Whether or not Donald Trump has the right temperament to maintain control over the country's nuclear weapons has been fiercely debated. But now that he is the next president, his temperament is irrelevant. He'll have authority over the nuclear codes whether his critics like it or not. The real question now is can Trump, as president, initiate nuclear warfare all on his own?
The answer, in a word, is yes. A Trump White House would need military officials to actually carry out the attack, but the order to do it is his and his alone. Any military officer who doesn't comply with the presidential order would be subject to a court martial.
The president is warned of and advised about any impending attacks by designated officials, but the decision is ultimately his. The War Powers Act of 1973 requires a president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of any attempted military action. However, the pace of nuclear warfare is far too fast for that. The time it would take for nuclear missiles to get from Russia or China to Washington is only about 30 minutes, according to Politico. That span is cut to 12 minutes if the weapons are launched from submarines docked in the Atlantic. Any president making nuclear decisions doesn't exactly have the luxury of a 60 day wait.
Hillary Clinton denounced the idea of having Trump hold the master key to nuclear war while she campaigned for the presidency. "This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes," she said in June. "It's not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into war just because somebody got under his very thin skin."
But just because Trump has the power doesn't mean he'd readily use it. In fact, the president-elect has repeatedly explained his antipathy toward nuclear weapons. "I would like to see a nuclear-free world," he said in April. "Will that happen? Chances are extremely small that will happen. So I think that's something that in an ideal world is wonderful, but I think it's not going to happen very easily."
Trump explained later that he'd only use weapons of mass destruction as a last resort. "I don't want to rule out anything. I will be the last to use nuclear weapons. It's a horror to use nuclear weapons," he said. "I will be the last to use it, I will not be trigger happy like some people might think. I will be the last, but I will never ever rule it out."