President-elect Donald Trump has restarted the debate over nuclear proliferation, pleading for the United States to “expand and strengthen its nuclear capabilities” until the rest of the world “comes to terms.”
His comments, released on Twitter on Thursday, came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that strengthening his country’s nuclear capability should be one of the military objectives for next year. Trump’s comments also came shortly after his meeting with Pentagon chiefs and defense contractors.
Trump did not give details on the measures he wants to take or the reasons why he mentioned the issue at that time.
His spokesman, Jason Miller, said the president-elect was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation “particularly among terrorist organizations and between unstable and hostile regimes.” Miller said that Trump believes modernizing the US’s deterrent capability “is a vital way to seek peace by force.”
If Trump succeeds to expand US nuclear capability, it would be a stark contrast to the strategy the country has pursued in recent years. President Barack Obama has been in favor of reducing nuclear proliferation and in 2009 called on the United States to lead international efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, but also acknowledged it will not be easy.
Even so the United States has been making progress in modernizing its nuclear arsenal. Months ago Defense Secretary Ash Carter said “the Pentagon will invest $ 108 billion over the next five years to maintain and improve its nuclear capability”.
The United States and Russia possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. In 2010, the two countries signed a new treaty that limits the number of warheads and missile launching platforms they may have. The agreement is valid until 2021 and can be extended for another five years.
The issue of nuclear weapons was not mentioned much in the election campaign. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has repeatedly accused Trump of being too erratic and unpredictable of trusting to control nuclear arsenal.
The government transition team’s Internet portal says Trump “recognizes the uniquely catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons and cyber attacks,” adding that it will modernize the nuclear arsenal “to ensure that it remains an effective deterrent.”
AP correspondents Lynn Berry and Joan Lowy in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in Palm Beach, Florida contributed to this report.