DONALD TRUMP HAS released many bizarre and disturbing tweets in recent months, none more alarming than his statements in December that the “U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
Commentators were dumfounded by the messages, which seemed to come out of nowhere, and dismissed them as bluster not to be taken seriously. The tweets were deeply troubling, however, and indicate that the new president is ignorant of nuclear realities and intent on ratcheting up nuclear spending and challenging others to keep up.
Thankfully, the potential competitors in such a contest seem uninterested. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during his annual press conference the day after Trump’s messages that Russia will reduce military spending next year as it adjusts to economic recession at home. China has indicated no change in its longstanding policy of maintaining a small but capable nuclear force. Trump may be ready for an arms race, but as of now his rivals seem to have no interest in running.
Nuclear bravado can change these calculations, however, especially if it is accompanied by substantial increases in spending for new weapons. Trump has promised to give more money to the military and bolster nuclear capability. U.S. weapons makers Boeing and Lockheed are competing for multibillion-dollar contracts to replace and upgrade the U.S. land-based missile force. Former Defense Secretary William Perry has argued that the plan to rebuild nuclear missiles is wasteful, unnecessary, and dangerous.