By John Erath
No, this will not be another House of the Dragon post. Although, given the number of views that one received, perhaps I should focus on covering TV rather than nuclear weapons. In this case, the subject is the royal succession in the United Kingdom and its nuclear command and control. When Queen Elizabeth died and her son Charles took over without interruption (Viserys should take note of this), a number of commentators asked if the new King would be able to order the use of nuclear weapons.
The answer, of course, is “no,” and rightly so.
The UK is a democracy with a ceremonial monarch, who remains outside the nuclear chain of command. Only the Prime Minister can authorize Britain’s nuclear deterrent to be used, subject to a specific set of procedures. The Queen or King has no role in any decision, even though she or he is the formal head of the British armed forces. As each new PM takes office, as occurred this week, one of the first tasks is to issue “letters of last resort” to the commanders of the UK’s ballistic missile submarines that provide guidance on the use of the nuclear deterrent in the event communication with the PM’s office is not possible. The UK system aims to have strong civilian control over nuclear weapons, while maintaining a credible deterrent.
Contrast this with the recent statements of Kim Jung Un. While the UK upholds the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and maintains a defined chain of command for any possible use, North Korea is trending the other way. The DPRK dictator affirmed that he has no plans to give up nuclear weapons and has claimed to be developing new types of weapons and delivery systems. At the same time, a new North Korean law requires military commanders, presumably without waiting for national level approval, to “automatically” carry out nuclear strikes should the DPRK come under attack. It does not seem that such attack would need to be nuclear to trigger a nuclear response. In theory, a mid-level army officer could decide he was required to use a nuclear weapon not only if some South Koreans stumbled across the DMZ accidentally, but also if there were a popular protest against the leadership.
Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and should be subject to the strictest possible command and control arrangements and not the whim of a King or dictator.