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United States law vests the power to control the use of nuclear weapons exclusively in the person of the President or his legal successor. The degree to which this power has been located in a single individual has come into question several times in the history of nuclear weapons, including much more recently. This talk will will discuss the somewhat convoluted and unintuitive history of how this system was established during the Cold War, the moments at which it has been previously called into question, and discuss some of the policy questions that seem to face us on this matter in the post-Cold War.
Alex Wellerstein is an Assistant Professor in the Program on Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He received a PhD from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University in 2010, and a BA in History from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Managing the Atom Project and International Security Program at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2010-2011. He is currently working to complete his book on the history of nuclear secrecy in the United States, from the Manhattan Project through the War on Terror, under contract with the University of Chicago Press. He is the author of Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, the creator of the online NUKEMAP nuclear weapons effects simulator, and is an occasional contributor to The New Yorker's Elements Blog among other popular venues.