The game of football is important, sure, but this is no game.
The most dangerous and prominent football—the nuclear football—seems to have its immediate future in question. But defense officials are prepared. The “briefcase,” also known as the “nuclear football,” does not contain a “destruction” button; but it has communication tools, codes, and options for nuclear war.
As part of the inauguration of a new president, the traditional transfer of power includes the command and control authority over the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But as with many things following the contentious 2020 presidential election, there is a bit of the unknown.
President Donald Trump may not attend President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration and may opt for his own political rally somewhere else.
The question of how Biden gains command and control has become a relevant concern. In a Business Insider story, a nuclear scientist couldn’t pin down a likely solution. “That’s a good question,” Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said. “It is an unprecedented situation.”
Even if Trump decides not to attend, the process will move forward—and instantaneously—according to a retired Air Force officer who carried the football for former President Bill Clinton. “That’s the way it has to be,” Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson told Insider. “For the process to work, you have to have this clear handing off of responsibilities.” He said how that happens would be up to the Pentagon.
A Pentagon spokesperson told Insider the Department of Defense had a plan but declined to provide any further details. “We war game this stuff, and we practice it ad nauseam for years and years,” Patterson said. “There won’t be any kind of question about who has it, who is in charge at that point in time.”