Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ultimate Risk: Why You Should Be Terrified About Trump's Finger On The Nuclear Button

by Nomad

Before the election, experts were warning that Trump was the wrong man to be in charge of America's nuclear arsenal. Now that he has revealed his choice of advisors, the full scale of the risk of catastrophe has become clear. 

The Missileers' Warning

An open letter was published in October should have sent a chilling warning to all Americans. It was penned ten officials who once controlled access to firing the nation’s nuclear weapons.
It was our job to turn keys to fire nuclear-armed missiles if the president so ordered us. Once we began alert duty, we took orders from the president and no one else.
Obviously, as the last link in a process which would seal the fate of humankind is a duty of the utmost importance. That's why they felt compelled to issue a warning to the world.

These former nuclear launch control officers, or “missileers” had come to the conclusion that the then-GOP nominee should not be given this responsibility. And they made that very clear in their letter.
Donald Trump does not have these leadership qualities. On the contrary, he has shown himself time and again to be easily baited and quick to lash out, dismissive of expert consultation and ill-informed of even basic military and international affairs – including, most especially, nuclear weapons. Donald Trump should not be the nation’s commander-in-chief. He should not be entrusted with the nuclear launch codes. He should not have his finger on the button.
As we all know, in a contested election, Trump went on to victory. The warnings were ignored and come January, the thin-skinned Trump- the person who cannot resist responding to any insult- will have the power to end civilization.
Too bad for us that nobody paid any attention to the warning letter.

Just Another Tool in the Toolbox

Perhaps, you might say, the missileers were merely being overly cautious or are allowing their political bias to affect their judgment. Sadly, Trump himself has done nothing to instill much confidence that he would forego the initiation of World War III. In interviews with Fox News hosts, he has said:
The last person that wants to play the nuclear card believe me is me. But you can never take cards off the table either from a moral stand — from any standpoint and certainly from a negotiating standpoint.
Even when asked if he would definitely rule out the use of atomic weapons in Europe, Trump said:
Europe is a big place. I’m not going to take cards off the table...The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That’s the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don’t want to take anything off the table.
When asked directly about his policy, Trump has repeatedly said he prefers to remain unpredictable. Taking all things into consideration, it is not very reassuring thing to hear him say.

During the debates, he made confusing remarks about the use of nuclear weapons. At one point, Trump's statements had nuclear experts scratching their heads trying to figure out just what he might do if he gains access to the nuclear football.

In debates with Hillary Clinton, Trump called for more nations to have access to nuclear weapons, but only nations who are not hostile toward America or US allies. Saudi Arabia, yes, Iran, no. 
He seemed to understand the gravity of the situation when he said
"I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it's over."
The word "alternative" translates to nuclear annihilation and "it" probably means "life on the planet." Yet the tone suggest more of the loss of an arcade game. 
Clear enough and yet, only moments later, Trump declared:
"At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we're doing nothing there."
NBC analyzed his statements and questioned whether Trump understood the terms he was using. For example, he appeared to be unaware that "first use"- reserving the right to use nuclear weapons first in the case of conflict and "first strike"-a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force- were not the same.

The same article quoted the president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. Joseph Cirincione who noted that Trump's comments are typical of his public statements on nuclear weapons policy. Said Cirincione:
"Donald Trump is very cavalier about how he talks about nuclear weapons. He treats them as if they are another tool in the toolbox."

Haste Makes Waste

Given how horrific the results of even a small-scale nuclear war would be, it is ironic how little time world leader actually have to make such a momentous decision whether to launch. 
How long?
Well, according to a 2012 interview of former United States National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, there would be a total of about seven minutes to understand what precisely is happening, whether it is a false alarm or a computer malfunction, or a genuine threat and to take action.
Seven minutes.
(That might be inaccurate. Other sources have the time limit as closer to four minutes.)

As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Gen. Michael Hayden said, the system for launching American nuclear weapons 
“is designed for speed and decisiveness. It’s not designed to debate the decision.”
First, the National Security Advisor has roughly three minutes to decide whether to inform the president and the president has four minutes to make his decision. It is reckoned that any longer than that and the order would be pointless.  (Of course, that depends on the scenario.)

Once issued, that order cannot be vetoed and once the missiles have been launched, they cannot be called back. It goes without saying therefore that the consequences of miscalculation, impulsive decision-making or poor judgment on the part of the president could be catastrophic.

The pressures the system places on that one person are staggering and require a superior level of restraint and diplomatic skill. He cannot fly off the handle. 
Whoever is in charge must be a very serious person, but also able to handle stress, capable of exercising extreme prudence and foremost, able to focus in a crisis. Once the decision is made, the president will not be able to revise this decision or make excuses.

Whom the president has chosen as his security advisor, as the only other consultant in the crisis, is vital.

The Man that Trump Would Rely On

Even now following the stunning outcome in November, nobody seems extraordinarily horrified at this prospect that Trump will hold the fate of the world in his hands. It won't be Trump's decision alone. He will, naturally, be surrounded by top-notch advisors.

The only other person in the chain of command will be the President's NSA chief. Who might that be? If confirmed, it would fall on the shoulders of retired Army lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Michael Flynn. That selection should inspire confidence in absolutely nobody.

The Atlantic Monthly recently had a piece on Flynn and the information was yet another warning of a man unfit for a high-level position.
Earlier in his career, Flynn was inarguably a distinguished military asset.
He distinguished himself during the war in Afghanistan where he was General Stanley McChrystal’s intelligence chief. In the early phases of the war on terrorism, Flynn, as director of intelligence for Joint Task Force 180, was in charge of intelligence-gathering and collection for most of the forces leading the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The hidden problems only became apparent when he was promoted  by President Obama to head of the DIA in 2012. After two years, he was forced out. By some reports, his management style rankled feathers. Reuters spoke to unnamed critics of Flynn who expressed concerns “about a management style that alienated some of his subordinates at DIA.”

In his own defense, Flynn claimed that his too-direct approach  in fighting terrorism shook things up and he was punished for being too outspoken. It is the kind of excuse commonly expressed by loose cannons.

Louder Warning Bells

However, The New Yorker paints Flynn as a man who willfully disobeyed orders he thought were "stupid." Journalist  Dana Priest reported:
He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors.
According to that article, Flynn, as  intelligence chief, would write comments like “This is bullshit!” on the margins of classified papers he was obliged to pass on to his boss. 

What are we to make of these two examples? 
This kind of reactionary behavior might (or might not) be acceptable on the battlefield but when it comes to the high echelons of authority, it's another story.

Warning bells should begin to sound whenever a person in charge thinks he should be able to decide which rules he ought to obey. That's as true at a subordinate position as it is at the highest levels.
It has been the cause of many military disasters. Not following rules is something that might appeal to a man like Trump but, outside of the maverick philosophy, this way of thinking could lead to blunders and scandals. 
Witness Abu Ghraib.
Flynn has also declined to back away from Trump’s support of the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, telling Al Jazeera that he is a “believer in leaving as many options on the table right up until the last possible minute.”
When it comes to those of us fearful of Trump potential for nuclear war "up until the last minute" is a phrase should be taken literally.

There are other problems about Flynn, the person who will influence Trump's world view. Flynn's own view of the globe is clearly not nuanced. He has been called a man who  wishes to wage total war against his enemies
Flynn divides the world into two sets of enemies. First, there are the radical Islamists, whom he sees as America’s principal foes. Then there is a constellation of hostile anti-democratic regimes that he calls “the alliance” that includes both Islamists and non-Islamists that collaborate against the West because we’re their common enemy. The alliance includes Russia, Syria, North Korea, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
That's a large chunk of the world that Flynn sees as America's enemies. This is the man the easily-angered, and often vindictive President Trump has chosen to provide him with intelligence and sensible balance.  
 *   *   *   *
When it comes to a man-made nuclear catastrophe, all it takes is one flawed decision made in a moment of extreme stress. The only real guarantee of the safety of the world- including the lives billions of innocent civilians -is to ensure that the chain of command is linked with the most knowledgeable, responsible and mentally fit officials that can be found. They have to understand the horrendous consequences of their decisions on the future of this planet and take that duty with the utmost seriousness.

Allowing men like Flynn and Trump this opportunity for calamity is beyond foolish, it is suicidal.