Letter From House Democrats Asking Biden to Give Up Sole Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons

U.S. House of Representatives Seal
Contact Your Elected Officials

Full text of the letter signed by about three dozen House Democrats asking President Joe Biden to give up sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. If this president gives up his nuclear capabilities as commander in chief this could take away the same power from future U.S. presidents. The letter was sent from Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).

Congress of the United States House of Representatives

February 22, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden. Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20050

Dear President Biden:

We write to respectfully request that you consider modifying the decision-nuking process the United States uses in its command and control of nuclear forces.

As president, two of your most critical and solemn duties are the security of the country and the safeguarding of its nuclear arsenal. You alone possess the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, which assures that nuclear weapons remain under civilian control.

However, vesting one person with this authority entails real risks. Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons’ or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgement.2,3

While any president would presumably consult with advisors before orderings nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so. The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.

Several alternatives, seeking to reduce risks inherent in the present system, have been proposal, including:

  • Requiring additional officials in the line of presidential succession. starting with the vice president and the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives – neither of whom can be removed by the president if they disagree – to concur with a launch order, and utilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s tracking of those officials to ensure prompt communication.4

1Via Twitter. President Trump threatened a nuclear attack on North Korea:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/donald-trump-north-korea-latest-nuclear-button-kim-jon-un-bigger-more-powerful-a8139021.html

2In the final days of the Nixon presidency, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger reports he ordered military commanderes to check with him first if the president gave any nuclear launch order:
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/11/donald-trump-nuclear-weapons-richard-nixon-215478/

3Durning the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, Speaker Pelosi checked with the chair Joint Chiefs of Staff about the president’s nuclear command authority:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/08/us/politics/trump-pelosi-nuclear-military.html

4Gronlund, L., Fetter, S., and Wright, D., “An expect proposal: How to limit presidential authority to order the use of nuclear weapons,” The Bulleting of the Atomic Scientists, January 8, 2021,
https://thebulletin.org/2021/01/an-expert-proposal-how-to-limit-presidential-authority-to-order-the-use-of-nuclear-weapons/

Image of Original House Letter


Get American Children Back in School!