In the 1700s when weapons of war were still primitive, the Founders of our constitution were wise enough to know that war could ruin nations, and they gave the congress the sole authority to declare war. Congress last declared war 75 years ago. Since then, the congress has forfeited its authority while presidents initiated wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the current undefined conflict in the Middle East, Africa, and Pacific countries. Members of congress were recently surprised to learn that the U.S. is engaged in combat operations in Niger. That surprise is an indication of a serious breakdown in our constitutional system of governance. American citizens also need to know and consent to any U.S. act of war. Modern war is too costly and dangerous to allow a single person—a president—or the military to initiate wars.
Washington politicians are now debating how initiation of a nuclear war should be handled. A nuclear exchange could have rude consequences. If we allow one person to make that kind of decision, we have to accept the possibility that the designated person may be sick with a fever, exhausted, enraged, intoxicated, temporarily insane, or may simply exercise bad judgment. If we allow any single person to make the decision to initiate a nuclear weapons conflict, we are putting the future of the United States at unnecessary risk of great harm. It is difficult to imagine any act that demands more careful deliberation.
When the U.S. went to war in Korea in 1950, that country had a primitive economy and certainly did not have the capability to attack the United States. Vietnam also had a primitive economy and lacked a capability to attack the United States in the 1960s when the U.S. became engaged in that conflict. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq had a capability to attack the United States. A decision to initiate a nuclear conflict with a country that has nuclear weapons is a desperate gamble.
We have a substantial number of nuclear weapons and can deliver nuclear weapons by a variety of means from many locations. An enemy with more modest means could not neutralize U.S. military capability. Instead, an enemy would likely target American cities. If a hurricane can damage a city, think what nuclear weapons can do.
The U.S. Congress needs to write into law a definitive process for the decision to use nuclear weapons that clearly prescribes a required prudent deliberation by designated responsible citizens who have the ability to assess the consequences.
The U.S. reportedly plans to spend a trillion dollars to upgrade our nuclear weapons inventory. One purpose is to provide pin-point accuracy. That would, theoretically, allow use of warheads with less explosive force. Another goal is equipping delivery systems with several warheads with each warhead going to a different target. Efficient destruction of life, property, and the environment doesn’t describe an enlightened future. It might be better to spend that trillion dollars on cancer research, education, or job creation.
Albert Einstein, after assessing the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, made this observation. “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Reach Jack Stevenson is retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary for community newspapers.