Donald Trump's Tweet About Nuclear Expansion Has Experts Freaking Out

December 22nd 2016

Mike Rothschild

On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump sent nuclear proliferation experts and foreign policy wonks into an apocalyptic spiral with just one tweet:

At first glance, Trump's tweet appears to fly in the face of the United States' policy of reducing its nuclear stockpile. After ballooning to over 30,000 nuclear warheads in the mid-1960s, the U.S. has been steadily drawing down, reaching a historic low of about 4,500.

The second part of the tweet seems to contradict Trump's campaign statements that other nations, including Japan and South Korea, should develop nuclear weapons to ensure their own protection (a statement he later claimed he never made).

While many of the responses were of the garden "we're all going to die" variety, the immediacy of Twitter allowed experts in the field to weigh in.

Kingston Reif, Director of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy for the non-partisan Arms Control Association pointed out that the United States was already engaged in a large-scale refurbishment and modernizing of its nuclear arsenal, meaning Trump was claiming he was going to something that Barack Obama was already doing:

Naval War College professor Tom Nichols echoed Reif, using a reference to Star Trek's fictional weapons:

Consultant and nuclear policy analyst Steven Schwartz took issue with the second part of Trump's statement, and referred to a recently passed U.N. resolution where the vast majority of non-nuclear states voted to outlaw the weapons — with every nuclear state but North Korea voting against it. According to Schwartz, the world has already "come to its senses."

Carnegie Endowment Senior Fellow and national security consultant James Acton wondered what the point of increasing the United States' already-large nuclear stockpile was:

A number of reporters and experts pointed out that virtually the exact same thing had been said by Vladimir Putin the day before. Independent journalist and researcher Sarah Kendzior put the two statements side by side to prove they were essentially identical:

If the case is indeed that Trump wants to build up the U.S. nuclear stockpile as a response to Russia doing the same, it would spark not just a reversal of decades of disarmament, but a new Cold War-like arms race.

Brookings Institute scholar and retired diplomat Steven Pifer wondered if Trump and Putin even understand the scope of their nuclear capabilities:

Editor of the journal Nonproliferation Review, Joshua Pollack, tweeted about the kind of nuclear supremacy that Trump and Putin appeared to be engaged in as an unwinnable battle that puts the onus of restraint on the rest of the world:

But Kendzior herself offered a different possibility: a nuclear partnership between Russia and the U.S., agreeing to use their weapons on third parties:

It's not clear right now whether Trump's tweet represents some kind of new Cold War, or just another case of blustering. But having the two nations that control over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons both declare that they need more appears to be extremely disconcerting for those that work to curb their proliferation.