Monday, January 02, 2017
An Expert on Nuclear Nonproliferation Takes the Measure of Donald Trump
Avner Cohen is a professor of nuclear nonprolifteration studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Nuclear weapons and policy are his thing. When it comes to the idea of Donald Trump getting America's nuclear codes, professor Cohen is, in two words - scared shitless.
For more than seven decades – from the administration of President Harry S. Truman to that of outgoing President Barack Obama – a kind of political and diplomatic taboo formed in the United States: Nuclear weapons are not a subject for public discussion, and certainly not without preparation. Nuclear weapons should be treated as a special case, one that is beyond the accepted political discourse. This taboo, the product of a custom that is not enshrined in any law, is considered a means of measuring presidential responsibility.
Last month, though, in the blink of an eye, President-elect Donald Trump spit on this sacred taboo in a Twitter post. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he tweeted on December 22. There are some who say Trump is so ignorant, he is completely unaware of the power of that nuclear taboo.
Trump’s tweet was blatant defiance of a U.S. policy that goes back to the time of President Ronald Reagan, a policy five subsequent presidents have stood behind. It holds that the United States seeks to reduce nuclear arsenals and the role atomic weaponry plays in global diplomacy.
The following day, after Trump’s advisers sought to put a different spin on their boss’ foolish statement and claim that it was nothing more than a comment on the dangers of nuclear proliferation, Trump amazed the world yet again. In an interview that was meant to minimize the damage, and in response to the claim that such a tweet could spur a renewed global nuclear arms race – or at least legitimize it – the president-elect nonchalantly told a reporter: “Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” In less than 24 hours, Trump had twice violated the basic no-no of the nuclear age.
All of Trump’s tweets, including the embarrassing series of comments about a former beauty queen, demonstrate that he is impulsive, unbalanced and not in control of himself, a person responding immediately to every provocation, whether large or small, that exceeds his threshold. His responses are knee-jerk reactions and not subject to a common-sense review, whether by Trump himself or his institutional gatekeepers.
...But not only did the clearly unqualified candidate win the election; he will also take possession of the briefcase with the nuclear codes. Now he is tweeting nonsense about things he knows nothing about, on subjects his predecessors as president always treated with reverence. There’s no knowing whether Trump is tweeting his crazy thoughts to the world as a narcissistic act or one of megalomania and arrogance. But since these thoughts now have the aura of a future presidential policy, they are truly frightening.
On January 20, when Trump becomes the one with the nuclear codes, the world will be entering an era of uncertainty and fear, the likes of which it hasn’t known since the end of World War II.