Nuclear briefcase

Nuclear briefcase

Nuclear briefcase is a specially outfitted briefcase used to authorize the use of nuclear weapons.


United States

The Nuclear Football (also called the Atomic Football, Nuclear Lunchbox, President's Emergency Satchel, The Button, The Teal Button, The Black Box, or just The Football) is a black briefcase, the contents of which is to be used by the President of the United States of America to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room. It functions as a mobile hub in the strategic defense system of the United States.


Russian "nuclear briefcase" is code-named Cheget. It is connected to the special communications system code-named Kavkaz, which "supports communication between senior government officials while they are making the decision whether to use nuclear weapons, and in its own turn is plugged into the special communication system Kazbek, which embraces all the individuals and agencies involved in command and control of the Strategic Nuclear Forces." It is usually assumed, although not known with certainty, that the nuclear briefcases are also issued to the Minister of Defense and the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Federation.[1][2]

United Kingdom

The precise details of how a British Prime Minister would authorize a nuclear strike remain secret. However, in declassified reports on the Polaris system, the Prime Minister would send an authentication code which could be verified by the Royal Navy at Northwood. The precise means for doing this away from Downing Street remains secret. The Commander in Chief would then broadcast a firing order to the ballistic missile submarines via the Very Low Frequency radio station at Rugby. Prior to 1997, the UK had not deployed control equipment requiring codes to be sent before weapons can be used, such as the U.S. Permissive Action Link, to preclude the possibility that military officers could launch British nuclear weapons without authorization. The present status of such authorisation links again remains secret.[3][4][5]

The precise level of individual control by a Prime Minister over a nuclear strike is also uncertain, it is thought the ultimate authority of the attack launch is the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Former Chief of the Defence Staff (most senior officer of all British armed forces) and Chief of the General Staff (most senior officer in the British Army), General The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, explained that the highest level of safeguard was against a prime minister ordering a launch without due cause: Lord Guthrie stated that the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom provided some protection against such an occurrence, as while the Prime Minister is the chief executive and so practically commands the armed services, the ultimate commander-in-chief is the Monarch, to whom the Chief of the Defence staff could appeal: "the chief of the defence staff, if he really did think the prime minister had gone mad, would make quite sure that that order was not obeyed... You have to remember that actually prime ministers give direction, they tell the chief of the defence staff what they want, but it's not prime ministers who actually tell a sailor to press a button in the middle of the Atlantic. The armed forces are loyal, and we live in a democracy, but actually their ultimate authority is the Queen."[6]


  1. ^ Adventures of the "Nuclear Briefcase": A Russian Document Analysis, Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 9 (September 2004), by Mikhail Tsypkin
  2. ^ A 2nd Briefcase for Putin By Alexander Golts, Moscow Times, 20 May 2008
  3. ^ Ministry of Defence (UK) (15 November 2007). "Nuclear weapons security - MoD statement". BBC Newsnight. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  4. ^ British nuclear weapon control (streaming video), Susan Watts, BBC Newsnight, November 2007
  5. ^ British nukes protected by bicycle lock keys BBC press release, November 15 2007
  6. ^ Knight, Richard (2008-12-02). "Whose hand is on the button?". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 

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