Donald Trump won over enough Americans with his spontaneous mannerisms to become president against all odds. However, his tendency to “go rogue” brings apprehension for those who imagine his fingers on the red button. Further, Trump very quickly showed a fondness for policy reversals once elected, and an inability to stick with a stance on, say, nuclear weapons, could be both disconcerting and deadly. Despite the seriousness of this matter, Trump has issued a number of staggeringly inconsistent statements on nukes, so let’s run through all of the big ones.
Candidate Trump Called Himself “The Last Person” To Use A Nuke: In June 2016, Trump told Bill O’Reilly that although he couldn’t “take cards off the table” when it comes to foreign policy, he couldn’t stomach the thought of using nuclear weapons. Trump declared, “The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That’s the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible.”
Yet He Ultimately Favored Stockpiling Nukes As “A Necessary Evil”: By February 2017, Trump’s newly presidential rhetoric shifted to doom-and-gloom in a Reuters interview, in which he stressed the importance of staying at the “top of the pack” for nuclear capabilities even though “a dream would be that no country would have nukes.” Trump also vowed, “We’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”
Trump’s Baffling (And Reported) Confusion: In August 2016, Morning Joe sounded alarm bells from former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, who expressed fear over Trump’s “inconsistency and unpredictability” on foreign policy. Joe Scarborough claimed to have spoken with a foreign-policy expert who relayed Trump bewilderment on the purpose of stockpiling nukes: “Three times, [Trump] asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’ Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?'”
He Called For An “Arms Race” While Swashbuckling With Putin: In December 2016, the president-elect and Vladimir Putin began simultaneously signaling that they wanted to expand their respective country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” The next day, Morning Joe‘s Mika Brzezinski claimed that Trump provided her with a clarification of his words: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass.”
Trump Once Fretted That U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Might Not Work: In July 2016, Trump told the New York Times, “We have nuclear arsenals which are in very terrible shape. They don’t even know if they work.” A few months later in December, 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.”
Trump Later Claimed That He’s Essentially Fixed The Arsenal: In August 2017, Trump declared that his first presidential directive “was to renovate and modernize” the U.S. stockpile of nukes. He stated that as a result, “It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” Trump added, “Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” but he was relieved to say that “there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
Trump Previously Believed That The World Knew No Bigger Threat Than Nuclear Proliferation: In March 2016, Trump told the New York Times, “[The] biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.” Days later, he participated in a Fox News town hall, where he stated that “countries with” nuclear weapons were the “single biggest problem” in the world.
He Then Decided That Nukes Around The Globe Would Save U.S. Dollars: During an October 2016 general election debate, Trump called for an end to paying for the U.S. military to help defend allies like Japan and South Korea. He stated, “We are being ripped off by everybody in the — we’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it.” Trump’s solution? These countries should have more nukes to defend themselves. He also clarified to Anderson Cooper that this could apply to Saudi Arabia. Trump then conceded, “No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.”
Trump’s First Call With Putin Was Nuke-Centric And Didn’t Go Well: In February 2017, the Russian president hopped on the phone with Trump, only to be greeted with a barrage of complaints about the existing U.S.-Russia treaty (New START) being “a bad deal” that was negotiated by the Obama administration. Trump also — during the call — paused to ask his team what the treaty meant.
Trump, Nukes, And The Ongoing “Moron” Controversy: In October 2017, Trump’s supposed feud with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who has contradicted Trump both in terms of negotiating with North Korea to put down the nukes and on the Iran Deal (which Trump’s in the process of “decertifying”) — truly heated up. Reportedly, Tillerson called Trump a “moron” because Trump expressed a desire to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal “tenfold.” The president then slammed the report while threatening to take away NBC’s broadcast license.
Where will Trump’s policy on nukes land next? No one could possibly predict what he’ll do or say, and that’s exactly the reason why many people would prefer that he never touches the nuclear football.