THE WEEKLY STANDARD
Trump’s Nuclear TweetsWhat are the facts?Robert Joseph was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2005-2007; Eric Edelman was undersecretary of defense for policy, 2005-2009.
Of President-elect Trump’s tweets since winning the election, the one drawing the greatest criticism may well be his comment last week that the United States “must strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” The next day, his critics went downright ballistic when the president-elect reportedly made the off-camera statement: “Let it be an arms race. . . . We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” The partisans at the Ploughshares Fund and their paid-for “echo-chamber” colleagues across the disarmament community were seething that Trump’s comments could touch off an arms race and undercut strategic stability, lowering the threshold for nuclear use, possibly leading to a global holocaust. But beyond the obvious hyperbole, what are the relevant facts?
Fact one: The nuclear arms race has been going on for more than a decade, but it has been primarily a one-nation race, by Russia—unless you count China, which has been aggressively modernizing its nuclear arsenal as well. Moscow has strengthened and expanded its nuclear capability across the board. It has maintained a broad array of warfighting systems, from nuclear-armed torpedoes to short- and medium-range missiles, including the development of new capabilities that violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. At the strategic level, Russia has modernized all three legs of its triad. It has deployed, or soon will, new mobile and heavy ICBMs as well as a new class of strategic ballistic missile submarines. It has begun testing a rail-mobile ICBM, raising the prospect that it will bring back an operational concept most thought had been abandoned with the end of the Cold War. It is modernizing the air-breathing force with new cruise missiles (already tested over Syria multiple times) and an advanced heavy bomber. Moreover, Russia is developing, and may have tested, an unprecedented new nuclear weapon—a nuclear-powered torpedo with an enormously large warhead, perhaps as large as 100 megatons, whose sole purpose would be to inflict massive civilian casualties and long-term ecological damage.