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Alex Wellerstein
A research question I've been pondering for awhile: When, exactly, did the idea that the President — and only the President — was in charge of the decision to use nuclear weapons get turned into real policy? Answer seems to be September 1948, with NSC-30.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
NSC-30 is a pretty interesting document as an aside. The basic conclusion is, "we might have to use nukes in the future, but we also might not for various reasons, so we shouldn't make some kind of blanket policy on it, and go about it on a case-by-case basis."
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
The fact that they did not, until September 1948, work out so basic a formal policy on the employment of such weapons is the interesting thing to me (along with the apparent decision to formally vest that decision-making power in the President).
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
I have been interested in this in part because the statutory/regulatory authority for this policy is otherwise very poorly sourced. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 does not actually say anything about this (the relevant part is about *custody* and not *use*).
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
Here's the memo, from the Secretary of the Army, from May 1948 that seems to have sparked NSC-30. Kind of amazing by itself — Royall is saying, in essence, we have no policy on whose finger is on the button... this is in the middle of the Berlin Airlift, for context.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
Note also that Royall's first instinct was to have JCS do it, not POTUS. Comment from the State Dept here makes clear they weren't sure either — POTUS, NSC, and (or?), JCS? Again, in 1948 they were still working this out = POTUS control of nukes NOT inherent, or obvious.
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Alex Wellerstein 1 Jun 18
Replying to @wellerstein
One more thing — in 1946, it was still only "probably" the President who would make such a decision:
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Ed Kaplan 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
I think NSC-30 codified already existing policy. Truman personally authorized Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there was no discussion (that I know of) of using the atomic bomb without his express permission.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot
The context (both Royall and State Dept memos I also screenshotted) makes it clear that at least the Army and State were under the impression there was no actual policy. But I agree that de facto assumption was that weapons could not be used without Truman's authority.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot
(But separately, I would not point to bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki as Truman's authority being used. He did not in fact personally approve them. He basically didn't get in the way of the bombing. Formal civilian approval was by Stimson, not Truman.)
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot
(What Truman did — which is actually more germane here — was directly order, on August 10, 1945, that no further weapons could be used WITHOUT his explicit permission. This, and not the strike order, is what established de facto Presidential control in a real way for first time.)
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Arthur Edelstein 31 May 18
In 's new book, he talks about how launch authority was secretly delegated to some officers in the field, at least in 1959. Any idea when that started? Was Truman's order officially rescinded?
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Alex Wellerstein 1 Jun 18
Pre-delegation started under Eisenhower, in 1956. It wasn't a rescinding of the authority of the President, but an extension of it — it is the POTUS saying, "I authorize the use of weapons under such-and-such circumstances." POTUS is still nominally the source of the authority.
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Arthur Edelstein 1 Jun 18
Thanks!
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Ed Kaplan 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
Also, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) gave custody of nuclear weapons to the AEC, who did not share even basic information with the military. That also points to firm civilian control.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot
What is interesting here is that Atomic Energy Act discusses *custody* but not *use* of the weapons. Leaves the topic of what happens after POTUS authorizes weapons to be transferred from AEC to DOD totally untouched. (Which makes sense for 1946, clearly inadequate by 1948.)
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Ed Kaplan 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
Good point, but I think the key to your question is the long debate over pre-delegation. It wasn’t until the early 50s that you get any sort of predelegated authority to use atomic weapons.
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Alex Wellerstein 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot
Predelegation is a separate issue, I think, since it is formally an extension of authority — it doesn't challenge notion of POTUS having ultimate authority (even if, in practice, this was awfully blurry).
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Ed Kaplan 31 May 18
Replying to @wellerstein
I don’t think predelegation is really a separate issue. Truman resisted pressure for predelegation because he wanted to retain sole authority to use the atomic bomb.
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Eric 31 May 18
Replying to @dropshot @wellerstein
I'm a rank amateur at this topic but I feel like Schlosser gave this pretty detailed treatment in his book? (I only had an audio version to hear while gardening, so I can't go back ;)
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Alex Wellerstein 1 Jun 18
Replying to @p_feif80 @dropshot
He talks about many relevant things, but not the establishment of the President — and specifically the President — as the locus of this authority.
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