Alwaght- US military would not "blindly" follow a potential presidential order to carry out a nuclear first strike they view as illegal, senators were told during a hearing.
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held on Tuesday to examine President Donald Trump’s authority to launch a nuclear strike amid rising tensions between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“It's important to remember that the United States military doesn't blindly follow orders,” C. Robert Kehler, who led the US Strategic Command from 2011 to 2013, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “A presidential order to employ US nuclear weapons must be legal.”
Among the people who testified before the committee were former high-ranking Pentagon officials, who said that Trump, like previous presidents, has the authority to order a retaliatory nuclear strike, but not a pre-emptive nuclear attack.
"This is a system controlled by human beings. Nothing happens automatically," said retired Air Force General C. Robert Kehler, whose duties at the Nebraska-based Strategic Command rendered him directly responsible for American nuclear forces.
Asked if he would obey such an order, he said, “I would have said, I’m not ready to proceed.”
“Then what happens?” he was asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Kehler who oversaw America's nuclear arsenal as commander of US Strategic Command during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“Fortunately, these are all hypothetical scenarios. There is the human factor in our system. There is a human element to this."
“It would be a very interesting constitutional situation, I believe. The military is obligated to follow legal orders but is not obligated to follow illegal orders,” Kehler noted.
He added that the military is not required to follow an illegal order it receives.
Meanwhile, Duke University's Peter Feaver, a political science professor, said that such an order by the president "requires personnel at all levels" to sign off on it.
Feaver added the secretary of defense, military leaders and lawyers would vet such an order.
"The president cannot by himself push a button and cause missiles to fly," he noted.
Tensions have been building up on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests. The North Korean leader ordered the production of more rocket warheads and engines in August shortly after the United States suggested that its threats of military action and sanctions were having an impact on Pyongyang’s behavior.
Pyongyang says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward the country and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.