Commander of the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift calmly assured members of a media panel in Australia earlier Thursday that he would have no qualms with executing a nuclear strike on China if so ordered by President Donald Trump.
Speaking at a security conference at Australian National University in Canberra, Admiral Swift was posed the hypothetical scenario by an academic professional who asked “At risk of being blunt, I would like to pose this question to you. If, when you return to your command next week, you were to receive an order from the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States, to make a nuclear attack on China, would you do it?”
After rounds of laughter from the audience, Admiral Swift replied “The answer would be yes,” adding, “Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as the commander-in-chief appointed over us.”
“This is core to American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have significant problems.”
In response, the individual who asked the question responded with “That’s an answer that of course worries us,” and “is this question one that is being discussed among military leaders in the United States at your level of command?”
Swift went on to elaborate on the application and use of military force in a democracy.
Asking a senior ranking military officer in the United States if he has considered what essentially amounts to mutiny in the face of an order with which they disagreed is likely grandstanding to put the Admiral on the spot, but Admiral Swift’s response was on-point.
The question over nuclear launch authority resting in the hands of the President of the United States has become somewhat unofficial criteria in selecting a realistic presidential candidate. Qualities like judgment, maturity, and restraint are all tossed about when discussing a candidate’s temperament to be president, precisely because they will have the ability to launch an offensive nuclear attack that could bring about a nuclear war. Hillary Clinton famously called into question Trump’s ability to handle the ‘nuclear launch codes’ during the campaign.
As Admiral Swift pointed out, civilian control over the military in the United States is a bedrock principle to our democracy. Asking a senior military leader if they would simply reconsider abiding by that foundation chain of command is a waste of time. Although the question was asked by a foreigner, many Americans also question Trump’s ability to command our military and nuclear arsenal. If there is to be a debate about the use of military and nuclear force, it needs to start well before a man is elected to a position of absolute power like President of the United States.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy