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Don't Worry, President Trump Won't Technically Have Unilateral Power To Launch A Nuclear Attack

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law School took a look at what the GOP presidential candidates said about nuclear codes and other national security issues during Wednesday's debate.

Last updated on September 17, 2015, at 12:25 p.m. ET

Posted on September 17, 2015, at 11:11 a.m. ET

Frederic J Brown / AFP / Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump


CNN kicked-off its marathon three-hour GOP debate Wednesday night on the topic of national security — sort of.

Host Jake Tapper put his first question to Carly Fiorina, asking if she would be comfortable with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s “finger on the nuclear codes?” Fiorina declined to answer. “I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer.”

Her dodge didn’t stop long-shot candidate Sen. Rand Paul from jumping in on Trump’s capacity to handle the role of Commander in Chief should he be elected.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about him — having him in charge of the nuclear weapons, because I think his response, his — his visceral response to attack people on their appearance — short, tall, fat, ugly — my goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

Trump was more than happy to let what started as a question of his national security bonafides devolve into a debate over appearance, responding to Paul: “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me there is plenty of subject matter right there.” He also said he is qualified to be president. “I’ve dealt with people all over the world, been successful all over the world. Everything I’ve done virtually has been a tremendous success.”

Governor Scott Walker chimed in and piled on Trump. “We don’t need an apprentice in the White House, we have one right now,” he said.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Rand Paul


For anyone sharing Paul and Walker’s uneasiness over a President Trump and nuclear weapons, put your mind at ease.

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law School ran a "fact check" on the topics of national security and foreign policy that came up during Wednesday night’s debate and shared its findings with BuzzFeed News. The group reviewed the responses against the technical language of the law.

Here is their answer to the question: Does the President actually possess the nuclear codes?

The President cannot unilaterally use the nuclear codes to launch a nuclear attack, according to a report by Jason Fritz that was commissioned by the International Commission on Nuclear Non­proliferation and Disarmament. Rather, the United States enforces a two­ person rule with respect to nuclear activation at every level. At the highest level, this rule requires that the President jointly issue launch orders with the Secretary of Defense. The rule continues down the line, with commanding officers and executive officers working in tandem, and missile operators agreeing on launch order validity.

The security discussion revolved around the issues of the Iran nuclear deal, the war in Iraq, and the creation of the Islamic state.

Both Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that if elected they would terminate the Iran deal on day one in office. Cruz said that he would “rip it up.”

Can the president truly undo the Iran deal on “Day One?” The Center for National Security says it does not believe he can.

“A subsequent president likely does not have the power to rip up an executive agreement even though it was never ratified as a treaty, although there is debate about which types of executive treaties are more or less binding. Because Congress allowed the nuclear deal to proceed, the executive agreement gains statutory and political support, making it more difficult for subsequent presidents to repudiate.”

On certain topics, the candidates seemed unwilling to dig deep on strategy. Asked about how he would deal with Russia’s aggression, Trump responded that he’d “talk to” and “get along with” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In terms of the war in Iraq, Trump claimed during the debate that, “I am the only person on this dais—the only person—that fought very, very hard against us—and I wasn't a sitting politician—going into Iraq,” Trump said.

But BuzzFeed News did an extensive review of Trump's statements regarding the Iraq War prior to the March 2003 invasion that didn't turn up any comments. The search did however turn up two statements made the week the war started. Trump was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, "The war's a mess." He also made comments on Fox News saying the war would have a positive impact on the stock market. "I think the market's going to go up like a rocket," Trump said.

In an Esquire interview published in August 2004, Trump said the Bush Administration’s justifications for the war were “blatantly wrong” and expressed skepticism of the notion that the U.S. intervention would produce a stable democracy.

“Two minutes after we leave, there’s going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over,” the real ­estate ­tycoon ­turned ­presidential­ contender predicted at the time. “And he’ll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn’t have.”

Speaking about the war in Iraq, Jeb Bush seemed eager to defend the tactics of the last Bush administration. “Here's the lessons of history: When we… pull back, voids are created. We left Iraq…and now we have the creation of ISIS.”

On the question of whether the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq directly created the Islamic State. The Center for National Security believes the answer is no.

“The first iteration of ISIS, Al Qaeda in Iraq, formed in Iraq in 2004, after the Bush­ led toppling of Saddam Hussein and more than seven years before the Obama Administration presided over the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of 2011. Al Qaeda in Iraq eventually morphed into ISIS and the civil war in neighboring Syria became a boon for ISIS as it allowed them to gradually expand their territory and rebuild before storming across the Euphrates River with a vengeance in June 2014.”
Via giphy.com


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