On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter again and seems to be calling for a new round of nuclear proliferation until “the world comes to its senses.”
Specifically, Trump said “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
Most would argue that calling for expanding nuclear capability signals to the world that the United States needs to come to its senses. But apparently, the President-elect sees it exactly the opposite way.
In a later statement, Trump transition team spokesperson Jason Miller said Trump “was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable rogue regimes.”
“He has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength,” Miller added. While Miller’s statement seeks to clarify the President-elect’s tweet, it seems more like a rewriting of Trump’s words, particularly to the arms control community, which has roundly criticized Trump’s statement.
Trump’s tweet has been roundly criticized since he sent it by arms control advocates, lawmakers, and even Hollywood. “This is how arms races begin,” said Joe Cirincioine, president of nuclear nonproliferation group the Ploughshares Fund.
Similarly, The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation tweeted: “you are proposing a new nuclear arms race. The consequences of “expanding nuke capability” could be global disaster.”
.@realDonaldTrump you are proposing a new nuclear arms race. The consequences of "expanding nuke capability" could be global disaster.
— Nukes of Hazard (@nukes_of_hazard) December 22, 2016
.@realDonaldTrump, Reagan & even your friend Nixon knew better,“ tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “Nuke arms race = dangerous, expensive & bad for America. True then, true now.”
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) December 22, 2016
Even Hollywood got into the act with George Takei tweeting, “Trump wants to expand our nuclear arsenal. I think of my aunt and baby cousin, found burnt in a ditch in Hiroshima. These weapons must go.”
Trump wants to expand our nuclear arsenal. I think of my aunt and baby cousin, found burnt in a ditch in Hiroshima. These weapons must go.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) December 22, 2016
Arms-control groups said that it was unclear what Trump meant by expanding and strengthening nuclear capability, but listed several possible scenarios, among them, building more nuclear capable systems than planned under the current modernization efforts; having nuclear capable systems carry the maximum number of warheads possible; creating bombs with more kilotons of nuclear power; and increasing the number of warheads in the nuclear arsenal.
It is also unclear what prompted Trump’s tweet. As with his other tweets and positions, while vague, they are almost always tied to something that he either heard or saw virtually contemporaneously.
In this case, the tweet came after Trump met with the chief executives of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two of the country’s biggest nuclear weapons contractors. The two are in competition, along with Northrop Grumman, for an $85 billion project to build the next generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles for the Air Force.
Trump’s tweet also came within hours of Russian President Vladimir Putin making a statement of his own regarding strengthening his country’s nuclear capabilities. “We need to strengthen the strategic nuclear forces, for that we should develop missiles capable of penetrating any current and prospective missile defense systems,” Putin said at a Russian Defense Ministry meeting, according to Russian news agency TASS.
Meanwhile, Circincione said that “The U.S. and Russia have about 95 percent of all nukes in the world. Everybody else pales in comparison. If two big guys start taking about growing, that’s a signal for every else to start their engines.”
“I’m struck by the literally hundreds of national security leaders and experts, most of them Republican, who warned that this guy cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons,” said Derek Johnson, executive director of Golbal Zero, adding, “This tweet suggests they were right.”
Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, said the United States’ current modernization efforts are already “unnecessary and unaffordable,” and that expansion would make it worse.
“This not a direction the United States needs to be going now,” she said. “These comments coming from Putin are unsurprising based on Putin’s actions over the last couple months. What is unfortunate is Donald Trump entering into this same vein.”