Had the watch officer [who correctly identified that an apparent nuclear attack in 1979 wasn’t real] come to a different conclusion, the alert would have gone all the way to the president, waking him, and giving him perhaps ten minutes to make a decision about the fate of the world with little context or background to inform that choice.
That is why I regard as seriously flawed the nuclear alert decision process – it expects the president to make this fearsome decision in minutes and with very little context. But that was how our decision process worked then, and essentially, still works today.
With such a decision process, a huge premium must be given to the context that informs the decisions made – by the watch officer, by the commander of NORAD, and by the president – and by their counterparts in the Soviet Union. Achieving context is one of the critical reasons (largely overlooked) for pursuing arms control agreements.
Perry, William. My Journey at the Nuclear Brink. Stanford Security Studies. 2015. p.53 (paperback)