Trump’s dangerous talk of nuclear proliferation
US president’s desire to expand stockpiles ignores decades of global disarmament measures and the risk of an accident or disaster
Provocative statements by Donald Trump’s administration towards America’s rivals heightens the risk of conflict. China, Russia and Iran have been among the targets, with unspecified threats and a pledge for nuclear proliferation. The sentiments hark back to the cold war, when the world was gripped by tension between the US and the Soviet Union. The logic of that era – outmatch adversaries with missile and atomic bomb strength or risk a pre-emptive strike – endangers global stability.
Trump’s foreign policy has yet to be laid out, although he and his team have variously criticised Chinese trade and South China Sea territorial claims and the nuclear proliferation of North Korea and Iran. But few words could be as worrying as his views on nuclear weapons made in a Twitter posting on December 22: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” His tweet came the same day as Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country needed to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces”. China and Iran have since tested new missiles, in the Chinese case successfully; its Dongfeng-5C long-range rocket is capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads.
China’s test was not a direct response to the rhetoric; advanced missiles and warheads take years to develop. But coming amid the uncertainty created by Trump’s lack of regard for long-established US foreign policy principles and his country’s construction in South Korea of an anti-missile system that is as much a threat to Beijing’s interests as the intended target of North Korea, the timing was significant.
But the Chinese nuclear arsenal, believed to number about 250 weapons, is dwarfed by the 7,100 of the US and 7,300 of Russia. Trump’s desire to expand stockpiles ignores decades of global disarmament measures and the risk of an accident or disaster. Nuclear-capable nations should instead be scrapping weapons and resorting to diplomacy and treaties.