On December 21, 2008, then Vice President Richard Cheney stated in an interview with Chris Wallace:
The President of the United States now for fifty
years is followed at all times, twenty-four hours a day, by
a military aid carrying a football that contains the nuclear
codes that he would use, and be authorized to use, in an
event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could
launch the most devastating attack the world has ever seen.
He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have
The former Vice President’s words clearly depict the unlimited power the President possesses when it comes to the United States’ nuclear program. Zacher writes, “It is an unfettered and unconstrained power that gnaws at the very core of American democracy. It is a power that the world has not seen before and no sovereign has ever held. It is a power that bodes ill not just for the United States but for the rest of the world.” Although Congress is responsible for the funding programs for nuclear weapons, that body possesses virtually no input on what weapons are produced, the number of nuclear weapons that are proliferated or how these weapons are used. Since Article II states the President is Commander in Chief of the United States Army and Navy, it provides him with direct power over the nuclear program. Therefore, the executive branch is solely responsible for the nuclear program.
This branch of government does not consist only of the President. It includes the Vice-President, Cabinet and Cabinet rank members. The Cabinet is comprised of 13 departments, the Vice-President, the White House Chief of Staff, the United States Trade Representative, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the head of the office of Management and Budget, and the head of the department for Drug Control. Naturally, not all of these departments are involved in administering the country’s nuclear weapons program. The most obvious department that is involved with the nuclear weapons program is the Department of Defense. Since this department controls all military matters, it makes sense it would play a key role on this policy.
Other departments involved in nuclear weapons strategy include the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce. All the secretaries from these departments advise the President on nuclear policy, but ultimately it is entirely administered by the President or the Vice-President should the President be unavailable, ill, assassinated, etc. Also, the intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI are kept abreast of the nuclear program in the event they need to become involved with it during their operations or if they detect a nuclear threat from another nation.
The current trend, however, is essentially to de-arm when it comes to nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are no longer produced in the United States, but the weapons of that nature that do exist are being preserved. Since the Cold War ended, the United States has entered into various agreements with other nations such as France, Russia and China regarding nuclear weapons. The intent is to limit or eradicate the nuclear threat throughout the world and the United States remains very committed to this concept.
Zacher, Jules. (2013). Presidential Authority and Nuclear Weapons: Taking Back Our Rights.