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Top U.S. nuclear commander would ignore nuclear order from Trump if it was “illegal”

U.S. Air Force General John Hyten.U.S. Air Force General John Hyten ( in a file photo from House Armed Services Committee screen grab).

At the 9th Annual Halifax Security Forum on Saturday U.S. Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the man who commands America’s nuclear forces, said that he would not push the nuclear button on an order from his president if that order was “illegal.”

“The way the process works, it’s simple,” Gen. Hyten said. “I provide advice to the president, he’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what is going to happen?  I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?”‘

When he made those remarks, Gen. Hyten was taking part in a panel called ‘Nukes: the Fire and the Fury.’  The title of panel was an intentionally designed reference to a threat U.S. President Donald Trump made to North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, last month.

During his time addressing the panel, Hyten noted that he would not go through with a nuclear strike if the order given to him by Trump was illegal under either U.S. or international law.

The general added that the system is set up such that if he or anyone were to “execute an unlawful order” they would go to jail for the rest of their lives.  He and others in positions of command were not “stupid,” he told the panel, noting that they spent considerable time thinking about the nuclear options they may one day be faced with.

International Security Forum

The Halifax International Security Forum is an independent, non-profit and nonpartisan organization that is actually based in Washington, D.C. but hosts a gathering in Halifax each year.  Some 300 delegates from over 70 countries attend to talk world security issues.

The forum’s website writes it is: “dedicated to strengthening strategic cooperation among democracies and is recognized as the leading gathering of democratic leaders committed to global security and prosperity. Setting the security agenda each November for the coming calendar year, the Forum convenes relevant and key leaders in an unscripted, intimate atmosphere….”

Gen. Hyten told the panel he’s already discussed the scenario of receiving an illegal order with President Trump and told the U.S. leader he would refuse to conduct a nuclear strike on North Korea, or any country, unless such a strike’s legality was certain.

As for North Korea, the general said the world is capable of living with that country having the potential to launch a nuclear strike.  But, he added, “The question we have to ask ourselves is: Do we want to live in that world?”

The 3-day forum wraps up on Sunday, Nov. 19.






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Marcus Hondro
Marcus Hondro

Actor, writer, father, gadfly, ‘Nucks fan.

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