US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift was responding to a hypothetical question at an Australian National University security conference following a major joint US-Australian military exercise off the Australian coast. The drills were monitored by a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off northeast Australia.
Asked by an academic in the audience whether he would make a nuclear attack on China next week if Trump ordered it, Swift replied: “The answer would be: Yes.”
“Every member of the US 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 commander and chief appointed over us,” Swift said.
“This is core to the American democracy and anytime you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem,” he added.
Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt Charlie Brown later said Swift’s answer reaffirmed the principle of civilian control over the military.
The biennial Talisman Saber exercise involved 36 warships including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 220 aircraft and 33,000 military personnel. It was monitored by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy Type 815 Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence vessel from within Australia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Swift said China had similarly sent an intelligence ship into the US exclusive economic zone around Hawaii during the Pacific Fleet-hosted multinational naval exercise in 2014. China had a legal right to enter the American economic zone for military purposes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — or UNCLOS— which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations sailing the world’s oceans, he said.