Did Donald Trump Just Set Off An Arms Race?

Trump stuns experts with call to expand nuclear arsenal, setting off a potentially deadly arms race.

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a call for an expanded nuclear arsenal on Thursday, stunning nuclear and security experts, according to a report by NBC News.

His tweet read: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

NBC News reports that “several experts” told them that: “While President Barack Obama has proposed a $500 billion plan to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear triad, no mainstream voices are arguing to increase the numbers of nuclear weapons beyond the 4,500 the U.S. currently possesses.”

James Acton, the Co-Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NBC News that: “The thrust of U.S. nuclear policy for decades now has been to trim the fat off the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” adding that: “At a certain point, you are just making the rubble bounce higher.”

As NBC News reports:

Acton called Trump’s tweet unprecedented, not only for its content, but for the notion that a president-elect would make a pronouncement about something so sensitive as nuclear weapons policy over a medium as casual as Twitter.

“Nuclear policy is not made on the hoof,” he said. “Because of the extraordinary implications, it is always the result of serious interagency review and careful deliberations. Allies are consulted, presidential statements pored over, words checked and double checked, crafted and re-crafted.”

But Trump doesn’t appear to do business that way.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Trump’s Twitter feed is monitored extremely closely by foreign governments and that this will cause significant heartache,” Acton said.

Joseph Cirincione, the president of global security foundation Ploughshares Fund, remarked: “Can a tweet start an arms race? This one may just have done that!”

NBC News also reports that: “Keith Payne, a former Defense Department official and longtime nuclear expert, argues that modernization is badly overdue. But even Payne doesn’t argue for expanding the number of nuclear weapons or launchers, he told NBC News in an interview. He declined to say whether he was advising the Trump team.”

As NBC News concludes in their report, Trump “seems confused about nukes” in general.

In a debate, Trump agreed with moderator Lester Holt of NBC News that nuclear weapons are of paramount importance to the U.S. — but then called for more nations to join the nuclear club. He ruled out a “first strike,” but he also revealed a willingness to use nukes and a misunderstanding of the high-stakes balancing act the nuclear superpowers have pursued for decades.

“I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over,” Trump said, referring to the use of nuclear weapons. “At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there.” […]

Trump also provoked unease during the campaign when he suggested that non-nuclear powers such as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia could be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, contradicting decades of bipartisan U.S. policy consensus.

Samuel Warde
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