‘Let it be an arms race’: Trump doubles down on nuclear proliferation

Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Wisconsin earlier this month. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Wisconsin earlier this month. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

There’s never a dull moment when a gilded finger is on the red button.

When asked to clarify his stance on expanding the United States’ nuclear arsenal, President-elect Donald Trump reportedly touted the possibility of an arms race — not unlike the ominous standoff between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“Let it be an arms race, because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump said Friday morning, according to “Morning Joe” co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

In an off-air phone conversation, Brzezinski had asked Trump to address a tweet from Thursday about building up the nation’s nuclear capabilities.

Trump’s apparent policy contradicts decades of U.S. policy regarding nuclear proliferation and the country’s international commitments.

The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) went into force in 1970 addressing three major concerns in the Atomic Age: disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Virtually every state in the world agreed that countries with nuclear weapons would work toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons would not seek them and all countries would be able to use peaceful nuclear technology.

In April 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the principles and the goals of the NPT during a speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

“I am pleased to stand here today representing a president and an administration that is committed to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and to taking the prudent actions that are necessary to one day make that possible,” Kerry said.

Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway discussed the president-elect’s disconcerting tweet during a heated interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday, the day she was appointed counselor to the president.

Maddow suggested that if the U.S. announced a U-turn on nuclear policy, then countries like India and Pakistan might move their nuclear weapons to launch status. That’s what has happened, she said, when presidents even joke about nuclear weapons.

“We’re getting ahead of ourselves, Rachel,” Conway replied.

Maddow said that Trump announcing on Twitter that he wanted to expand the nation’s nuclear arsenal is a big deal, and that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about on that issue.

Conway said that in a perfect world they wouldn’t need to talk about nukes, but that this is not a perfect world.

“In the world in which we live, which is not perfect, in fact, it’s very dangerous and very uncertain, I hope we can all agree, military might has been one of the ways to deter people from doing bad things,” she said.

According to Conway, Trump may have been echoing actions President Obama has taken to upgrade our weapons systems (although Trump’s comment to Brzezinski the following morning suggests he actually wants to amass more nukes).

She took issue with Maddow scrutinizing what Trump says on social media as if it were the official policy of his administration.

“I think that we’re getting a little too far ahead of ourselves that he’s changing policy and making policy in a way that he did not intend,” Conway said.

Maddow fired back: “The president making policy happens whenever the president speaks on a national security matter.”

Political strategist Sean Spicer, who was recently named Trump’s White House press secretary, was asked to address the recent nuclear fiasco during an appearance on “Today” on Friday morning. He said the president-elect will “take action” to make sure that American interests are protected.

“We’re not going to sit back as a country and allow other countries to expand their nuclear capability,” he said.

Spicer added that Trump only plans to expand the country’s nuclear stockpile if other countries don’t “come to their senses.”

“Other countries need to be put on notice that he is not going to sit back and allow them to undermine our safety, our sovereignty,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Trump several times during his annual end of the year news conference. He said that there was nothing unusual about Trump talking about strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal and armed forces. He said Russia would not compete in an arms race because it would not be able to keep up.

“If anyone is unleashing an arms race, it’s not us,” Putin said. “We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.”

As with many of Trump’s proposals, the backlash has been swift and fierce.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told CNN’s “New Day” that Trump could create “chaos for international relations” if he keeps tweeting certain things at 5 a.m. that his press people need to roll back at 7 a.m., only to be undermined by another tweet at 9 a.m.

Another recent example of this confusion is how Trump insisted Thursday that he still plans to “drain the swamp,” directly contradicting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s claim a day earlier that he abandoned the slogan.