Trump has left the White House, but he still has the nuclear football

  • President Donald Trump departed the White House Wednesday morning and was on his way to Florida. The outgoing president will not attend Joe Biden's inauguration.
  • The twice-impeached president still has control of the nuclear football and sole nuclear strike authority until noon.
  • Experts say that the current situation is the product of an outdated and dangerous system that desperately needs to be changed.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has departed the White House once and for all, but he still has control of the nuclear football and the ability to wage nuclear war until noon on Wednesday. Experts say this is the product of a dangerous and outdated system.

Trump boarded Marine One on the South Lawn Wednesday morning for a flight to Joint Base Andrews, where he delivered a farewell address before boarding Air Force One with his family to fly to Florida. He will not attend Joe Biden's presidential inauguration.

As he leaves Washington, DC, a military aide carrying a briefcase known as the "nuclear football" is accompanying the outgoing president, who still has the sole authority to order a nuclear strike.

The nuclear football, officially known as the "president's emergency satchel," is a heavy 45-pound briefcase that contains communication tools, codes, and options for nuclear war. Used together with a card known as the "biscuit" that contains authentication codes, the president can contact the National Military Command Center, identify himself to the armed forces, and select a strike option.

As long as the strike option selected is legal, there are almost no checks on the president's ability to use nuclear weapons.

When a new president is sworn in, the nuclear command and control authority is transferred to the new commander in chief, who receives a "biscuit" in advance that will activate at noon. The nuclear football is then discreetly handed off from one military aide to another to begin following the new president.

But Trump flew off to Florida with the nuclear football, so things will be a little different this time around.

As Insider previously reported, there are other footballs and options for getting one to Biden without Trump's presence at the inauguration, and Trump's ability to wage nuclear war will expire as soon as the new president takes the oath of office. The football will also leave Trump's side at that time.

Still, the current situation is troubling for nuclear experts who argue the nuclear football, which began following presidents during the Cold War, is no longer necessary.

"The entire premise of 'the football' is that the President must be able to order the launch of hundreds of nuclear weapons in a few minutes in the event of a surprise attack by Russia," Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, told Insider. "The entire command and control system is warped to deal with this unlikely event."

He explained that it "is that one scenario that produces the spectacle we saw on Wednesday — a twice-impeached President leaving the White House in disgrace, still followed by the infrastructure that would allow him to order a nuclear war with no second vote required."

In the wake of the violent Capitol riots by a pro-Trump mob incited by the president earlier this month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley about options to check Trump's nuclear strike authority. The reality is that there really aren't any.

William Perry, who served as former President Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, has been a strong advocate for changing this system, most recently in an op-ed published in Politico.

"Do we really think any president should have the godlike power to deliver global destruction in an instant?" he asked rhetorically.

"By now, it should be clear that no one person should have the unilateral power to end our civilization. Such unchecked authority is undemocratic, outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous," he wrote. "It's time to get rid of the nuclear football."

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