There's nothing that can prevent President Donald Trump, who House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) assailed as "deranged, unhinged, dangerous" after the insurrection Trump fomented on January 6, from launching a first strike nuclear war against China, Iran or any other foe of the United States in his remaining 10 days in office.
This unnerving possibility was confirmed after Pelosi wrote a letter Friday to fellow lawmakers in the House of Representatives telling them of a phone call she had with Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pelosi said she talked to Milley about keeping "an unstable President from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike."
"This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike," wrote Pelosi in her letter.
"The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy."
Democrats are calling on Trump to resign or be impeached a second time in the aftermath of the Trump insurrection, where Trump supporters broke into and ransacked the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempted coup d'état.
Pelosi told the Democratic Party caucus she had received assurances from Milley there are safeguards in place in the event Trump wants to launch a nuclear strike against another country, said multiple sources cited by CNN.
"Speaker Pelosi initiated a call with the Chairman," said Col. Dave Butler, Milley's aide. "He answered her questions regarding the process of nuclear command authority."
Military experts said while Pelosi's motives are laudable, there is nothing either she or Gen. Milley can do to prevent Trump from launching U.S. nuclear missiles against any country. America's outdated quick-reaction system crafted to retaliate instantly against the erstwhile Soviet Union makes any outside interference in the process all but impossible.
There is little Milley can do to prevent Trump from ordering a nuclear launch since he and other top national security officials are not technically in the chain of command when it comes to such decisions.
Experts said a U.S. President has sole launch authority over the country's nuclear arsenal. The power has remained with the White House since President Harry Truman ordered atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
The hair-trigger response system in place means Trump is legally empowered to order U.S. Air Force nuclear-capable Boeing B-52H strategic heavy bombers, U.S. Navy Ohio class ballistic missile submarines, and Air Force land-based Minutemen intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike any target of his choosing.
To make certain he quickly has his finger on the trigger, a U.S. president is always shadowed day and night by a military aide carrying a black briefcase, commonly referred to as the "nuclear football," containing attack options and other information needed in a national emergency.
Only the president can decide to launch a nuclear attack. He then relays the order to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who then sends it down the chain of command.
This quick-reaction system gave the U.S. time to retaliate against the Soviet Union even as this country's missiles were hurtling towards the U.S. A first strike by the Soviet Union could have obliterated America's defenses and leadership inside of 30 minutes.
The only thing the U.S. military can do to prevent Trump launching a nuclear attack will be to disobey his order. This was made clear in 2017 by C. Robert Kehler, a retired Air Force general who commanded U.S. Strategic Command that oversees the nation's nuclear arsenal. Kehler told a Senate committee there are military checks in place should a President order a nuclear strike if the U.S. isn't under attack.
"If there is an illegal order presented to the military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it," he said.
Pentagon officials, both serving and retired, insist the military does not blindly follow orders from the President. They point to layers of checks and balances intended to safeguard against a President unlawfully ordering a nuclear strike.
Other experts, however, said the reality is the only basis for interfering with a direct order from the president is if it's illegal, immoral, or unethical.
"Any 'safeguards' Milley may have erected to effectively prevent Trump from exercising the sole authority of nuclear launch would actually be a 'coup' by the standard definition," argues Vipin Narang, a nuclear policy expert, and professor at MIT.
"The procedure for nuclear launch authority grants POTUS the sole authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons."
He pointed out that by design, the president is not legally required to consult with or receive assent from any one of a number of people, including the vice president, national security adviser, secretary of defense of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"None are, contrary to popular belief, in the nuclear launch chain of command," asserted Narang.
"Therefore any 'safeguards' that could effectively prevent POTUS from exercising sole authority to launch nuclear weapons are either illegal or illusory. So long as Trump remains in office, he retains the legal authority to solely launch some or all of America's nuclear weapons until 12:01 pm on January 20, or until he is removed from office."