The Administration

Trump’s clueless rhetoric on nukes makes US vulnerable, not safer

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Last week, the leader of the free world announced that he wanted to expand the United States’ nuclear arsenal. After being sworn into office, President Donald Trump promised the public that he would make America safe again, but bullying and intimidating nations by increasing the size of our nuclear arsenal will make the United States far less safe.  
President Trump’s reckless rhetoric on nuclear weapons goes against decades of hard fought, bipartisan, American leadership of the international nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime. Trump’s grandiosity and impulsivity to proliferate ignores longstanding bilateral and multilateral obligations and norms that have produced significant dividends and concrete progress in fostering peace and stability around the world.
{mosads}Further, his comments on expanding the nuclear arsenal, and threatening to cancel the New START Treaty, does not serve U.S. interests as it goes against longstanding efforts to promote a safer, more stable world.  It would contradict American leadership to curb nuclear proliferators like North Korea and damage our credibility in preventing other states from obtaining a nuclear weapon. 
The president needs to comprehend how dangerous his proposals are to the safety and security of the American people.  He needs to follow the advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff about the nuclear arsenal, understand the direct impact our deterrent has on our allies, and learn about the international norms that our country has worked so hard to establish — fast. 
It’s apparent that President Trump is clueless when it comes to nuclear weapons. Time and again, during the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s lack of knowledge on nuclear weapons was on display. Trump has said Russia had “outsmarted” the United States with the New START Treaty. He asserted incorrectly then that it had allowed Russia to continue to produce nuclear warheads while the United States could not.
When Trump was asked about the nuclear triad — America’s three-part system for delivering nuclear weapons (heavy bombers, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles), he appeared to not know any of the major policy questions surrounding the nuclear triad, or even what the nuclear triad is.
Trump said that he wants to ensure our arsenal is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity. We haven’t. The U.S. military has repeatedly certified that we currently field a safe, secure and effective nuclear force that provides a credible and robust deterrent, and it has plans to modernize that force. It does not need a numerical increase or new nuclear weapons.
Military leadership has made clear that the U.S. can perform deterrence with a much smaller force than we did during the Cold War and the Department of Energy can remarkably maintain and enhance the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing. 
Potential adversaries are making investments into its strategic nuclear forces based on their correlating deterrence requirements, but no nation is seeking a nuclear advantage over the United States because it would be tremendously destabilizing and expensive.
Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces, in part to ensure that they can penetrate future U.S. missile defenses. But most of Russia’s program consists of replacing old stuff with new stuff — much as the United States will be doing in the 2020s-2030’s. Further, Russia is verifiably limited to expanding its own nuclear arsenal due to the New START Treaty, an agreement that Trump incorrectly believes is a bad deal. 
China is also moving forward with strategic modernization but its nuclear arsenal is modest compared to the size of the U.S. and Russia, according to the Federation of American Scientists. None of these possible threats mandates a numerical increase in U.S. nuclear weapons.
For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have taken the position of overall strategic equivalence with Russia — or parity. It is still widely believed that it is a bad idea for the United States to break that longstanding policy and possess a nuclear advantage over Russia. 
U.S. allies have shown themselves in recent years to be deeply wedded to a balanced approach to strategic modernization. They remain in support of forceful and consistent U.S. leadership of the nuclear nonproliferation regime but they also want confidence in the U.S. commitment to a credible extended nuclear deterrent and to a stable strategic relationship with potential adversaries, like Russia. 
It is vital to ensure our strategic deterrent remains credible and to preserve its capabilities. We must carefully do so through the lens of an evolving security landscape that requires us to reevaluate our deterrence and national security strategy. 
States are improving their offensive and defense capabilities, and in kind, I believe, we ought to maintain a credible strategic edge, but not expand the size of the U.S. arsenal and move beyond a position of parity with Russia. Doing so would jeopardize strategic stability with our only existential threat and risk the safety of the American people.
Jamie Mannina is a former diplomat at the U.S. Department of State, who notably served on the U.S. negotiation team, completing and implementing the New START Treaty. He is a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton and recently served as a Defense and Foreign Policy Advisor for her 2016 presidential campaign. The views expressed are the author’s and do not imply endorsement of the United States Government.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton NATO Nuclear weapons Russia Trump Administration United States Washington D.C.

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