Here’s Why America Can’t Stop Donald Trump From Starting a Nuclear War

The thought of Donald Trump in charge of the United States’ nuclear weapons gives some people nightmares. Some military generals have said they would refuse Trump’s request to use nuclear weapons and that he would go to jail for executing an unnecessary order like that. However, a closer look at past administrations gives some insight into why Trump’s use of nuclear weapons might be allowed. Here, we break down a few reasons why, according to law, Trump might not face any repercussions.

The president doesn’t wait for Congress

turmp speaking in beijing against a blue background

He can use military force whenever he thinks it’s necessary. | Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

While Congress ultimately has the responsibility of declaring war, the president can use military force whenever he deems it necessary. Congress technically hasn’t declared war since World War II, but clearly the U.S. has seen war conflicts since then. If Trump wanted to take military action and use nuclear weapons on North Korea, Congress would not be able to stop him.

This one law is often ignored

Trump with majority leaders

Most of the time this rule is ignored. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The War Powers Resolution comes with a clause that most presidents in past years have ignored. The resolution says that the president has 60 days to explain to Congress why he took military action against another country. After 60 days, military force must be retracted unless Congress approves its use. However, since war hasn’t been declared by Congress since WWII, it’s evident that this resolution is ignored more often than not.

Sept. 11 has made immediate war actions acceptable

Bush administration staff

Sept. 11 changed everything. | David Bohrer/U.S. National Archives/Getty Images.

Tensions have risen immensely between the U.S. and its enemies ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. A law known as Authorization to Use Military Force was enacted on Sept. 14, 2001. It allowed President Bush to use any and all military means necessary to go after those responsible for the attacks. If Kim Jong Un decided to launch a missile our way and was successful in harming anyone in our country, Congress would likely pass the same type of law for him. After all, the safety of U.S. citizens would be on the line.

Nuclear weapons are governed by a ‘law of war’ that doesn’t really exist

A screen broadcasts a missile test

Nuclear weapons are a whole other ball game. | Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images.

Dennis Jett, a professor of international relations at Pennsylvania State University, referred to the law of war as “little more than a philosophical discussion.” Jett explained that Bush ignored government protocol, like the law of war and the Geneva convention, when the U.S. was attacked in 2001. If Trump insisted that protecting our national security meant it was necessary to use nuclear tactics, there would be nothing that could legally stop him.

Experts believe rewriting the laws around Trump could be dangerous

Donald Trump speaks to press

He may be hot-headed, but if the country is actually threatened we made need that. | Jim Watson/ AFP/Getty Images.

In Jett’s essay, he also mentioned that experts believe rewriting laws around Trump might be a mistake. That is a valid point — rewriting certain laws might reduce the value of the U.S.’s nuclear weapons. While starting a war with North Korea is wrong, retaliating — if our country was in imminent danger — might not be.

Congress hardly ever enforces jail time for war acts

Kim Jong-un inspects a weapon

Trump is likely not going to get impeached, let alone arrested. | STR/AFP/Getty Images.

More specifically, if the president executes an unlawful order to use military force, he likely will not go to jail. Air Force General John Hyten spoke at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.  “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life,” he said. However, past results have proven that this is not the case. For example, suspects in the 9/11 attacks were harshly tortured and interrogated. The court did not sentence anyone to jail time.

North Korea is on ‘the list’

Kim Jon Un North korea

They participate in state sponsored terror. | STR/AFP/Getty Images

In 2017, Trump added North Korea to the “state sponsors of terrorism” list. Countries on the list are those who have shown repeated support for acts of terrorism. If Trump used advanced tactics on North Korea, he might not end up facing the repercussions we think he’d face. If necessary, the use of nuclear weapons likely would not result in punishment. It all depends on the threat against national security.

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