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
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
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
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
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
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
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’
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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