Air Force General John Hyten, said, during a visit to Canada, that he would have to think very seriously about how he would act if faced with such an order.
General Hyten told the Halifax International Security Council: "If it's illegal, guess what's going to happen?"
During testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, retired General Robert Kehler who served as the head of Strategic Command from January 2011 to November 2013, also said that the United States armed forces were obligated to follow legal orders, not illegal ones. "He's going to say, 'What would be legal?'" Hyten said. We think about these things a lot.
Hyten's remarks come after both speculation about the president's mental state and the ongoing possibility of some kind of nuclear exchange between the USA and North Korea, which has already developed nuclear weapons but is still developing longer-range missiles to launch them on. As head of STRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for overseeing the US nuclear arsenal. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?'
"If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail", he said. "It's not that complicated", Hyten said, as quoted by the CBS News broadcaster. "You could go to jail for the rest of your life", Hyten said.
Hyten told the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday that he and Trump have discussed what would happen if the president ordered a nuclear strike he believed to be unlawful under international law.
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The comments came after U.S. senators questioned what authority Trump had to go to war, use nuclear weapons and enter into or terminate global agreements, as tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs grows.
Kim Jong Un has repeatedly ignored warnings to cease nuclear tests, prompting Mr Trump to claim the USA could "totally destroy" North Korea. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, said Mr. Trump "can launch nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account".
'We are ready every minute of every day to respond to any event that comes out of North Korea, ' he said on Saturday.
Following his threat, the US Senate raised fears on Trump's ability to authorise a nuclear strike, as he has the power to do so when he pleases. "That's the element of deterrence that has to be clear, and it is clear", Hyten said.
He also explained that handling such a delicate and unpredictable situation - like Kim Jong Un's leadership - needs to be an global effort. Mr. Trump has continued to put pressure on China to help manage its tempestuous neighbor.
Hyten said he and Trump would work to find another course of action. While Hyten is correct that he and other senior defense officials would have the opportunity to consult on any launch if the president followed protocol, per Slate, the actual formal chain of command for nuclear launches is direct from the president to a one-star general at the National Military Command Center.