Nuclear attack question

Let’s say the Russians have launched a full-scale attack and the U.S. President refuses to retaliate. Saying, I dunno…“What’s the point.” or “It will make a nuclear winter worse” or “It will douse a lot of our allies with fallout”…whatever…

Can the generals authorize retaliation on their own?

Agaist a full-scale attack, I wish the President would choose to not retaliate.

Look, we’re fucked anyway. Why take the rest of humanity with us.

Hmm. Interesting question.

No, waitaminute, it’s the other thing.

The Vice President would use his magical powers to change the incoming nuclear weapons into harmless Marshmallow Peeps [sup]TM[/sup].

What’s that you say? “Where did the Vice President get magical powers to transfigure nuclear weapons into delicious candy?” Why, the same place you got a President who would simply roll over in the face of a nuclear attack.

Of course.

I forgot Presidents are elected based on their ‘Intestinal Fortitude D20 rolls’ crossindexed with the “Will to Obliterate 200 Million People” passive attack.

Never mind of course that the guys in the actual silos have to be trained for years and tested to have the will to wipe out a paltry 10 million people.

Ostensibly, no. The President (or his or her locum in the line of succession) is the National Command Authority and has the only authority to release nuclear weapons to theater or ICBM wing commanders for use. In reality, there are likely still processes in place to release nuclear weapons to local authority in the case of an obvious attack and lack of command, communications, and control authority. Just how these are implemented is in a CONPLAN which is classified and therefore not available to the public for obvious reasons.


You should have asked this in GQ. There might have been one or two actual answers proffered before the snark began.

(And then Stranger snuck in with the facts.)

We are not all fucked anyway. Even if say, Russia threw everything it had at U.S. and only us, and we did nothing, there will still be millions of people alive in the US.

The whole “end of humanity” in a nuclear war is just a bunch of scare mongering propaganda left over from the Cold War.

And there will still be assets to throw back at the enemy once the President, or his successor is forcibly “re-educated”.

The launch codes during most of the Cold War were set at 00000000 just so that ultimate command control was not needed in the event of a devastating first strike by an enemy. This is no longer the case but you can be sure that there are other solutions in place.

Hell, the President might not be available to even make the decision and the decision making process is not going to wait to find him.

That’s the whole point of M.A.D., isn’t it? You nuke us, we’ll nuke you back. It’s probably how the world survived the Cold War.

Frankly, I’d be extremely pissed off if the POTUS allowed a Nuclear First Strike w/o retaliation. (Not that it would matter much…)

Humanity may have survived. Human civilization? Not so much.

There would be millions of people left; millions of people who are well and thoroughly fucked. Financial, military, civil, power, and manufacturing centers gone. The midwest food producing regions un-habitable due to radiation. Seems pretty grim.

Well you OBVIOUSLY can’t have a president that SAYS he won’t retaliate. And yes, MAD kept all of our atoms together.

But I wouldn’t be pissed if I knew everything Russia has was in the air, and we didn’t retaliate. Who cares?? It’s not like you’ll get the chance to see on TV how fucked Russia is by our counterattack.

There also must be protocols in place that allow some response from the Boomers, and I don’t mean middle aged fat men, I mean the nuclear missile submarines that are always on patrol in unknown locations. They will survive and can be expected to act if all communication with the command structure is lost.

They are in the insurance business, that is there secondary mission. Their first mission is to be unknown, so that the enemy, whoever they are, will know that there will be a response no matter how successful the first strike is.

In the case of the UK, I believe the nuclear subs have, in a special locked safe, a letter from the PM telling them what to do in the event that the UK command structure is wiped out in a nuclear attack. I would be very surprised if the US does not have something similar, if rather less romantic.

So, in this senario Russia did not attack UK, France, China etc all of who can cause 200 plus Russian cites to be in urgent need of urban renewal?

Good point – and under the bylaws of NATO, they’d be obligated to counter-attack.

The question isn’t authorization, but ability.

The question presumes that an aging and questionably competent Russian military could launch a surprise attack upon the US. This has always been doubtful as for many years the Russians (formerly known as the Soviets) used liquid field propelled missiles which cannot be stored with their fuel inside of them (it’s too corrosive). Even when the Russian began the switch to solid fuel propellants, there was always the question of whether their missiles wouldn’t explode upon launch rather than hit their US targets.

It’s likely that the Russians even today could field more than a “minor” nuclear strike without multiple days worth of notice and without alerting the far superior electronic data collection systems of the US. The President and the DoD would be alerted to the fact that the Russian were up to something and they might respond by launching one or more pre-emptive strikes to “discourage” them from doing anything.

If the President lost his nerve (it could possibly happen) there’s no reason to believe that this event would be seen by the VP (who may not be as apprehensive) as something which required invoking the 25th Amendment and removing him from office. It’s not as if there would be too much interference with this as it was clear that not responding to a potential attack could be viewed as the POTUS losing the ability to maintain his office.

It’s however a stretch to believe that the reason a POTUS would not avenge an attack against US soil would be his belief that everything was lost anyway. Regardless of what he thought, it’s likely that if he presented that opinion to his military commanders that they would remove him from office and engage the Russians on their own. Or assist whatever government official was next in the line of succession in invoking the 25th.

A Russian sneak attack on more than minor scale is currently unthinkable as it would take days to assemble and it might invite a US pre-emptive response to prevent it.

A previous thread on this concept. One of the replies posited that a pres that wouldn’t launch a retaliatory strike would eat a 9mm sandwich and it would happen anyway. If there were time maybe Section 4 of the 25th Amendment would be invoked.

The problem with this is from a rational perspective, the president may be correct. The reason the U.S. has all those nuclear weapons is to frighten a potential adversary into not using theirs. Once the attack is under way, obviously, the nukes didn’t do their job.

If the U.S. arsenal is used, it will kill millions and millions of completely innocent, more or less civilized and technologically advanced people (obviously the Russians aren’t totally civilized or they wouldn’t have launched their nukes, but the majority of their citizens would have had nothing to do with the decisions)

Those innocent people don’t deserve to die, and human civilization would be worse off without them.

My thinking was that any unprovoked massive attack would almost certainly be in the mistaken belief that they themselves are either under attack or on the verge of being attacked.

Another interesting question is, “How does the world respond and how does this change attitudes about even having nuclear weapons on hand?” 130 million people have been wiped out by a mistake.

On a separate note…I see “The Last Ship” has been made into a soon to air miniseries.

I wouldn’t be pissed if the President didn’t order a retaliatory strike - I would be pissed if he did. Wiping out Russia isn’t going to bring anyone back to life, or repair any damage - just make everything worse, for no good reason except revenge. Like Habeed says, the deterrent didn’t work,. OK, next time better try something else.

Of course the scenario probably wouldn’t work out like that. Their first strike would be an attempt to take out our missiles, as well as our command and control. That’s why we have sub-launched missiles, because the Russians probably could not target them effectively enough to ensure that the US could not retaliate and take out as many of their missiles as they did ours. In that case I probably would retaliate, to try to prevent them from a second-strike.

In practical terms, it wouldn’t make that much difference. Taking out missile sites means killing lots of people even if that is not the primary objective, and even more so with targeting command-and-control.

As far as the question if the generals would counter-attack if the President didn’t order it, I thought the purpose of the football everyone talks about is to prevent anyone but the President, or the Vice-president in event of the President being dead or incapacitated, from launching the Bomb. I hope and expect that the launch codes are necessary not only to authorize an attack, but to enable it.


After the President is dead, yes. Eventually someone in the line of command will have the authority and do it, and that is what the Trident sub force is for should the president be unable, or weirdly, unwilling.