Amid growing anxiety that President Donald Trump's heated rhetoric could trigger a war with North Korea, lawmakers on Tuesday debated for the first time in 40 years a USA president's authority to launch a nuclear strike.
"We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile; has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national security interests", Democrat Chris Murphy told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, tried to highlight what he views as a grave situation in the Oval Office. "So let's just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment, of this discussion we're having today".
"Nothing happens automatically". A nuclear first strike would need to meet certain legal requirements, he added, noting that the military is obligated to disobey an "illegal order". He will testify alongside General C. Robert Kehler, former commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Brian McKeon, former acting undersecretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Defense.
"The military does not blindly follow orders", he told the committee. In order for a nuclear deterrent to work, "we must have a high assurance that the country will always be able to present a credible nuclear strike capability to our adversaries, even in the most-dire scenarios", testified Feaver.
Mr Kehler said if he were uncertain about its legality, he would consult with his own advisers.
"I don't know", Kehler admitted, to nervous chuckles in the chamber. The bill was first introduced by Senator Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, in September 2016, when Trump was only the Republican nominee and had not yet threatened "fire and fury" against a nuclear North Korea.
"We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if the U.S. is forced to defend itself, he said in a speech to the United Nations in September.
"This continues a series of hearings to examine these issues and will be the first time since 1976 that this committee or our House counterparts have looked specifically at the authority and process for using US nuclear weapons", Corker, who is from Tennessee, said in his statement.
Corker has broken publicly with Trump, warning last month that the president was setting the nation "on the path to World War III" with his statements about North Korea and verbal jousting with Kim.
"It boggles the rational mind", said Sen. "I fear that in the age of Trump the cooler heads and strategic doctrine that we once relied upon as our last best hope against the unthinkable seem less reassuring than ever".
Multiple senators argued that the President's loose Twitter finger could have catastrophic consequences.
"The founding fathers believed that Congress has an integral role in any decision to start a war and, today, more than ever, it is imperative that Congress reassert that constitutional authority", he said.
Feaver added: "In the context where the president is waking up the military in an extreme funk, saying I'm angry and I want something done, he would require a lot of people cooperating with him to make the strike happen".
The actual launch of a nuclear missile is a classified process.
Some of the witnesses agreed. Many people, government officials and civilians alike, have been anxious about the possibility of President Trump unilaterally taking the country into a nuclear war. "There would be a large group of advisers and legal advisers weighing in on this".
Ultimately, the panel warned against legislative changes to rein in the President's authority to exercise nuclear authority.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened to examine presidential authority to order use of nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, former officials cautioned that adding Congress to the equation would hamper the United States response in a high-stress scenario without a lot of time.
"I would be very anxious about a miscalculation based on continuing use of his Twitter account with regard to North Korea", Mr McKeon said.
The authority to launch a nuclear strike has remained with the White House since President Truman ordered dropping atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Gerald Ford was president. "You'd either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander".
As former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden put it, the current system "is designed for speed and decisiveness, it's not created to debate the decision". The deterrent strength of a nuclear arsenal is not only in its ability to strike anywhere, but in the ability of the Commander-in-Chief to expeditiously make that decision.
"We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with USA national security interests", Murphy said.
"This is not a hypothetical question", Mr Cardin said, noting that a nuclear first strike on North Korea could be an alternative to a conventional military campaign that would produce mass casualties in Japan and South Korea. Asked whether he was comfortable with the system in its current form, he curtly answered "Yes, I am".