Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command Air Force General John Hyten said he would resist a nuclear strike command from the president if he believed the oder was unlawful. Photo by Yonhap South Korea/EPA
Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would resist a nuclear strike order if he determined the action to be illegal.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told a crowd the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he has given considerable though to the actions he would take if President Donald Trump issued an unlawful nuclear strike order.
"I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do," Hyten said. "And if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen? I'm going to say, 'Mr. President, that's illegal.' And guess what he's going to do? He's going to say, 'What would be legal?' And we'll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that's the way it works. It's not that complicated."
Hyten's statement comes after former U.S. Strategic Command commander Robert Kehler testified before Congress as it debated the sole authority of a U.S. president to order a nuclear strike for the first time in 40 years amid nuclear tensions with North Korea.
Kehler said he would consult with his own advisers if he was uncertain of the legality of a nuclear strike order, but said he didn't know what would happen next.
Hyten said he has received training every year for decades in the law of armed conflict which accounts for specific factors to determine legality such as necessity, distinction, proportionality, unnecessary suffering and more.
He added it is standard practice to run through scenarios on how to react to an unlawful order and that executing such a command would have legal ramifications.
"If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life," Hyten said.
Hyten also said dealing with the threat of nuclear action by North Korea must be an international effort and assured the United States is prepared to react to any such event.
"And we are ready every minute of every day to respond to any event that comes out of North Korea. That's the element of deterrence that has to be clear, and it is clear," he said.