POTUS's ability to launch nuclear attacks

Only the National Command Authority (President and Secretary of Defence) can authorize the use of nuclear weapons; POTUS can’t do it on his own. Am I right to assume that if the position Secretary of Defence is vacant the acting SecDef becomes part of the NCA? So if POTUS want’s to launch an attack and SecDef refuses is there anything to stop POTUS from dismising the SecDef and appointing the nearest warm body acting SecDef?

You’re correct. The POTUS can engage in a DoD Saturday Night Massacre and keep firing people until he gets an Acting SecDef willing to go along with his evil plan.

That’s SCARY! Possibly only ONE finger on the button? :confused: :frowning: :frowning:

Is it true that an acting Secretary of Defense has National Command Authority? I thought it had to be somebody who held an elected office or whose position had been confirmed by the Senate. The President can’t just point to somebody standing in the vicinity and say, “You there. You’re my new Secretary of Defense. Now push this buttton.”

Assuming everyone in the chain of command acts like a robot, then yes, the President can serially fire folks until someone agrees with him. But, the Cabinet can sit down and write a letter, as he does it, and declare him unable to fulfill his oath on account of being bat shit crazy, too.


There’s a line of succession in all the cabinet departments, so a specified person becomes the acting Secretary when the current one is removed. This person is usually also a Senate-confirmed position. For example, in the DoD, it goes:

Secretary of Defense
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
Secretary of the Army
Secretary of the Air Force
Secretary of the Navy

…and so on.

All of those guys are in Senate-approved positions and would immediately become Acting SecDef if the one above them was removed.

To appoint a new, non-Acting SecDef, the President would have to go through a Senate Confirmation (or do a recess appointment - that would be fun.)

That’s true.

But how far down does the “and so on” go? I was thinking there might be a dozen or so people in the DoD who merit Senate approval and these below that level are just internal appointees or civil service positions. So the President might be able to launch the nukes if he can convince the Secretary of the Navy it’s a good idea but if he has to reach down to the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary in Charge of Military Base Food Procurement he’s out of luck.