What’s Nuclear About A Football?

Whose nuclear launch button is bigger?

There has been a serious kerfuffle in the news about buttons and their relative size. Specifically, nuclear launch buttons.

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, flatly stated that a nuclear button is on his desk at all times. “It’s not a mere threat but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office.” This prompted a Twitter response from President Trump. “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Now, we all know what a button is. In this context, it would be “any small knob or disk pressed to activate an electric circuit, release a spring, or otherwise operate or open a machine, small door, toy, etc.” But, do these world leaders really have buttons to carry out something so monumentally destructive?

Is there actually a nuclear launch button?

The reality of it is, there is no such single button, at least not one on President Trump’s desk. As CNN.com notes, “The image of the president with his finger on a ‘button’ that is capable of initiating a nuclear strike has been used to symbolize the speed at which the process of such an order can be carried out for decades.”

How can the president actually launch a nuclear weapon?

While there’s not a button, there is a 45-pound briefcase officially known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel, or more commonly, the football. It is always nearby the president, no matter where he is. One person, part of a rotating staff of five, totes it wherever the president goes. There’s also a backup football for the vice-president. CNN adds that it contains “a black book listing a menu of strike options; a three-by-five-inch card with authentication codes for the president to confirm his identity; a list of secure bunkers where the president can be sheltered; and instructions for using the Emergency Broadcast System.”

What’s nuclear about a football?

So, why a football? USA Today said it stems from the name of an early nuclear-attack-plan version that went by the acronym SIOP, or “Single Integrated Operational Plan.” Its code name was dropkick. Hence, the football analogy.

While talk of nuclear weapons is scary stuff, there is a checks-and-balances system in place before one is launched. Don’t worry.

“Much of the nuclear launch process is classified but Kehler, who previously served as the commander of US Strategic Command under President Barack Obama, explained that there are layers of safeguards within the current system designed to ensure any order is both legal and proportionally appropriate. While the president retains constitutional authority to order some military action, Kehler explained that the nuclear decision process ‘includes assessment, review and consultation between the president and key civilian and military leaders, followed by transmission and implementation of any presidential decision by the forces themselves.'” (CNN.com)

Phew.

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