The following interview was given to the German magazine “Der Spiegel”.
Dr. Bruce Blair, born in 1947, is a security expert and expert on nuclear weapons at the University of Princeton. In the 1970s, Blair controlled the procedure for the possible shooting of nuclear weapons for the US Army. His job was to run the way from the President's prescription to the launch of the rockets virtually, and to ensure that all the trials went smoothly. Since his work for the US Army, Blair has been among the leading nuclear policy critics in the US. In the election campaign he appeared in a video of Hillary Clinton and warned earnestly against the election of Donald Trump.
The nuclear expert Bruce Blair expresses himself in the interview about Trumps Nuclear-omnipotence:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Blair, Donald Trump will be sworn in on Friday, just like all the new presidents, he will receive the high-level briefing on the nuclear codes. What do we know about this briefing?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is in the suitcase?
Blair: The suitcase contains documents on America's secret nuclear weapons sites. Also in it is the Black Book with fixed targets for attack and various war options, from which a President can choose in an emergency. In addition to the suitcase, the new commander-in-chief is usually also given his personal nuclear codes. And someone who is well acquainted with it, explains to him how he uses it. The codes are extremely important. If he wants to command the use of nuclear weapons, he must first identify himself against the Pentagon. That is what they are meant for.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: On the morning of the inauguration, does the new president go through the details of an atomic war?
Blair: Usually not very intense. Shortly before inauguration, most of the agenda is likely to be very complex. A truly detailed explanation of the different options is already done during the transition phase. In the nuclear briefing it is more a rough description of the possibilities. Jimmy Carter, for example, was annoyed with the fact that the brochures in the suitcase were way too long. He has therefore commissioned a one-page version that resembles a comic. Option one, option two, option three. So in that way. This version is still there to my knowledge.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the election campaign, you have emphasized the great fear that Donald Trump is going to the White House. Have you been slightly less worried since his election victory?
Blair: No. Trumps fingers on the nuclear case makes me afraid. I have no confidence in Trump’s judgment on war and peace. He is impulsive. He is aggressive, poorly- or misinformed. He knows virtually nothing about nuclear weapons or international relations. He's a hot-head. He does not think. He does not want to learn. And most importantly, he has shown that he divides the world into winners and losers. Quite honestly, I'm afraid. I am afraid some time Trump makes a bad decision about nuclear weapons.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But let's be honest: a push of a button and already the nuclear weapons fly towards enemy targets - how much of this concept is science fiction?
Blair: Not much, that's the problem. There is a clearly regulated procedure in the nuclear arsenal. It has been designed to react quickly and efficiently in case of doubt. It is incredible: the president has a decision-making power that can end civilization. Perfectly without hurdles.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you have to imagine that?
Blair: There is, for example, the emergency scenario of the telephone call in the middle of the night, when a president is informed by his security adviser of an impending attack on the US. He then has a maximum of six minutes to decide how to react. The protocol stipulates that the President must confer with his closest advisors, as well as the senior official of the command center in the Pentagon, the so-called "war room".
If the President orders the operation, the Pentagon official, who informs the nuclear weapons sites about the decision, must first clarify the question whether the President is really concerned. The codes are used here. According to what is known, this goes according to the usual "challenge response" procedure used in military circles. The Pentagon official reads a part of the string, the president must supply the appropriate equivalent. Then it's going to happen.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A nightly call has not happened very often.
Blair: There is a second scenario: a longer confrontation with a state or an enemy, which does not have to be decidedly hectic and the president possibly has days or weeks. This may be different variants. But the point is: When a decision is made, everything goes very quickly. And the attack targets in the nuclear case are fixed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where are the targets?
Blair: Many details are secret. But, on the whole, it is known that 900 targets are stored in Russia, of which 100 are in Moscow. 500 are available in China, 60 in North Korea, 50 in Iran. The president can decide what he wants to attack. A goal, or simply all targets at the same time. There is no one who can prevent his decision. No one who can veto. By the way, not even the minister of defense, as some believe. If the president is OK, everything goes. The command center sends a short start command, which arrives at the respective rocket locations practically at the same time. Then the weapons are launched within a minute. That was my job for years.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hopefully only in theory.
Blair: Yes, of course. We have, of course, only practiced the emergency in the nuclear weapons site where I have been working. Every day. Hundreds of times. Always use the same procedure: Command. Start instructions from the Pentagon. We open the safe. We get our sealed codes out and compare them with those codes that were sent to us. If these match, we start the atomic rocket on the simulator. Everything within a minute. This is the standard.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How many American nuclear missiles are currently deployed?
Blair: There are currently 430 atomic rockets under ground, which are always ready. In addition, some submarines with some 300 rockets are still floating in the Pacific and the Atlantic. From the command to the launch, it would take a bit longer - around 15 minutes.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does each of these missiles have a target?
Blair: No, each rocket has many different targets in its computer. But part of the one-minute procedure is to set the rocket to the right attack option. Depending on the option, the missile will then fly to an appropriate destination. There are three different types of targets: the rockets could be used to destroy enemy nuclear weapons, destroy buildings of the political leadership of a country or the arms industry. This must be imagined as a menu option. The goal, the country, is going.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: After all, a Hiroshima scenario, with hundreds of thousands of people dying, can not simply be ordered by the President.
Blair: Not directly. But, of course, the sensitive buildings are often in densely populated areas. In cities. And it is also conceivable that the president selects a variant that is not preset. His personal variant, so to speak. Only a long-term plan is needed, which can not be imagined without intensive discussion at the highest political level.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Trump has expressed criticism on nuclear weapons many times, many years ago even said that he would like to see an international agreement on disarmament. Can it be that he surprises us all?
Blair: I do not believe it. We almost never know whether he means things seriously. Why should this be different in questions of nuclear weapons? His whole political understanding can have devastating consequences in this field. He holds nothing of diplomacy. He likes to escalate situations. Of course, I also hope that he makes his promise true and negotiates well in all fields. Completing a very big deal, which also includes disarmament, missile defense. But I believe that his temperament is completely unsuitable for the sensitive question of nuclear weapons.
PIEGEL ONLINE: It is said that he office of the president makes humble, it changes a politician.
Blair: Yes, and we have seen that in history. Ronald Reagan, after taking office, instructed his military to set up in such a way that it would be ready to fight in an atomic war at any time, and win the war. At some point he saw that this was an absurd basic assumption and the Soviet Union took this very seriously. Too serious for his taste. Reagan then changed his policy. The problem with Trump is: If there was a rival, he would want to win it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are the nuclear codes always in the nuclear case? Or can every President decide for himself where he keeps them?
Blair: There are presidents who keep the codes in the suitcase. I also believe that this is the safest option. The suitcase is always guarded by a military officer who accompanies the president around the clock. Nothing can be lost. But every president has the opportunity to wear it on his own body. This can be a risk. Former General Hugh Shelton has revealed in his memoirs that Bill Clinton had carried the codes in his wallet, where the credit cards were. When the codes were exchanged after a few months, as usual, they were gone. Under Carter, the codes landed in the laundry of the White House because he had forgotten them in his suit. And when Ronald Reagan was shot, he took off the jacket that contained the codes. They then landed in a plastic bag, of which nobody really knew who it belonged to. There are crazy stories.