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Saturday, June 1, 2024

Democrats push to limit US president’s nuclear powers

Lawmakers warned that a “rogue” leader could someday take control of America’s atomic arsenal

Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a bill that would force the White House to seek Congressional approval before ordering a nuclear strike, insisting the president should not have unilateral authority to start a nuclear war.

Introduced by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Ted Lieu on Friday, the ‘Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act’ would prohibit any US president from “launching a nuclear strike without prior authorization from Congress,” as well as reaffirm lawmakers’ war powers under the US Constitution.

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“No president has the right or the constitutional authority to unilaterally declare war, let alone launch a nuclear first strike,” Senator Markey said in a statement, while Lieu added that “no one person should have the ability to launch a war that would end life as we know it.”

Both lawmakers went on to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of “nuclear threats,” arguing that the risk of nuclear warfare “has never been clearer” amid the conflict raging in Ukraine. Moscow has dismissed such charges, however, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently stating that the US and its allies are “prone to hysterical reaction” on the subject of nuclear arms.

In their joint statement, Markey and Lieu also marked the anniversary of the April 15, 1969 shootdown of a US spy plane by North Korean forces over the Sea of Japan, claiming that an “intoxicated President Richard Nixon” ordered a nuclear strike in response. They noted that the order was “disregarded,” but said the incident nonetheless “exposed the dangerous possibility of a rogue US president ordering a nuclear strike without Congressional authorization.”

While an American reconnaissance craft was shot down by the DPRK in 1969 and the Nixon administration contemplated a nuclear strike in retaliation, there is little evidence to support the claim that the president ordered an attack while drunk.

Read more: Russia calls out US on “nuclear hypocrisy”

The two Democrats have introduced similar bills on several occasions in recent years, each seeking to rein in the president’s authority to launch nuclear strikes, but they have failed to pass. Though President Joe Biden vowed on the campaign trail to work toward a policy which would only see Washington use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear attacks, he later backtracked, instead reaffirming a longstanding US policy of using the bomb to deter conventional and other non-nuclear threats.