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Why the absence of Donald Trump in the inauguration of Joe Biden forced to modify the delivery of the nuclear codes

Members of the armed forces board the presidential helicopter with the "nuclear balloon", which contains the codes to launch an attack of that caliber.  Photo: REUTERS / Leah Millis
Members of the armed forces board the presidential helicopter with the “nuclear balloon,” which contains the codes to launch an attack of that caliber. Photo: REUTERS / Leah Millis

Donald Trump’s refusal to participate in Joe Biden’s transfer of command and inauguration had not only symbolic effects – it was the first time in more than 150 years that a president behaved in this way – but also practical. Among them, the change in the way of transferring the nuclear codes that always accompany the president and allow launching an attack of that caliber was highlighted..

The codes were given to Biden after he became the 46th president of the United States. But given the special circumstances, for the first time in history this transfer – which is usually done discreetly on the investiture stage – required a two-stage scheme.

The last time that the outgoing president did not attend the swearing in of his successor took place in 1869. Since nuclear weapons did not exist, such a situation did not occur. ANDhe first president in the country’s history to have access to this tool was John F. Kennedy.

On this occasion, the authorities had to create a copy of the 20-kilo briefcase containing the codes, considering that on Wednesday morning, when he flew from the Andrews military base to his residence in Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump was still president. As such, he was followed by a military aide who carried the famous “ball” and had a small plastic card containing the nuclear codes, nicknamed the “cookie.”

The 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden.  Photo: Erin Schaff / via REUTERS
The 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden. Photo: Erin Schaff / via REUTERS

At the same time in Washington, another military assistant, with another suitcase and another “cookie”, took his place on the platform erected on the steps of the Capitol – the seat of Congress – for the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Exactly at noon (local time), while traditionally the military assistant to the outgoing president must deliver the suitcase to his peer to the new president, this time Donald Trump’s “cookie” was simply deactivated. Simultaneously, a new key was attributed to Joe Biden and activated in Washington, officially giving the 46th president of the United States absolute power to use nuclear weapons.

Local media had reported that the Pentagon had already designed a strategy, considering that Trump had anticipated his reluctance to be part of the ceremony.

It is said that the briefcase contains a list with the different alternatives for a nuclear retaliation that the country can implement, the “cookie” and an emergency transmission system that allows the president to communicate his orders.

The tool, however, serves as backup for when the president is away from the command centers where he can carry out the same action in a protected manner and surrounded by specialized advisers, such as the “Situation Room”.

And the president’s would not be the only briefcase. Reports indicate that in fact there are three: in addition to the one assigned to the president, one is available for the vice president and another for the “designated survivor”, that official or cabinet official who would assume the head of the Executive Power if the president and vice president they cannot fulfill their functions.

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About the author

Kim Diaz

Kim recently joined the team, and she writes for the Headline column of the website. She has done major in English, and a having a diploma in Journalism.

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