"Congress questions commander-in-chief’s sole Nuclear authority" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2017
SUMMARY: Senators raised concerns about President Trump's power to launch a nuclear war in a hearing on Tuesday. U.S. law has long dictated that only a President should carry the responsibility, but that singular authority is now being questioned. Nick Schifrin takes a look at Congress’ worries and the history of the nuclear command structure.
Nick Schifrin (NewsHour): The President has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean he can launch a weapon for no reason, whenever he wants, said Duke Professor Peter Feaver, who studied nuclear command for 30 years.
Peter Feaver, Duke Professor: Where the military wakes up the President and warns him that there is about to be an attack, or that we’re experiencing an attack, he alone would have the authority to make the decision.
But in the other context, where the President is waking up the Military, maybe in an extreme funk, saying, I’m angry and I want something done, in that setting, he requires the cooperation of a lot of people.
Nick Schifrin: That cooperation wouldn’t be forthcoming if his order were illegal, said retired General Robert Kehler, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command.
Gen. Robert Kehler: The United States military doesn’t blindly follow orders. A presidential order to employ U.S. nuclear weapons must be legal. The basic legal principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality apply to nuclear weapons, just as they do to every other weapon.
Nick Schifrin: Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin-
Sen. Ben Cardin: Do you believe that under — because of legalities, you retain that decision to disobey the commander in chief?
Gen. Robert Kehler: Yes. If there is an illegal order presented to the military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it.
This is something that civilians fail to understand. Being retired military myself, I know that military personal are obligated to follow all "legal" orders from superiors, BUT are just as obligated to refuse to execute illegal orders (even with the consequences that may come).
U.S. military personal are not robots where anyone can just 'press a button' and say 'kill.'
UCMJ Article 892 - Failure to obey order or regulation
(1) violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation;
(2) having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by a member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order; or
(3) is derelict in the performance of his duties;
shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
(Aug. 10, 1956, ch. 1041, 70A Stat. 68.)