The recent abandonment of a significant nuclear arms treaty with Russia was the most concrete result yet of Donald Trump’s enthusiasm to start a global nuclear arms race.
Trump has been clear that he actually relishes the prospect of a major nuclear-arms buildup. Before he even took office, he tweeted:
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
On Monday, he had this rambling, repetitive and sometimes baffling exchange with reporters (what does he mean by “come to their sense” or “get smart”?):
Q Mr. President, are you prepared to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal? You said you’re going to pull out of the arms deal.
THE PRESIDENT: Until people come to their senses, we will build it up. Until people come to their senses. Russia has not adhered to the agreement. This should’ve been done years ago. Until people come to their senses — we have more money than anybody else, by far. We’ll build it up. Until they come to their senses. When they do, then we’ll all be smart and we’ll all stop. And we’ll — and by the way, not only stop, we’ll reduce, which I would love to do. But right now, they have not adhered to the agreement.
Q Is that a threat to Vladimir Putin?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China, and it includes Russia, and it includes anybody else that wants to play that game. You can’t do that. You can’t play that game on me.
Q You want more nukes is what you’re saying? You’re building up the nuclear arsenal.
THE PRESIDENT: Until people get smart. Until they get smart. They have not adhered to the spirit of that agreement, or to the agreement itself — Russia. China is not included in the agreement. They should be included in the agreement. Until they get smart, there will be nobody that’s going to be even close to us.
Even though it’s the only political issue that could kill us all any day now, nuclear weapons policy has gotten very little attention in Washington over the past several decades.
(Barack Obama, despite his soaring speech in Prague in 2009 extolling “a world without nuclear weapons,” quietly put in place a plan to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades on a whole new generation of nuclear warheads, bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.)
But the Los Angeles Times reports today that California soon-to-step-down Gov. Jerry Brown is coming to Washington to sound the alarm. “My fellow politicians are totally asleep here,” Brown told John Myers. “We’re in a real predicament.”
Few topics produce more fiery rhetoric from Jerry Brown, delivered with equal doses of exhortation and exasperation, than the threat posed by nuclear weapons. And as he exits the state’s political stage, California’s governor will expand his role in the global debate over nuclear disarmament.
Brown accepted an invitation Thursday to become the executive chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Chicago-based organization best known for its Doomsday Clock that is reset periodically to measure the threat of global annihilation. He will join the group’s leaders at their next meeting in early November.
“There’s no doubt we’re at one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous point, since the atomic bomb was first dropped,” Brown said in an interview. “There’s great and mounting hostility.”
Brown identified Trump’s new national security advisor, John Bolton, as a particular nemesis. “He is dedicated to tearing up all the nuclear agreements,” Brown told Myers. “Nuclear deterrence only works if there’s arms control.” (See this Politico story about how much Bolton loves tearing up treaties.)
Brown’s new organization ticked the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock up 30 second to two minutes from midnight earlier this year, presumably in part because of Trump’s boasting that his “nuclear button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than North Korea’s – and in part because of his overall flightiness.
The Bulletin also published a Q&A with its new leader. Brown said:
I think it’s crucial to wake people up to the dangers that still persist so many years after the dropping of the first atomic bomb. The peril grows and in no way diminishes. I think it’s important that scientists, political leaders, and other people who have positions of responsibility take the time to understand and probe into the basic issues that, if not handled right, could eliminate the whole human race.
And he had an interesting observation about why the topic gets so little media attention:
Unfortunately, the news in the so-called democratic societies, particularly in America, is a function of conflict. It’s the conflict engendered by the president or against the president through tweets, through congressional battles. That dominates a lot of news, and the risk of the end of the world is not news. The risk of even great catastrophe is not news. Smaller issues are.
Incidentally, Foreign Affairs is just out with a new issue all about nuclear weapons. It asks, somewhat perplexingly: “Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?”