Only the President can order the launch of nuclear weapons. The President is not required to consult with anyone, and, if the President orders a launch, no one has the authority to rescind the order.
“The President has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons.” We hear this a lot, but what exactly does it mean? How exactly a nuclear weapon is launched is largely unknown by the American public. But it’s important in order to understand just how fragile the nuclear launch procedure actually is.
Consider this scenario. One afternoon, the U.S. nuclear command and control system detects incoming Russian missiles headed toward the U.S. By the time the President is notified, key officials from the Department of Defense have approximately one minute to brief the president. After that, the President has about seven minutes to confer with his advisors, decide if the U.S. will retaliate, and which pre-packaged response option to retaliate with. That’s it. Seven minutes to discern whether or not the attack is real. Seven minutes to decide if it is worth it to start a nuclear war.