Donald Trump, the Keeper of the Launch Codes

It is unfortunate that Donald Trump is not only inexperienced in international politics but apparently unable to source let alone understand readily available information.

In the second Presidential debate Trump made a silly claim about the US standing with nuclear weapons which suggests either he lacked informed advisors or alternately that he was unable to understand what they were saying.

“Our nuclear program has fallen way behind. And [Russia has] gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good,” he told the audience “Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We are tired. We are exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Anyone who followed what the public statements on US current policy have been saying would know he was simply wrong. The Pentagon has made it clear that the government are actually well underway with modernizing all three dimensions of its nuclear triad.    In the sea U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), armed with Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) are being upgraded; the U.S. Air Force’s Cold-War era B-52 strategic bombers that carry the nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) are being replaced; and the Air Force’s land based intercontinental ballistic missiles are being modernized.

A few months ago Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, and high profile political talk show host on US television told of how Trump asked a foreign policy expert three times why the United States couldn’t use nuclear weapons if he becomes president. Mr Trump, the Republican nominee, was said to have posed the question during an hour-long briefing on foreign affairs. Now several months later Trump is still uninformed and is apparently so unaware of the recent history of nuclear weapons  he is continuing to argue that the US needs to expand its nuclear weaponry arsenal and has horrified the strategists by suggesting the US should encourage US friendly nations to gain their own nuclear weapons.

At an election campaign meeting moderated by CNN in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the world heard the Donald speak in defense of his claim that some pro US allies should develop nuclear capability. “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself.”

In case anyone shares Donald Trump’s naivety, just a few short years ago when the nuclear armory had reached the point of being out of control, there was an acknowledged genuine danger that terrorists were on the point of being able to access nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t enough at one stage the so called dirty bombs – ie ordinary bombs packed with nuclear waste were being deployed by Israel. In addition a low yield “suitcase” nuclear bomb was reportedly stolen from the Russians and the number of nuclear warheads being deployed had risen to the point where even the US could no longer guarantee that they would they were secure.    A small number of warheads were lost in accidents and the rest had the potential of being misfired or even stolen from silos or other launch platforms.   The US reduction to 4500 warheads and 1500 deployed warheads with a close match on the part of Russia represents a hard won reduction over at least two decades and the notion of returning to an uncontrolled arms race is a chilling prospect.

In any event, there has always been a serious weakness in that the manufacture of a primitive Hiroshima or Nagasaki type weapon is dependent on large quantities of Uranium ore as a starting material. The problem is that when the truck carrying the ore is checked in and weighed at that the processing plant, on the way out if the truck is carrying a small amount of smuggled weapons grade Plutonium it is such a small amount, and such a small fraction of the original load it is hard to be sure that no smuggling has taken place.

It may have escaped Trump’s notice that having access to nuclear weapons works both ways.  When North Korea took the hint and developed a small nuclear capability, the so called “Axis of Evil” not withstanding, even the belligerent George W Bush was cautious about dealing to North Korea as he had done to Iraq. If Donald Trump is correct that the US having nuclear weapons makes it hard for enemies, surely the converse is equally true.

The other problem which was already being addressed by President Obama was that it is currently easy for the President to make a snap decision to launch a nuclear attack in very short order. Obama quite correctly claimed this increases the possibility of reacting prematurely to false information and launch accidental nuclear war.   Could a President be misinformed?   Do you remember the Bay of Pigs?…JFK was quite cross about the misinformation on that one!  George W Bush was presumably inadequately briefed on Iraq’s   Weapons of Mass Destruction?…What sort of Twitter informed choices might a President make particularly if he or she were to boast that they didn’t even need daily intelligence briefings?

Hearing Donald Trump, who expects to have the right to press the button … and already claims he does not need daily intelligence briefings …. now boasting that he wants to be seen as unpredictable hardly fills me with confidence.  Perhaps we might reflect on the words of H R Haldeman in another context when he was quoted as saying:  “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube it is awfully hard to get it back in

The assumption Trump makes is that a powerful US will frighten potential enemies into submission by force if necessary. Let’s see now. Where has that been tried? Cuba…that was very close.    Vietnam? Afghanistan, Iraq? I thought it was generally agreed that invading Iraq using extreme force justified on the basis of poor information tripled world terrorist activity.

However the discussion is now open. Is Trump actually right or simply far right?

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