The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
Since the Truman administration, America has been one “push of a button” away from nuclear war—a decision that rests solely in the hands of the President. Without waiting for approval from Congress or even the Secretary of Defense, the President can unleash America’s entire nuclear arsenal.
Almost every governmental process is subject to institutional checks and balances. Why is potential nuclear annihilation the exception to the rule? For decades, glitches and slip-ups have threatened to trigger nuclear winter: misinformation, false alarms, hacked warning systems, or even an unstable President. And a new nuclear arms race has begun, threatening us all. At the height of the Cold War, Russia and the United States each built up arsenals exceeding 30,000 nuclear weapons, armed and ready to destroy each other—despite the fact that just a few hundred are necessary to end life on earth.
From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Button recounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump’s tweet about his “much bigger & more powerful” button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others.