From the editors of Scientific American:
In just five minutes an American president could put all of humanity in jeopardy. Most nuclear security experts believe that's how long it would take for as many as 400 land-based nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal to be loosed on enemy targets after an initial “go” order. Ten minutes later a battalion of underwater nukes could join them.
That unbridled power is a frightening prospect no matter who is president. Donald Trump, the current occupant of the Oval Office, highlights this point. He said he aspires to be “unpredictable” in how he might use nuclear weapons. There is no way to recall these missiles when they have launched, and there is no self-destruct switch. The act would likely set off a lethal cascade of retaliatory attacks, which is why strategists call this scenario mutually assured destruction.
With the exception of the president, every link in the U.S. nuclear decision chain has protections against poor judgments, deliberate misuse or accidental deployment. The “two-person rule,” in place since World War II, requires that the actual order to launch be sent to two separate people. Each one has to decode and authenticate the message before taking action. In addition, anyone with nuclear weapons duties, in any branch of service, must routinely pass a Pentagon-mandated evaluation called the Personnel Reliability Program—a battery of tests that assess several areas, including mental fitness, financial history, and physical and emotional well-being.
There is no comparable restraint on the president. He or she can decide to trigger a thermonuclear Armageddon without consulting anyone at all and never has to demonstrate mental fitness. This must change.