At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Prof. Peter Feaver of Duke University testified on the president's authority to use nuclear weapons.
The best reforms to the nuclear command and control system would be ones that maximized the opportunity for the human element to mitigate risks by maximizing time for deliberation and assessment. The best reforms are ones that would increase the time that the President and his advisors would have available so as to make considered decisions incorporating the widest set of inputs, including, if possible, inputs from leaders in Congress. Of course, efforts to extend decision times must not run afoul of the always-never dilemma. Reforms that maximized decision time but rendered the nuclear arsenal unusable in a crisis or conventional conflict would undermine deterrence and could actually make a nuclear war more, not less, likely. Moreover, measures aimed at providing radical solutions at the hardware level risk being undone by workarounds at the software or wetware levels. Nevertheless, investments -- even costly investments -- in systems that buy more decision time in crises are likely among the wisest expenditures we can make. For instance, enhanced missile defenses may be a prudent option in light of the growing threat from North Korea – one that gives the President more time to assess before reacting. And upgrading communications systems to ensure that the President will have immediate access to all of his/her relevant advisors even under demanding scenarios would be a prudent investment in national security.