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Monday, August 8, 2016

Time to Retire the Nuclear Football

Time to Retire the Nuclear Football

by Diana Ohlbaum
Speculation about whether Donald Trump can be trusted with his finger on the nuclear “button”, should he be elected president, is a reminder that the world’s survival rests on a hair trigger.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no actual button to be pushed. But the president of the United States goes nowhere without a briefcase (the “football”) containing a menu of targets and list of verification codes (the “biscuit”). Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War,does it make sense to hold human existence hostage to the decision of one individual, acting alone, on a moment’s notice?
To answer this question, we first need to consider the circumstances under which the use of nuclear weapons would ever be contemplated.
The primary purpose of having a nuclear arsenal is not to use it. U.S. officials view nuclear weapons first and foremost as a deterrent to attacks on America and its allies—if not to threaten mutual assured destruction then at least to impose unacceptable costs. But deterrence assumes three things: that the attack is intentional, that the adversary is rational, and that the threat is credible. Nuclear weapons cannot “deter” an accidental launch, nor can they scare a madman out of his desire to become a martyr.

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