Senator Bob Corker made the following statement at a hearing on the executive’s authority to use nuclear weapons and the process for executing that authority. The hearing follows an Oct. 30, hearing with Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis on authorizations for the use of military force.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the last time either the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or House Foreign Affairs Committee specifically examined the nuclear authorities issue was in 1976.
Senator Corker said, “A number of members on both sides of the aisle, on and off the committee, have raised questions about the executive’s authorities with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and from a diplomatic perspective, entering into and terminating agreements with other countries.
“As I have mentioned publicly, this is one in a series of hearings where our committee will examine all of these issues. But today, it is my hope that we will remain focused on the topic at hand: the authority and the process for the use of nuclear weapons.
“The Congressional Research Service tells us this is the first time the foreign relations committee of the Senate or the House has met on this topic since 1976, 41 years ago.
“Making the decision to go to war of any sort is a heavy responsibility for our nation’s elected leaders. And the decision to use nuclear weapons is the most consequential of all.
“The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the subsequent practices recognize that the use of nuclear weapons must be subject to political control.
“This is why no general, or admiral, or defense secretary has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. Only the president – the elected political leader of the United States – has this authority.
“The nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War dramatically elevated the risk of nuclear conflict.
“As the Soviets developed massive numbers of nuclear weapons and the systems to deliver them to the United States, we planned for the unthinkable: how to get our missiles in the air within those few minutes before their warheads could hit us and possibly destroy our ability to respond.
“In that kind of scenario, there is no time for debate. Having such forces at the ready has been successful in deterring such an attack, and for that, we are grateful.
“But this process means the president has the sole authority to give that order, whether we are responding to a nuclear attack or not.
“Once that order is given and verified, there is no way to revoke it.
“To be clear, I would not support changes that would reduce our deterrence of adversaries or reassurance of our allies.
“But I would like to explore, as our predecessors in the House did 41 years ago, the realities of this system.
“I thank all of our distinguished witnesses, and the members of this committee, for the seriousness with which they approach the topic before us today, and I hope that together we can have a productive and enlightening discussion about this sober issue.
“With that, I’d like to turn to my friend and our distinguished ranking member, Senator Cardin.”