The world has not seen a lot of nuclear attack except the one’s at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan near the end of Second World War.
Harry S Truman was the President of United States of America at that point of time. After billions of dollar of investment and thousands of hours of research and development, USA had a bomb that was not merely a bomb but weapon of mass destruction which can lead to complete annihilation.
The call of using Nuclear weapon completely lies with the President of United States and if he/she decides to nuke a country, the whole machinery is designed to follow and not ask questions. What we would have thought that important decisions like these are taken by quorum with enough checks and balances but that doesn’t seem to case. The reason cited for that is in today’s world when Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles fired by another country can covers thousands of kilometers in minutes, the amount of time to respond is under 10 minutes otherwise enemy can target the bases and make the weaponry redundant. USA pledges not to fire a nuclear arm first but will respond to an attack. Hence there is no time for deliberations and decision lies primarily with The President. There was only once any President has exercised that option. During the Cuban Missile Crisis we were very close to another nuclear war but Kennedy did not push that button again.
Truman thought that the bomb was dropped at Military bases on Japan and probably the civilian deaths will be seen as the so called collateral damage. It has been estimated that more than 200 thousand civilians and soldiers got killed in the attack. Truman must be aware of the extreme consequences but in my view the exact repercussions were not understood of using a nuclear weapon.
The point that I wanted to bring out from this is the chain of command and how decision to use nuclear weapons is taken. As per American Federal structure, President can, if he intends, take advice from Vice President or Senate or Generals but that is not must. If President believes that the country is in a situation wherein such an action is needed he can take that call and no questions will be asked. There are lot of procedure at the ground level in order to make sure Pilots of the Bombers if go rogue can’t really drop bombs. But at the Apex where the decision gets taken it is still not very clear if the checks and balances to make sure the decisions are taken after all considerations.
In India Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) and a Strategic Forces Command (SFC) is tasked with managing India”s nuclear arsenal but the sole responsibility of using Nuclear weapon lies with Prime Minister of India based on military inputs which is not very different from structure in the US.
This topic of control on nuclear weapons and command is very important with multiple nations claiming to Nuclear Power. This dilemma will exist until we have nuclear weapons in this world. The only way to get out this is by decommissioning of nuclear weapons but is that even a possibility?
I got interested in this idea by listening to a podcast on Radiolab