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New reporting by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa out this week revealed a startling revelation: in the waning days of the Trump administration, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made multiple calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of China.

He did this, evidently, to assure his counterpart that the United States would not launch a surprise attack. Milley also told senior officers that he should be involved in any decision to launch nuclear weapons.

The episode raises a multitude of troubling questions. How close was the United States to war? How unstable was the president in his final days? And perhaps the most salient question of all: Why does the United States give one person—the president—sole decision-making responsibility over nuclear war?

Our laws give the most terrible, destructive, and apocalyptic power on earth to just one person.

A Kanye West lyric springs to mind: “No one man should have all that power.”

For all the emphasis on checks and balances within the American governmental system, our laws give the most terrible, destructive, and apocalyptic power on earth to just one person. That’s an awful lot of faith to put in a single human being. 

We cannot rely on the secret maneuvering of military personnel to ward off nuclear catastrophe. Congress must erect additional safeguards to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, requiring decisions about their use to be made collectively.

We avoided nuclear disaster during the Trump administration. But we may very well face another crisis of leadership in the future. If that time comes, our nuclear protocols must look very different. As the reporting on Gen. Milley reveals, the flaws in our current system are simply too deep to ignore.

Alex Frandsen

Alex Frandsen

Communications Strategist
Alex Frandsen is the Communications Strategist. Through close collaboration with the office’s various teams, he strives to connect FCNL’s work and messaging with the broader world.