absurdly short amount of time for one person to jumpstart the end of human civilization. Once those weapons are fired, they cannot be recalled.
If there's a silver lining to Trump's candidacy, is that he's drawn unprecedented public attention to how easy it is for the president to launch nuclear weapons. As we head to the polls next week, voters should keep that top of mind. We must keep the quick-tempered, easily baited, and ill-informed bully that is Donald Trump away from the nuclear red button. That is our first and most urgent hurdle.
Our second (and long-haul) hurdle: eliminate the button itself. The risk of nuclear weapon use is higher today than it was during the Cold War, according to former Secretary of Defense William Perry. The ease with which a president can press the proverbial red button and unleash nuclear devastation is unnecessary and undemocratic. No individual should ever have that power. We need our next president to take steps to drastically reduce the risk of nuclear use and eliminate the red button altogether.
Hillary Clinton is best positioned to take on the red button and has a track record that suggests she's up for the challenge. She helped initiate the negotiations that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, blocking each pathway Iran had to developing a nuclear weapon. She also worked to ensure New START -- the next step in US-Russia bilateral reductions, limiting each side to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each -- made it through Congress.
Clinton understands the nuclear risks of a Trump presidency and the dangers of our current nuclear system. Here's how she can deactivate the red button:
Adopt a nuclear no-first-use policy. Adopting a no-first-use policy -- stating the U.S. would never again be the first to use nuclear weapons -- would be the first fundamental change to U.S. nuclear strategy in 50 years. It would immediately reduce the risk that nuclear weapons would be used by taking the option off the table in a conventional conflict, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy, and lay the foundation for a global nuclear no-first-use norm.
Eliminate launch on warning and take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. The practice of launch on warning maintains the U.S. fire nuclear missiles upon notice of an incoming attack in attempt to use them before they are destroyed. It's an outdated Cold War posture that puts the U.S. at risk of nuclear weapon use due to false alarm, miscalculation, or madness. The risks of launch on warning today outweigh any perceived value, and it's time we eliminate it.
Eliminate first-strike nuclear weapons, specifically intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). First-strike nuclear weapons are destabilizing and unnecessary for a credible nuclear deterrent. Not only would eliminating ICBMs bring more strategic stability, it would save the U.S. $120 billion over 15 years. That's money we can use to build up our infrastructure, invest in education, or strengthen our cyber defenses.
Our nuclear launch system is unjust and undemocratic, marred by far-too-short decision time and accident-prone postures. By maintaining the status quo, we risk nuclear use whether by miscalculation, accident, or madness. It's not a question of if it will happen, it's when. We will forever be under the threat of nuclear disaster until we eliminate all nuclear weapons, everywhere.
But until then, it is up to us to demand our next president take real steps to drastically reduce the risk of nuclear weapon use and dismantle the "red button" system. Each of the actions put forward above reduces the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security, ensuring no one will ever have the ability to kill hundreds of thousands of people within minutes.
The American public is more awake to nuclear dangers than they have been in decades. After November 8, once we've (fingers crossed) cleared the first hurdle of keeping Donald Trump away from the red button, we must turn to the second. It's up to us to make sure these dangers don't become a footnote to a divisive election, and to mobilize to ensure Clinton works to eliminate the button once and for all.