News and Commentary

FLASHBACK: Here’s How Trump Recommended America Handle Nuclear Negotiations With The Soviets

Now that it appears DonaldTtrump has a legitimate chance to become the next president, it may behoove Americans to consider what he has said about how he would deal with nuclear weapons.

It’s not exactly comforting that Trump has written others “are surprised by how quickly I make big decisions, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things.” In 1984, he arrogantly told the Washington Post that he wanted to negotiate nuclear treaties with the Soviets, boasting, “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway.” In 1990, according to Bruce G. Blair, a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton, Trump told U.S. nuclear-arms negotiator that the way to a “terrific” deal with Soviet negotiator would be to arrive late, stand over the Soviet negotiator, poke him in the chest and bellow, “Fuck you!”

Trump’s penchant for shooting from the lip could have real consequences, As Scott Sagan, a political-science professor at Stanford, recalls, in October 1969, President Nixon told Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird to put nuclear forces on high alert to attempt to deter Soviet aggression, believing in the called “madman theory,” in which enemies are persuaded to back down out of fear of their opponent’s irrationality. Laird tried staving off Nixon by claiming the alert would conflict with a scheduled military exercise. But Nixon persisted; and the subsequent exercise in which eighteen B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons flew toward the Soviet Union, found the US aircraft coming perilously close to other aircraft.

Trump’s ignorance is problematic. He was asked during the primaries, “Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision. What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” Trump flailed about before he finally concluded, “I think, to me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

“I think, to me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

Donald Trump

Former Trump advisor Pratik Chougule said, “We were dealing with a candidate who had made his own judgments, whether correctly or not; a traditional policy approach was not going to be a good fit.” Trump’s answer when asked who was his most important foreign policy advisor? “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

Another problem with Trump’s shoot-from-the-lip style vis-à-vis nuclear weapons: when he suggested that South Korea and Japan should develop them. Sagan pointed out, “These kinds of statements are having an effect. A number of political leaders, mostly from the very conservative sides of the parties, are openly calling for nuclear weapons.”