US President-elect Donald Trump’s latest tweet has sent America into a tailspin. Trump said that he wants America to "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes". His tweet set alarm bells ringing across the world.
The non-proliferation community, as well as political commentators, took this to mean the start of a new and dangerous nuclear arms race between the US and Russia. The concern is that the carefully calibrated non-proliferation agenda painfully put in place will be now at risk.
The hue-and-cry has led to the Trump team scrambling to reassure all concerned that the President-elect was talking about keeping nuclear weapons away from terrorists. How the tweet fits into this explanation is not known, but the fact remains that the transition team is trying their best to reassure Americans that Trump is voicing the common international concern about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material.
But India’s non-proliferation activist Achin Vinayak believes that Trump as president will be no different from Barak Obama, so far as America’s weapons and nuclear programmes go.
"I expect Trump to follow a similar course. What Trump tweeted was in keeping with the Obama policy of expanding the scope and accuracy of the US nuclear weapons,’’ he said.
So, what’s all this fuss about Trump being a nuclear hawk? Or, putting it in another way, Obama is no nuclear dove.
Barak Obama began his first term as US president as the darling of the powerful non-proliferation groups across the world. He was a great advocate of a nuclear-free world. His speech in Prague in 2009, when he spoke of the elimination of all nuclear weapons and his commitment to work for that, possibly won him the surprise Nobel peace prize, so early in his presidency. But, besides holding a Nuclear Summit and getting Iran to sign the multilateral nuclear agreement, his presidency has achieved very little on the nuclear front. Instead, he has asked for one trillion dollars to modernise the US nuclear arsenal, spread over the next thirty years. This nuclear programme would mean new cruise missiles, advanced nuclear submarines, a deadly variety of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), a better variety of long-range bombers and more deadly nuclear submarines. He has also continued with president George Bush’s Ballistic Missile Defence Programme and promoting NATO expansion to Russia’s doorsteps.
The missile defence shield that smaller US allies in Europe want has led to latent Russian fears of the balance of nuclear power shifting to Washington. Russia and China fear that the US missile defence shield can be used to launch attacks on targets in their territory if the need arises. This has naturally led to both Russia and China working towards developing their own variant of nuclear weapons to counter the US. The sum total has been the weaponisation and militarisation of outer space.
Considering all that Barak Obama has already done, Trump's tweet has led to unnecessary sound and fury. "Trump will go ahead with what the Obama administration has already outlined," Vinayak said.
In short, there is no need to get all hot and bothered about the Trump tweet. Obama, despite his previous commitment to a nuclear-free world, has gone ahead and pushed for a massive nuclear weapons programme in the US. Trump is merely echoing Obama.
Of course, with Trump nothing is predictable. But, whether he really believes in upping the nuclear ante is not certain. His actions as the president may be very different from what he is tweeting at the moment. If he goes ahead and revokes the agreement with Iran, that would be a big blow. By all accounts, Trump is likely to pull out of the agreement. But once the US does that the P5 + 1 ( US, Russia, China, France, UK and Germany) deal will be meaningless, as Germany, France and the UK having used to follow Washington’s lead, are likely to do so. So, the line up will be Russia, China and Iran against the US and its allies. The process is already on, with Iran and Russia aligning with Syria’s President Bashar-al-Asad. Much of the blame for the Syrian crisis has to do with the European support for regime change in Syria. France was one of the biggest advocates for change.
Meanwhile, the practical businessman Donald Trump has already said that North Korea will go ahead with its nuclear programme and there is little others can do to stop it. He had at one time also talked about Japan building its own nuclear system. For the moment everything is up in the air, and until Trump takes over, the rest can only speculate. But taking his recent tweet as a break in US nuclear policy is unfair and unwarranted.
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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2016 12:35:02 IST