Senate Foreign Relations Committee head Bob Corker (R-TN) has announced that the committee will be holding hearings next week discussing the question of presidential authority to unilaterally use nuclear weapons.
Though a lot of the reporting in painting this as Sen. Corker having problems with President Trump, the senator says that the hearings, the first since 1976 on the issue, are “long overdue.”
There isn’t a settled legal structure for how the US would use nuclear weapons as an aggressive act, which mostly rests on the historical assumption they’d be used purely in a retaliatory way. US officials, however, have long resisted ruling out a nuclear first-strike as an option.
This is becoming a growing issue because of the growing number of wars the US is finding itself involved in, and because of growing talk of a possible US attack on North Korea, a war which almost certainly would have a nuclear component.
This has already spawned legislation in both the House and Senate trying to bar the president from preemptive nuclear strikes without Congressional authorization. These bills, however, have struggled to get an airing from the leadership.
The Senate hearings could solve that, allowing many in the Foreign Relations Committee to air their thoughts on the possibility of any US president just deciding to nuke somebody some day. If there’s at least some consensus that this would be undesirable, it may force the leadership to allow specific bills to advance.