President Trump: When Dangerous Policies are Made More Dangerous

Time and time again, presidential nominee Donald Trump stumbles over basic nuclear policies that have been in effect for years and can’t answer questions about his — or any — nuclear strategy. As we sit eager with anticipation for the third and final presidential debate, I thought maybe we can get ahead of a misleading soundbite Trump has repeatedly turned to when speaking on nuclear weapons.

In a response to a question about the Syrian humanitarian crisis in the last debate, Donald Trump claimed the U.S. was falling behind Russia with no care to our global posture and our weapons’ premier status. He said, “…she [Clinton] talks tough against Russia. But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.”

Trump also referenced the perceived disparity at an Atlanta campaign event back in June: “[Putin’s] military is much stronger. He’s doing nuclear, we’re not doing anything. Our nuclear is old and tired and his nuclear is tippy-top from what I hear. Better be careful, folks, okay? You better be careful.”

I hate to break it to you, Mr. Trump, but the U.S. has plans to fund a massive modernization overhaul to our nuclear arsenal. This program is estimated to roll out at $1 trillion over the next thirty years. Not only have we not “fallen behind,” we’re on track to spend money we don’t have on unnecessary nuclear upgrades.

The trillion dollar budget doesn’t just cover minutia of our current nuclear technology. We have plans for costly projects that would modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad, including:

  • Over $85 billion for the new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent — replacing the current Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles;
  • $140 billion for 12 ballistic missile submarines, called SSBN(X), to replace the current fleet;
  • $55 billion for the new long-range strike bomber;
  • $20–30 billion to develop new nuclear capable cruise missiles (Long-Range Standoff weapon, or LRSO), replacing and doubling the existing fleet of air-launched cruise missiles.

That’s a lot on the table for “not doing anything.” Trump’s insistence that Russia is building its nuclear arsenal while we sit on our hands reaffirms his basic lack of understanding of nuclear systems.

He did get one thing right: Russia does have newer nuclear weapons. But this would only be meaningful if you were to consider the timestamp and nothing else. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of the Arms Control Wonk, explains, “Russians made a really different design choice [on ICBMs] than we did. Russia built nuclear weapons that are incremental improvements…[Their] nuclear weapons are newer, true, but they reflect the design philosophy that says ‘No reason to make it super fancy because we’ll just rebuild it in 10 years.’”

Russia’s rolling modernization plan only looks imposing to Trump because of his shallow proclivity to things new and shiny. When examined at a deeper level, the two arsenals are, in fact, just on different timelines.

Lewis goes on to say that U.S. Strategic Command leaders, military officers in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, have said for decades that given a choice between Russian and American nukes, they’d choose U.S. missiles every time. This expert “choice” is dependent upon more than just when a weapon was made, leaving Trump and his claims in poor company.

Donald Trump’s repeated errors are very concerning, especially due to the platform he has as a presidential nominee. His mischaracterization and reckless, inaccurate comparison employ the all-too-familiar rhetoric of a second nuclear arms race. This cannot be tolerated. False or misleading statements should not dictate the next 4 years of U.S. leadership or even the next 3 weeks of the election.

Donald Trump is a walking national security risk, threatening to usher in an era of tense nuclear weapons build-up, knocking the country back into the last century. Unpredictable, unchecked, and irresponsible do not mix well with nuclear weapons. Anything less than intelligent discourse, rationality, and restraint from our president risks a dangerous nuclear arms race and increases the possibility nuclear weapons will be used again.