President Donald Trump recently took to Twitter to let North Korean leader Kim Jong-un know that he’s outmatched when it comes to nuclear launch capability.
President Trump tweeted: “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform [Kim Jong-un] that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
While he may not have an actual nuclear button on his desk, the procedure, as it stands right now, for the president of the United States to launch a nuclear strike is at least partially straightforward.
While much of the process is a closely guarded secret for national security concerns, here’s what we know.
First, there is no button. A briefcase, known as the “football,” is carried around by a rotating group of military officers and goes everywhere the president goes. It’s equipped with an instructional guide, communication tools for coordinating the strike process, and a book with prepared plans for launching.
No one person should have the power to decide when the US will be the first to use nuclear weapons –Senator Markey
The president would have to identify himself to the military officers to begin the launch sequence using unique codes. The order would then be transmitted to the Pentagon and US Strategic Command. Hollywood versions of the launch sequence can be seen in movies such as Crimson Tide and The Sum of All Fears.
From the time of the president’s order to launch, it would take roughly 15 minutes to launch from a submarine and only five minutes to launch from land.
US lawmakers were unhappy with President Trump’s tweet, and in the days since, have taken to social media to call for legislation to limit the president’s ability to launch a nuclear attack.
Senator Ed Markey tweeted: “Worried that @realDonaldTrump could launch a #nuclear war? My bill w/ @RepTedLieu would prevent Trump from launching a nuclear first strike. No one person should have the power to decide when the US will be the first to use nuclear weapons. RT if you agree.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea in his New Year’s Day address, stating “North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games [in PyeongChang] will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people, and we wish the games will be a success.” He proposed immediate talks with the south over North Korea’s participation in the Olympic Games.
Kim Jong-un also took the opportunity to highlight North Korea’s nuclear button, which is what prompted President Trump’s tweet.
North Korea launched 23 missiles during 16 tests in 2017. In September, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Although analysts are unable to confirm, the north has claimed that their missiles can strike the United States mainland.
Much less is known about North Korea’s process for launching nuclear weapons, but one must assume that Kim Jong-un would have the only say if and when to launch, based on the total control of the country he maintains.