The top U.S. nuclear commander told a security conference Saturday that he would not execute a nuclear launch ordered by President Trump if he considered the order to be “illegal,” CBS News reports. The remarks by Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, were delivered to an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in response to a question about his predecessor’s testimony earlier this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that nuclear operators would refuse to carry out an unlawful order by the President.
The question of rogue orders from the President of the United States was not on the minds of most observers in the post-Cold War world, but with the arrival of a half-cocked president with a Twitter account coupled with escalating nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula, the possibility of nuclear conflict, while still unlikely, seems far less remote. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot,” Hyten said in response to the question about a questionable Trump-ordered nuclear strike. “When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”
From CBS News:
“I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Hyten added. “And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”
Hyten said he has been trained every year for decades in the law of armed conflict, which takes into account specific factors to determine legality – necessity, distinction, proportionality, unnecessary suffering and more. Running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order is standard practice, he said.
“If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life,” Hyten said.