I heard that in some countries simultaneous agreement of several officials is needed to use nuclear weapons. For instance, the head of state, the chief of staff and the minister of defense. Unless the key sequence is activated by these three, the weapons will not launch.

What is the procedure in other countries around the world?

  • USA

    The United States has a two-man rule in place, and while only the president can order the release of nuclear weapons, the order must be confirmed by the Secretary of Defense (there is a hierarchy of succession in the event that the president is killed in an attack). Once all the codes have been verified, the military would issue attack orders to the proper units. These orders are given and then re-verified for authenticity. (Source: Wiki)

    Please note that this is just verification of confirmation, NOT "Keying".

  • China


    China's nuclear command is one of the toughest in the world. The highest authority to issue launching orders rests in the hands of Chairman of the CMC, a position equivalent to commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces. Currently, the CMC's chairman it Jiang Zemin, who is also concurrently the Party's General Secretary and head of state.

    In deciding whether to use nuclear weapons, Jiang certainly has to consult other powerful figures in the Party, particularly the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee and the two vice-chairmen of the CMC, namely Zhang Wannian and Chi Haotian. The CMC's two former deputy chain, Admiral Liu Huaqing, who sat in the Politburo Standing Commit-tee as the highest ranking military officer until September 1997, and General Zhang Zhen, who is now the most senior PLA elder and attracts high respect from all major commanders in the PLA, would very likely be consulted!

    Theoretically, the use of nuclear weapons has to be discussed in the joint meetings of the seven.member Politburo Standing

    (source: "The Armed Forces of China" By You Ji; and that book references another work but the reference page isn't available on Google books).

    Obviously, the current position holders are somewhat out of date - it's a slightly older book.

  • United (by a slim margin of Scottish votes) Kingdom

    In the grand tradition of marauding knights and 007, it's pretty much free-for-all. Individual commanders can launch Trident missiles. As the old Russian joke goes: "Sailors!!! Who was dusting the submarine control room!?!?! You, Petroff? Here's an eraser, here's the map, go erase America you dolt!"

    Until 1998, when it was withdrawn from service, the WE.177 bomb was armed with a standard tubular pin tumbler lock (as used on bicycle locks) and a standard allen key was used to set yield and burst height. Currently, British Trident commanders are able to launch their missiles without authorisation, whereas their American colleagues cannot. At the end of the Cold War the U.S. Fail Safe Commission recommended installing devices to prevent rogue commanders persuading their crews to launch unauthorised nuclear attacks. This was endorsed by the Nuclear Posture Review and Trident Coded Control Devices were fitted to all U.S. SSBNs by 1997. These devices prevented an attack until a launch code had been sent by the Chiefs of Staff on behalf of the President. The UK took a decision not to install Trident CCDs or their equivalent on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to wipe out the British chain of command before a launch order had been sent.[81][82][83] (Source: Wiki)

    In terms of political decision-making, there don't seem to be any details describing that it requires MORE than PM's decison:

    The precise details of how a British Prime Minister would authorise a nuclear strike remain secret, although the principles of the Trident control system is believed to be based on the plan set up for Polaris in 1968, which has now been declassified. A closed-circuit television system was set up between 10 Downing Street and the Polaris Control Officer at the Northwood Headquarters of the Royal Navy. Both the Prime Minister and the Polaris Control Officer would be able to see each other on their monitors when the command was given. If the link failed – for instance during a nuclear attack or when the PM was away from Downing Street – the Prime Minister would send an authentication code which could be verified at Northwood. The Commander in Chief would then broadcast a firing order to the Polaris submarines via the Very Low Frequency radio station at Rugby. The UK has not deployed control equipment requiring codes to be sent before weapons can be used, such as the U.S. Permissive Action Link, which if installed would preclude the possibility that military officers could launch British nuclear weapons without authorisation.

  • 1
    I was unable to find any details on France.
    – user4012
    Oct 21 '14 at 12:12
  • This journal article should have the details for France. Unfortunately my local library doesn't subscribe to the Taylor & Francis collection; and I've not bothered to purchase community membership for my state university's library. Perhaps one of your local/state libraries subscribe to this collection. Oct 22 '14 at 5:55

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