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File photo of Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Ex-general says nuclear launch order can be refused

A former senior U.S. military officer said an order from the president to launch nuclear weapons can be refused if that command is determined to be illegal.

Retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday the U.S. armed forces are obligated to follow legal orders, not illegal ones.

Kehler served as commander of Strategic Command from January 2011 to November 2013.

He said the legal principles of military necessity, distinction and proportionality also apply to decisions about the use of nuclear weapons.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., asked Kehler if that meant the top officer at Strategic Command can deny the president’s order if it fails those tests.

Kehler said, “Yes.” But he said that would lead to a “very difficult conversation.”

Watch Tuesday’s full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

View two excerpts from the hearing:

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