sábado, 24 de dezembro de 2016

'Let it be an arms race': Trump appears to double down on nuclear expansion / Trump’s latest tweet about nuclear weapons is both daft and dangerous


'Let it be an arms race': Trump appears to double down on nuclear expansion

It was unclear who Trump was directing arms race threats against, but he said he received a letter from Putin calling for ‘collaboration on the international scene’

Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly in New York
Friday 23 December 2016 17.28 GMT

The president-elect Donald Trump has stunned nuclear weapons experts by appearing to call for a renewed arms race on his Twitter feed and in a TV interview.

“Let it be an arms race,” the president in waiting was reported to have told Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme, in an early phone call on Friday.

According to Brzezinski he went on to say: “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The incendiary comment followed a tweet on Thursday in which Trump threatened to preside over a major ramping up of the US nuclear arsenal.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he wrote.

The volley of remarks had Trump aides scrambling into damage limitation mode, but their efforts were powerless to neutralise the shock waves of alarm and bewilderment provoked by the president-elect’s remarks.

They appeared to fly in the face of 35 years of bipartisan US policy geared towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons around the world. Nuclear arms specialists were quick to cry foul.

“It is irresponsible and reckless for the president elect to be articulating future US nuclear policy in a tweet and on a morning news show,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.

He added: “Just the words have damaging effects. It invokes confusion and can stir hostility among our adversaries.”

In tune with many of his Twitter-based pronouncements, Trump’s intervention prompted confusion about exactly what he was saying. One issue that remained particularly opaque was whom his threats of a renewed arms race were directed against.

The only world power that can match the 1,800 deployed strategic nuclear weapons the US commands is Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin has been showered with praise by Trump.

On Friday, Trump put out a statement in which he said he had received a “very nice letter from Vladimir Putin” and added: “His thoughts are so correct.”

More ominously, the president-elect said: “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”

A copy of a letter dated 15 December accompanied the statement, in the name of Putin and bearing the postal address “Moscow, Kremlin”. It was billed as an “unofficial translation” – the identity of the translator was unclear.

Putin supposedly wrote: “I hope that after you assume the position of the President of the United States of America we will be able – by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner - to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”

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It was unclear whether the release of Putin’s supposed letter was prompted by an exchange of remarks with Moscow on nuclear weapons. Earlier on Friday, Putin said at a press conference that “if someone is stimulating a nuclear arms race it’s not us”.

“We don’t violate anything,” he said. “We are in line with our obligations as to the number of our warheads.”

On Thursday, Putin had gone further and said Russia needed to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems”.

Trump’s unrestrained language stands in sharp contrast with the stance adopted by President Obama over the past eight years.

Though Obama has struggled to deliver on his early promise to oversee a sharp reduction in the US nuclear arsenal, agreeing to a $1tn modernisation program over 30 years for the triad of air, land and sea delivery systems, he has consistently adopted the vocabulary of disarmament.

In 2013, the White House worked with Pentagon chiefs to carry out a detailed review of the US nuclear capability. It concluded that the country already had a third more strategic weapons than were necessary to ensure nuclear deterrence.

Kimball said the findings of the 2013 review proved that “from a military strategy and security standpoint, there’s absolutely no need to get into any arms race”.

Trump’s comments to MSNBC were revealed by the host Joe Scarborough, who like Brzezinski was presenting the Christmas-themed show while dressed in pyjamas and slippers, sitting in front of a roaring fire.

He said: “Mica asked the president-elect while we had the opportunity … to clarify the tweet yesterday regarding the nuclear arsenal. And the president-elect told you what?”

“‘Let it be an arms race’,” Brzezinski said. “‘We will outmatch them at every pass.’”

“‘And outlast them all’,” Scarborough added.

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“You can put that down as breaking news,” Scarborough said.

Trump’s pick to be the incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, led the damage limitation push.

He told NBC Trump would not allow an arms race, because he would stop other countries from increasing their stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

“He’s going to ensure that other countries get the message that he’s not going to sit back and allow that,” Spicer said. “And what’s going to happen is they will come to their senses, and we will all be just fine.”

Trump, who also tweeted on Friday morning a complaint about his son Eric being forced to give up charity work over perceptions of selling access to the president-elect and his family, is spending Christmas at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. His main engagement for the day was a round of golf with Tiger Woods.

Trump’s latest tweet about nuclear weapons is both daft and dangerous
Simon Jenkins
The president-elect’s promise to enlarge the US nuclear arsenal shows a woeful grasp of how the world, and wars, work today

Friday 23 December 2016 10.41 GMT

After post-truth comes post-sense. The curt utterances of Donald Trump recall those of the oracle at Delphi, except that its enigmas were clever. The president-elect’s latest 140-hieroglyph message on nuclear weapons is either daft or dangerous – and therefore both.

So far in foreign policy, Trumpism has included welcome signs of realpolitik. The new man has hinted at scepticism towards interventionism, a questioning of Nato, a re-evaluation of Vladimir Putin and a pause to globalisation. These are fine, except that they have been unsystematic turns of phrase, mere trips off the tongue. Yes, presidents elect can fly kites, but there needs to be some sign of string.

Trump wants America to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. How does that parse? Trump’s acolytes outside the tent says it means he cares about nuclear proliferation. But who says it does? And how is the world meant to react?

It will hardly do so by disarming. The essence of deterrence is to reply to strength with strength. Since Trump’s tweet was in response to Putin’s similar tub-thumping earlier in the week, “the world coming to its senses” is the last thing that will happen. Trump has already said he regards Japan, North Korea and other states going nuclear as “inevitable”. The best that can be said is that this is just another display of machismo.

Whatever Trump or Putin says in this childish “willy-waving”, they must know that nuclear weapons have no role in modern conflict. They are useless against terrorists, who are undeterrable and anyway pose no existential threat to western states. They are beyond cruel in “wars among the peoples”. Civil and border disputes have to be fought with conventional weapons. From the Falklands to 9/11, nuclear weapons have deterred no aggressor, toppled no dictator. They are not so much unthinkable as pointless.

Obama at least tried to de-escalate nuclear competition. He sought to refocus America’s defence (which should be called attack) policy on technology and battlefield sophistication. That is what policy demanded. Perhaps the calmest answer to Trump is that, if he wants to waste yet more billions of dollars, who cares?

The real question is who will curb this man – or at best distinguish between the pertinent ideas and the senseless? The easy answer is the system. As Obama found, the lumbering giant that is American foreign policy has a mind of its own. It means well but is slow-moving, conservative and militarily inept.

Trump has sworn to fight the system, and surrounded himself with tough guys to help him. I doubt that they will win. But a nuclear arms race with Russia is a dire echo of the 20th century at its worst. It is wasteful, stupid and sets a terrible example to the world.

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