Nuclear security experts are nervous about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency.
Former officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations are expressing concern over what they describe as Trump’s cavalier rhetoric about using nuclear weapons and potentially allowing them to be obtained by U.S. allies.
“This is the most dangerous thing that he has said, among many dangerous and stupid things,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, 26-year veteran of the State Department who worked on nonproliferation issues under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The narrative is damaging to Trump because it plays right into the hands of Hillary Clinton and her supporters, who say that Trump’s inexperienced hand makes him too dangerous a liability for the White House.
At the Pentagon on Thursday, President Obama responded directly to concerns that Trump was woefully unprepared to man the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
“Just listen to what Mr. Trump has to say and make your own judgment with respect to how confident you feel about his ability to manage things like our nuclear triad,” Obama said, referring to the three-pronged set of air, land and sea defenses that have been the backbone of nuclear weapons policy for a generation. During a Republican primary debate, Trump appeared not to be aware of the concept.
Earlier in the week, Obama called Trump “unfit” to serve as commander-in-chief, and his comments have been underlined by some Republicans.
Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.) described Trump as a “sociopath” in an email to NBC News, calling him “pathologically insecure.”
“To imagine Trump in charge of our armed forces at a moment of crisis is frightening,” Humphrey added.
he Hill spoke to more than half-a-dozen nuclear weapons experts for this story. All expressed a level of concern or anxiety about Trump’s control of nuclear weapons and his leadership of global nonproliferation.
“This could really trigger nuclear wars that could end mankind. Is that what he wants?” said Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the U.S. office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who has been publicly critical of Trump in the past. “Talking about nuclear weapons the way he talked about it is not rational.”
Trump’s position on nuclear weapons were scrutinized again this week, following remarks by MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, that the GOP nominee had repeatedly asked a foreign policy briefer why the U.S. could not use its vast nuclear arsenal.
“When it comes to nuclear weapons, [lack of] message discipline is a policy weakness,” added James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is unaligned on the presidential race.
Trump has been willing to talk more openly about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a future conflict than other politicians before him.
Not only might he be willing to use nuclear weapons in a conflict in Europe, he has said, but he might employ them in a fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” he said on MSNBC in March.
The suggestion is a dramatic escalation in the conception of how nuclear weapons are used.
Trump has repeatedly tried to maintain an aura of unpredictability, claiming that there is power in keeping adversaries guessing. But there’s also a risk, his critics claim, if no one knows when the line is crossed.
“Uncertainty in this business is a dangerous thing,” said John Noonan, a former national security advisor to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney who has opposed Trump’s campaign, on MSNBC this week. Noonan has signed an open letter from dozens of Republican national security officials pledging not to support Trump.
“It’s fundamentally dangerous.”
(Excerpted from The Hill 8/06/16)