The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet confirmed he would comply with an order by President Donald Trump to conduct a nuclear strike on China.
Adm. Scott Swift was asked a hypothetical question about the possibility Thursday during an event in Australia, and he said his answer reflected the principle of civilian control over the military, reported the New York Times.
“The answer would be yes,” Scott said.
“Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as the commander in chief appointed over us,” he explained.
A spokesman for the Pacific Fleet later described the hypothetical question as “ridiculous,” and he clarified the admiral had not raised the topic himself.
“Perhaps he more forcefully could have refuted the hypothetical,” said Capt. Charlie Brown, the fleet spokesman. “He was trying to find an opportunity to use it to deliver a message on something positive, and that was the answer he gave on civilian control.”
The head of the National Security College, which hosted the talk at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Swift had been put on the spot by the question.
“Admiral Swift answered the question the only way a serving military officer could,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the college. “It would have been a lot more controversial if he had said, no, he would not obey the commander in chief.”
China’s nuclear arsenal is smaller than the U.S. or Russia, and its public policy prohibits first strike or use against a non-nuclear nation, although a Chinese military official said in 2005 that Beijing should consider using the weapons against the U.S. if it intervened in a conflict with Taiwan.