The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

Since the Truman administration, America has been one push of a button away from nuclear war – a decision that rests solely in the hands of the president. Without waiting for approval from Congress or even the secretary of defense, the president can unleash America’s entire nuclear arsenal.

From authors William J. Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the director of policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Button recounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty forty-six-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to president Trump’s tweet about his much bigger & more powerful button.

Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former president Bill Clinton, former secretary of defense Jim Mattis, congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others.

Written in an accessible and authoritative voice, The Button reveals the shocking tales and sobering facts of nuclear executive authority throughout the atomic age, delivering a powerful condemnation against ever leaving explosive power this devastating under any one person’s thumb. It points out that putting this much military power in the hands of one person goes against everything for which the American Constitution stands; particularly as that Constitution gave Congress the sole power to declare war, and divided the responsibility to wage war between the executive and legislative branches.

The Button refers to Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who reiterated the Founding Fathers’ resolve that no one man should hold the power to take the nation to war. The Button notes that America’s Founders tried to constrain presidential power, but they could not have anticipated the discovery of the nuclear bomb and the ways in which it would change the nature of the presidency, giving one person the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons that could destroy the human race.

The United States has many control systems in place to prevent nuclear weapons being launched unintentionally, or by an unauthorized person. But there are no safeguards to prevent a determined president from starting a nuclear war. The Button argues that the risks of having nuclear weapons ready to launch within minutes, on the president’s sole authority, outweigh any perceived benefits.

The book discusses the various long-term repercussions of launching nuclear weapons, stressing that no president should have to decide the fate of the world in just minutes based on incomplete or inaccurate information. Yet, current US policy—the option to shoot first, with weapons on high alert, under pressure to launch on warning of attack or lose weapons on the ground—could force the president into a dangerous corner. The book argues that American nuclear policy is structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack, and military officers are trained to follow orders, not question them, even when such orders appear profoundly unwise.

 About the Authors:

TOM Z. COLLINA is director of policy at Ploughshares Fund. He has thirty years experience in nuclear weapons, missile defense, and nonproliferation issues in Washington, DC, and has held senior positions at the Arms Control Association, and the Institute for Science and International Security.

WILLIAM J. PERRY served as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in the Carter administration and then as secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. He oversaw the development of the U.S. strategic nuclear systems.

Authors: William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina

Publisher (Arabic Translation): ECSSR

Date of Publication: 2023

Al Jundi

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