Former Pentagon chief: Defense secretary couldn’t stop Trump if he wants nuclear war

Former Pentagon chief: Defense secretary couldn’t stop Trump if he wants nuclear war
© Greg Nash

Bill Perry, who served as secretary of Defense under President Clinton, said in a new interview current Pentagon chief James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE couldn’t stop President Trump if Trump decides to launch a nuclear strike. 

“What is clear, is that the secretary of Defense does not have veto power on it. This is a decision of the president’s,” Perry told Politico’s “Off Message” podcast.

While the president could consult the Defense secretary during the minutes he is making the decision, the Cabinet member serves in an advisory role, Perry said.


“The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command. The Defense secretary is not necessarily in that loop,” Perry said in the interview.

“So in a five- or six- or seven-minute kind of decision process, the secretary of Defense probably never hears about it until it’s too late. If there is time, and if he does consult the secretary, it’s advisory, just that.”

Perry said he sees Mattis and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE, as “a stabilizing influence” within the Trump administration. Perry noted that Mattis worked for him when he helmed the Pentagon in the 1990s.

“I’m not really comfortable with anybody. But I do feel that Jim Mattis and I think also perhaps Secretary Tillerson, who I don’t know as well, represent a stabilizing influence in the administration,” Perry said.

“For whatever that’s worth. They’re not the ones who make the decision, final decisions, on grave national security issues. That’s made by the president,” he said.

But the former Defense secretary voiced his concerns over the possibility of nuclear war, which he says has increased. 

“I think it’s become more probable in the last year, partly because of President Trump, partly because of events happening which he really is not responsible for,” Perry said. “But I think the danger is increasing.”