'If Trump Asked, We'd Nuke China Next Week,' Says U.S. Navy Fleet Commander

Scott Swift
Then Vice Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet, speaks during the Lowy Institute foreign policy think tank in Sydney on July 16, 2013. SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty

Prominent veterans, including Vietnam War veteran John McCain, have criticized President Donald Trump in the wake of his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.

But the head of the largest fleet in the U.S. Navy, Admiral Scott Swift, was quick to swear his loyalty to the commander-in-chief Thursday, to the point that the admiral said he would hypothetically follow the president's orders to launch a nuclear missile at China.

"The answer would be: yes," said Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, when asked a question during an Australian National University security conference in the Australian capital, Canberra, the AP reported.

Related: China's new undersea drone could leave the U.S. Navy dead in the water

Swift made no suggestion that any such order had been given, but seemed to make the remark in the context of underscoring the U.S. military's oath of allegiance to whoever holds the office of the president of the United States.

"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 commander and chief appointed over us," he said.

Swift added that loyalty to the president was an important principle of civilian control over the military, since the president was elected by the U.S. population. "This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem," said Swift.

A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Charlie Brown, later said that the premise of the question was "ridiculous."

The U.S. Pacific Fleet comprises around 200 ships and submarines, almost 1,100 aircraft and more than 130,000 sailors, seamen and staff. It patrols a massive 100 million-square-mile area, stretching from the West Coast of the United States and into the Indian Ocean.

Carl Vinson
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea while conducting flight operations on April 9, 2017. Landers/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The fleet also represents the first line of U.S. defense against North Korea, the totalitarian regime that has vowed to target the American mainland with a nuclear missile. U.S. naval strike groups recently carried out joint exercises with Japanese warships in the Philippines as the war rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has continued to intensify.

After a positive meeting between the U.S. president and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago golf resort in April, relations between the two countries have soured. Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Beijing's purported reluctance to rein in North Korea, even following its first-ever test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.

Earlier in July, Trump tweeted that trade between China and North Korea had grown in the first quarter, and seemed to indicate disillusionment with Beijing.

Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2017