Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has thought a lot about what he would say if Mr. Trump ordered a strike he considered unlawful.
"I think some people think we're stupid. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?" President, that's illegal.' And guess what he's going to do?
Hyten's remarks come after both speculation about the president's mental state and the ongoing possibility of some kind of nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea, which has already developed nuclear weapons but is still developing longer-range missiles to launch them on.
While the President retains that authority, Hyten publicly emphasized that the United States military always has the obligation to follow only legal orders, including those entailing the launch of nuclear weapons.
It comes amid a debate over whether certain checks and balances should be put on the president's authority to use nukes.
Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and co-founder of the Global Zero group that advocates eliminating nuclear weapons, said the Kehler scenario misses a more important point: The Strategic Command chief might, in effect, be bypassed by the president. We think about these things a lot.
"If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail".
What would happen if a president ordered a nuclear strike, but the commanding general refused, believing it to be illegal?
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"I provide advice to the President", Hyten said.
This past week's Senate hearing was the first in Congress on presidential authority to use nuclear weapons since 1976, when a Democratic congressman from New York, Richard L. Ottinger, pushed for the U.S.to declare it would never initiate a nuclear war. I'm gonna say, 'Mr. He's going to say, 'What would be legal?'" Hyten said."And we'll come up options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that's the way it works.
Hyten said the military is on constant alert - ready at any time to respond to a nuclear threat by North Korea. All the USA top brass, himself included, are trained to disobey "illegal" orders. From there it would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys. "You could go to jail for the rest of your life", Hyten said.
Trump has also, on numerous occasions, pledged to unleash "fire and fury" and to "totally destroy" North Korea if he deems fit.
Since Trump came into office, the USA has taken a much harder stance on North Korea with the U.S. leader regularly trading verbal barbs with the with the pariah state's leader, Kim Jong-un.
President Trump has not publicly commented on Gen Hyten's remarks.
The U.S. military's stockpile of nuclear weapons is one of the most existentially terrifying arsenals ever assembled, and a conflict involving the detonation of even small percentage of those weapons could potentially destabilize the entire world.