Continuing to raise the probability of a nuclear war with North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump responded to Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech by boasting that he commands a bigger and more powerful nuclear arsenal than that of the rogue Asian state.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’” President Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
President Trump’s controversial tweet came as a response to Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech, in which, according to CNBC, he repeated several times that he has a “nuclear button” on his office desk and warned that “the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range” of North Korea’s nuclear strike.
A sharp contrast to the overwhelmingly positive response Kim Jong Un’s address was received in South Korea, the tone of President Trump’s latest tweet on North Korea was a far cry from a statement he made just hours before that. Addressing the North Korean overture that might lead to a new line of dialogue between North and South Korea, Trump said “Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!”
Stating that the increased pressure the U.S. has put on North Korea has resulted in the country seeking an “exit” from the sanctions by initiating a new set of dialogues with South Korea, Trump’s relatively mild tone left most of the public surprised at such a mellow response. However, as Mr. Trump took hardened his message to North Korea quite a bit just a few hours later, it’s still unclear what kind of response he was trying to get.
Never hesitating to match North Korea’s incredibly provocative and inflammatory language, Trump has abandoned the rhetorics of every other American president that came before him. Starting with Lyndon B. Johnson, all U.S. presidents resisted such back-and-forth, often warning that the nuclear war should never be fought.
Trump’s tweet on North Korea is the latest in his streak of attacks on the hermit nation, vowing to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea back in August 2017, and threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea in his September speech before the United Nations General Assembly.
Empty threats that could escalate the situation with North Korea quicker than ever
President Trump’s tone in his latest twitter address to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was met with equal parts disbelief and disdain. The New York Times reported on a mix of scorn and alarm generated among lawmakers, diplomats, and national security experts. Despite a few isolated bouts of support, most notably from Michael Flynn Jr., the son of Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Trump’s tweet on North Korea was called juvenile and frightening. Referring to the fact that no foreign policy challenges should be handled in such a reckless and impulsive manner, many Twitter users have also called for the Presidents “long overdue” impeachment.
Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, commented on President Trump’s latest Twitter outburst on North Korea by saying that he probably “regards this a show of strength.”
“But as everybody who’s ever been in a, you know, first-grade playground recognizes, it’s usually the person who’s most aggressively pounding their chest that is, in fact, the weak one on the playground,” he said on CNN.
According to the New York Times, Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under President George W. Bush, said the tweet demonstrated an immaturity that is dangerous in a commander in chief. “How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
By taking a much more militant line to the problem of North Korea than his predecessors have, Trump has made the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang higher than ever. With threats being thrown around by both sides, the situation could escalate beyond diplomatic repair at any time now. As the situation is now close to its tipping point, emphasizing the ease with which the leader of the free world could launch an irreversible nuclear attack does not come as a surprise.
There is just one problem, though.
There is no “nuclear button”
Seeing the isolated and reclusive nature of North Korea, knowing exactly how their military hierarchy works and how fast they could launch a nuclear attack is practically impossible.
Luckily, thanks to the relatively large transparency offered by the U.S. government, experts on the topic can say that, without a doubt, there is no such thing as a “nuclear button,” especially not on Donald Trump’s desk at the Oval Office.
The exact process of launching a nuclear strike is kept secret, but the mechanism of the order itself has always been known to the public. According to CNBC, the complex task of launching a nuclear attack involves the use of a “nuclear football,” a 45-pound briefcase that accompanies the president everywhere he goes. A recent report from the New York Times says that the briefcase is carried by all times by one of five military aides, representing each branch of the United States armed forces. The briefcase contains a radio transceiver, code authenticators and an instructional guide on how to carry out a strike, including a list of locations that could be targeted by one of 900 nuclear missiles that make up the American arsenal.
Considering the fact that authorizing a nuclear strike will most likely have to happen at a moment’s notice, the president does not need approval from anyone else, including the Congress or the military. According to Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman missile-launch officer and research scholar at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, some advisers may try to change the president’s mind or resign in protest, but ultimately the Pentagon must comply with his order.
Mr. Blair’s deep dive into the mechanisms of a potential nuclear strike by the U.S. published earlier this year in Bloomberg was clear – the president has sole authority to use nuclear weapons.
Despite his often erratic demeanor, Donald Trump is far from the dumb, impulsive talking head that the mainstream media paints him to be. Whether it’s part of a carefully planned scheme, or just a coincidence, his impulsive, emotional and often two-dimensional perception of politics makes it impossible for anyone, including North Korea, to figure what his next step will be.
Whether it’s a good thing or not is still hard to predict, but what is certain is the fact that we’re up for a hell of a ride.