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Wednesday, 03 August 2016 07:36

Is Trump Eager to Let the Nukes Fly?

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2016august3 nuclearwarheadNuclear warhead on Titan missile (Photo: Tommaso Galli)

In just a few days, on August 6, it will be the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was the beginning of the nuclear age: an age in which the US, the Soviet Union and now many other nations have the ability to annihilate the people of the world with nuclear weapons.

The Cold War stand-off between the US and the Soviet Union, with nuclear "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) as an ever-present threat was a key motivating factor in the clamor for nuclear disarmament. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, "No Nukes" was a thriving movement with frequent protests.

Although anti-nuclear-weapons advocacy has dramatically decreased since the Cold War ended, the threat of nuclear conflict is still a looming issue.

According to the Arms Control Association, the United States currently maintains around 7,100 nuclear warheads, while Russia still has 7,300 (although it is in the process of dismantling some of them). Another seven nations are known to have nuclear weapons.

That is why a comment made by Joe Scarborough -- a person whom we do not normally quote -- on "Morning Joe" should be of interest to everyone who cares about preserving life on this planet. A Wednesday CNBC article recounts:

Donald Trump asked a foreign policy expert advising him why the U.S. can't use nuclear weapons, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said on the air Wednesday, citing an unnamed source who claimed he had spoken with the GOP presidential nominee.

"Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can't we use them," Scarborough said on his "Morning Joe" program.

Yes, this is a secondhand report of Trump's apparent frustration at the fact that the US is not currently using its nuclear weapons. Yet it's important to take any possibility that a candidate might be eager to use nuclear weapons seriously. It is only good fortune and reasonable restraint that kept the world from blowing itself up during the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war, but ultimately, diplomacy prevailed. Although, in general, the US and the Soviet Union were led by war hawks, the consensus was that there would be no winners in a nuclear war, just a death toll of monstrous proportions.

Modern nuclear weapons can be launched from land, sea and air, and can reach their targets in minutes -- or from an offshore submarine, for example, in seconds. The number of nations with such capabilities is increasing, the Arms Control Association reports:

China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

Although the number of US and Russian nuclear warheads has actually fallen since the height of the Cold War -- due to nuclear weapons reduction agreements that even Ronald Reagan supported -- the number of nations with nuclear weapons has grown since the dawning of the nuclear age. Despite the negotiated agreement with Iran to suspend that nation's nuclear program short of developing a bomb, the number of nations with nuclear weapons capability is likely to continue to grow due to more widespread availability of the technology and expertise.

Given this context, it is alarming, to say the least, that Trump may consider the use of nuclear weapons as a casual decision were he to be elected president.

Afternote: In a December GOP primary debate, Trump was unaware of the US nuclear triad (nuclear missiles launched by air, land and sea). As the website Foxtrot Alpha reported at the time:

Donald Trump, who claims to be the “best on the military” among the 2016 Presidential candidates because he is the best at everything, apparently has no idea what the nuclear triad is. The revelation came during last night’s Presidential Debate when conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump a question about the need to modernize our nuclear forces.....

Oddly enough, a description of the Nuclear Triad was embedded in Hewitt’s question, yet Trump still stumbled around the question, making almost no sense throughout his reply.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.