Republicans call for the ouster of General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, following an account of Milley’s actions following the Jan.6 assault on the Capitol building .
According to Washington post, the forthcoming book “Peril,” by Post writers Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, chronicles how Milley called a meeting of top military commanders to prevent any nuclear strike orders rushed by then-President Donald Trump.
The Post article said Milley was aiming to “review procedures for launching nuclear weapons, claiming that only the president could give the order – but, more importantly, that he, Milley, must also be involved.”
The book also described a call Milley had made with his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, to reassure Li that the United States had no intention of attacking China.
Senator Marco Rubio, senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to President Joe Biden saying Milley should be fired for his behavior.
â€œIt threatens to tear apart our nation’s long-held tenet of civilian control of the military,â€ said Rubio, R-Fla.
Biden stood with Milley, telling reporters he had “great confidence” in general.
We don’t know exactly what Milley did and what he said. These details may become clearer over time. But to put its actions in context, we have decided to flesh out the rules that apply to nuclear launches and contacts with foreign military leaders.
Nuclear strikes: command versus consultation
The power to launch a nuclear attack rests with the president and the president alone.
By the law, the president gives the order to the secretary of defense, who then gives it to the head of the American strategic command.
The protocol was established in the early 1960s, at a time when notice of an impending nuclear attack was reduced to minutes, nuclear policy expert Bruce Blair recalled in a interview 2017. To ensure that a nuclear counter-launch could be mobilized in such a short time frame, authority was concentrated on a small number of officials, and it involved civilians, rather than just the military, because at the time, we feared more than the military thugs than the president.
Therefore, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not part of this chain.
However, the president is expected to be part of the process leading up to the decision to launch a nuclear strike. The Ministry of Defense Handbook on nuclear issues says that in a crisis, there is a full discussion of the chances of success, as well as the legal, diplomatic and strategic implications of a strike.
“The president is basing this decision on many factors and will take into consideration the advice and recommendations of senior advisers, including the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commanders,” said the President. manual.
In practice, Milley would have a role to play, but it is not a legal obligation.
“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the president’s statutory military adviser, but that doesn’t mean the president should consult him,” said Lindsay Cohn, professor of national security affairs at Naval War College. “Nothing prevents the President or the Secretary of Defense from simply communicating the order directly to the STRATCOM commander, who should then decide himself on the legality of the order.”
But the law alone wouldn’t necessarily dictate what happens. By convention, orders go through the president, said James Joyner, a professor at the University of the Marine Corps.
â€œOrders to combatant commanders are usually passed through the president as a matter of process,â€ Joyner said. “The president has no authority to overrule the president. And there is no legal obligation for orders to go through the president. But in practice, they normally do.”
The difference between ordering a launch during an immediate crisis – such as a clear threat of nuclear attack by an enemy – and in response to a problem that unfolds over time is essential, said Peter Feaver, an expert of civil-military relations and a politician professor of science at Duke University.
â€œAn order that would follow normal protocols would come via Milley and, if it didn’t come via Milley, it should set off red flags, and they should investigate further rather than react without thinking,â€ Feaver said.
Nothing prevented Milley from calling a meeting of senior officers.
â€œThere are no guidelines, rules or conventions about what the president can talk about with different commanders,â€ Cohn said. â€œHe has no military or operational authority over them, so anything he tells them will be in the form of advice, instruction, communication or coordination. Whether the discussion is inappropriate or not would depend, I think. , entirely from what has been said. ”
Finally, there is the question of whether carrying out a nuclear attack would be legal. Globalsecurity.org nuclear policy expert John Pike said the Uniform Code of Military Justice requires officers to disobey illegal orders.
“It is certainly reasonable for the officers to discuss what could constitute such an illegal order,” Pike said. “To start a world thermonuclear war under the current circumstances would violate the demands of the UCMJ that the use of force must be proportionate to the service of military necessities, and would probably constitute a crime against peace and a crime against humanity” .
In recent years, Congress has considered including more civil servants in the decision-making process for a nuclear launch, in order to reduce the chances of a reckless launch by a president. One proposal would have the secretary of defense and the attorney general in the chain of command. The attorney general would certify that the order does not violate the rules of war – that it is proportional, that it is not blind, and that no other alternative would be sufficient to eliminate the threat.
No such law has been promulgated.
The relevance of Milley’s appeal to Chinese Li depends on what was said and who knew about it.
According to the Washington Post, “Peril” quotes Milley as allaying Li’s concerns.
â€œGeneral Li, I want to assure you that the US government is stable and that everything will be fine,â€ Milley told him on Jan. 8, according to the Post. “We are not going to attack or conduct kinetic operations against you.”
As such, such appeals are established practice, said historian Richard Kohn of the University of North Carolina.
â€œI don’t know of any written rules for such contact other than common sense, traditional practices,â€ Kohn said.
And he listed them.
“Probity, prudence, prudence and to avoid any compromise of US secrets, classified information or any violation of US policy or the orders of the President or Secretary of Defense.”
Joyner, of Marine Corps University, said the relevance of Milley’s appeal depends on what he said.
“If Milley simply reassured his counterpart, in a room full of other officials who was very well known, that the United States did not intend to start a war with China, this is not only acceptable but healthy, â€Joyner said.
But, Joyner added, if it turned out that Milley was saying he would refuse to obey an order from Trump to launch attacks, that would be “highly inappropriate.”