Home / Articles / Unchecked and Unbalanced? The Politics and Policy of U.S. Nuclear Launch Authority
Presidential control of U.S. nuclear launch authority lacks robust checks and balances. Recent congressional attempts to restrict sole presidential control over first use of nuclear weapons are the latest expression of periodic concern over this exception to the constitutional system of fragmented authority and mutual veto powers. Such attempts to limit the Commander-in-Chief’s discretion nonetheless raise serious constitutional and strategic issues that, on balance, argue against a stronger congressional role. A better option that applies the constitutional spirit of checks and balances while preserving necessary strategic flexibility is executive concurrence. Requiring the President to obtain concurrent authorization from the Secretary of Defense and Attorney General for nuclear first use would offer a double security in offering political and legal cover to Presidents for their decision while protecting the uniformed military from having to make independent assessments of the legality of a presidential launch order.