Updated Jan 3, 2018 - Politics & Policy
Facts Matter

Here's how Trump launches a nuclear weapon

Tao WU via Flickr CC

Despite Trump's tweets this week indicating he has a so-called "Nuclear Button" that's "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim Jong-un's are nothing more than flourish. There's not a real "nuclear button" Trump can press — that's just a metaphor for the framework that's used to ultimately launch a nuclear weapon.

The bottom line: There's a "nuclear briefcase," a "black book" and a "biscuit."

What you need to know about that framework and the "national command authority," which can authorize a nuclear weapons launch.

  • The "nuclear briefcase": Trump always has an aide nearby who has been trained on procedures for carrying out nuclear attacks and who carries a briefcase or two, known as the proverbial "nuclear briefcase."
  • The "black book" menu of attacks: Inside the nuclear briefcase is a list of attack target countries and target types the President can carry out, all listed out on a menu that looks a lot like a cartoon. There are three kinds of attack targets: nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, military-industrial facilities, or leaders and hideouts.
  • The President's ID "biscuit": He doesn't actually carry around launch codes in the nuclear briefcase, but he does carry around an identification card colloquially known as "the biscuit." He uses this code to authenticate his identity as the President to the military commanders in the Pentagon war room before he communicates which attacks he wants to launch.

And that request is then translated into an "emergency action message" in the war room, which, in a matter of minutes, would unleash the President's nuclear weapons request.

Editor's note: This piece was originally published April, 2017.

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