Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Trump’s finger hovers ever nearer the nuclear button


The biggest problem we have is nuclear—nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”

Donald Trump, December 15, 2015


As he cranked up his campaign for the United States Presidency this year, Donald Trump has uttered many things that have left not just the US electorate, but the wider world watching, gasp in near disbelief.


At the end of March he came up with one of his biggest shock statements, stressing to  popular checkout PEOPLE  magazine his caution at pushing the nuclear button should he be elected to the White House. “That would be such a last resort … “Nobody is going to mess with us. But I would be very, very slow on the draw.”



"The depth and gravity of the responsibility of the office seem to elude Trump so far,"  Mark Pfeifle, former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush told PEOPLE. "No one knows if reading the [CIA's daily terror-threat briefing] would sober him."


Should the World breathe a sigh of collective relief he is not trigger happy?

As the Huffington Post headlined the story: ‘President’ Donald Trump Would Only Turn To Nuclear Annihilation As A ‘Last Resort; I would be very, very slow on the draw’”(


Yes, but Trump’s views on nuclear weapons are maverick, like many other of his policies.


With Donald Trump having won the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States (POTUS) at last week’s Republican Convention in Cleveland, he is just one more [General] election away from becoming the US Commander-in- chief, in charge of authorization of use of the US arsenal of over 9,000 nuclear weapons.


Were he to win this authority by beating an increasingly unpopular Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, what do we know about Trump’s thinking on nuclear weapons? Even Trump’s former Republican rival for the Presidency, Marco Rubio, says the US can't give "the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual."


Last month, Dr Bruce G. Blair a nuclear security expert with hands on experience of being involved in the management of nuclear weapons for the Pentagon - and now a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton and the co-founder of Global Zero, a lobby group – wrote a perceptive analysis of Trump’s understanding of nuclear weapons for on-line magazine Politico. (What Exactly Would It Mean to Have Trump’s Finger on the Nuclear Button? A nuclear launch expert plays out the various scenarios.

Among his chilling conclusions were: 

The “nuclear button” is a metaphor for a complex apparatus that has the president’s brain at its apex. The image of a commander in chief simply pressing a button captures none of the machinery, people and procedures designed to inform the president and translate his or her decisions into coherent action.


Ø  Since the flight time of missiles fired from launch stations in Russia or China to the White House is 30 minutes, and 12 minutes or less for missiles fired from submarines lurking in the Western Atlantic Ocean (Russian subs historically favor a patrol area to the west of Bermuda), the steadiness and brainpower of the commander in chief in such circumstances are serious questions indeed.


Ø  How would a President Trump behave under such duress, informed of the attack and the imminent destruction of the nation’s capital and himself? He would have only a few minutes to consider the reliability of the attack report and decide whether and how to retaliate. If the attack is real, and he hesitates, a president will likely be killed and the chain of command decapitated, perhaps permanently.


Ø  Voters should want to consider whether Trump or any other candidate possesses the steely nerves and competence to deliberate intelligently and calmly at the moment of truth.


Ø  The next president will become embroiled in ongoing low-boil nuclear standoffs with Russia, China and North Korea that could morph quickly into a full-blown nuclear crisis. In such situations, actions thought to be defensive and reassuring to allies are often viewed as offensive by the opponent, whose reaction starts another cycle of action-reaction.The United States and Russia today are entwining themselves in this trap over Ukraine, U.S. missile defenses in Europe and other disputes.


Ø  As with his predecessors, Trump’s power over the life and death of entire nations would be practically unbounded. Today, the nuclear deluge he could command would consist of thousands of weapons, each 10 or 20 times more deadly than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Nearly 2,000 U.S. strategic nuclear weapons aimed primarily at Russia and China (at a ratio of roughly 2 to 1), with additional dozens aimed at each of several other nations—North Korea, Iran and Syria—would be at a President Trump’s disposal from his first minutes in office.


On 23 November last year, Trump opined : “I would be somebody that would be amazingly calm under pressure.” On 27 April 27 this year, he tried to reassure worried doubters, asserting:  “To me, always the No. 1 security threat to the United States is nuclear… and we have to be unbelievably careful.”

Blair concludes, it is not clear that Trump is up to the task. “It is no more clear that his unnamed future advisers, successors and generals would be up to it. Trump certainly has not yet made a convincing case that we could sleep soundly with him at the helm.”


So where else can we look? A recent article published in US news web site, Slate, provides an extraordinary insight.

(Trump’s Nuclear Experience: In 1987, he set out to solve the world’s biggest problem


Written by senior Slate writer, Ron Rosenbaum -  author of  The Shakespeare Wars, Explaining Hitler, and How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III the article resurrects an interview originally given to the author  nearly three decades ago for the now defunct magazine, Manhattan Inc., held in Trump’s glitzy office – it featured a golden mirrored ceiling-  in his eponymous New York HQ, Trump Tower.

Rosenbaum recalls “Trump is not new to nuclear matters. He has been thinking about how he’d handle nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation for more than a quarter-century, at least since 1987, when he claimed to me that he was “dealing at a very high level” with people in the White House (that would have been the Reagan White House) on doomsday questions.

It seemed like a joke, when I first heard of it back then. But at the very peak of the Cold War, when the U.S. and the then Soviet Union had an estimated 25,000 nukes to target at each other, thousands of them on hair-trigger alert (no Trump jokes about “hair trigger” please), Donald Trump announced that he had the know-how to solve the world’s nuclear problems.”

Rosenbaum explained the context of his interview, reminiscing that his “gig” was to take the loudest, glitziest luminaries of the loudest, glitziest era of Manhattan, the power brokers and power lunchers, out to lunch and turn on a tape recorder, and then to profile their self-importance. Not just the rich and famous of biz, but politicos like Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. Zeitgeist promoters like Robin Leach. Sometimes politics got me kicked out of lunch.


Trump revealed he had grander ambitions than being a very successful international business guru. Perhaps the grandest; Rosenbaum records, was “saving the world.” Before lunch he confided that he was talking to “people in Washington,” even “the White House”; he was on the verge of breaking through. Even then he wanted to be viewed as something more than a glam real estate speculator, someone of substance politically.


Even then, nearly three decades ago, Trump demonstrated Trumpian impatience with “defense intellectuals,” exemplified in his contempt for then-fashionable nuclear-deterrence theories like “dense pack,” a plan to group our nuclear silos so close together that attacking missiles would destroy each other by means of “fratricide”—crashing into each other over the desolate Great Plains.


Even Trump saw how dense this plan was. He knew about the dangerous reality of a “hair trigger” nuclear “posture.” He said he had an uncle who was a nuclear scientist who made him aware of the all-too-easy proliferation of nuclear weapons. He had read Deadly Gambits, the sagacious history of the START nuclear reduction talks penned by nuclear negotiator, Strobe Talbott, a former Time magazine senior reporter, now President of the prestigious Brookings Institution think tank in Washington DC.


Trump wanted to begin a crusade to find a way to halt  a national security policy base don nuclear mutually assured destruction (MAD)  “before a wild-card nuke deals death to millions.”

Trump believed he had some real personal insight into the nuclear nexus, telling Rosembaum My uncle who just passed away was a great scientist.He was a professor at MIT. Dr. John Trump. In fact, together with Dr. Van de Graaff they did the Van de Graaff generator. He was the earliest pioneer in radiation therapy for cancer. He spent his whole life fighting cancer and he ended up dying of it.”

 “He told me something a few years ago,” Trump recalled“He told me, ‘You don’t realize how simple nuclear technology is becoming.’ That’s scary. He said it used to be that only a few brains in the world understood it and now you have a situation where thousands and thousands of brains can easily understand it, and it’s becoming easier, and someday it’ll be like making a bomb in the basement of your house. And that’s a very frightening statement coming from a man who’s totally versed in it.”


Rosenbaum opined: “if Trump gets his way with this, the way he does with other deals, it’s not inconceivable that history will look back on the Trump Plan’s acceptance as one of the few hopeful developments in the course of a miserable century. In any case, you read it here first.


Trump told his interviewer:  “There is a vast, vast amount of difference between somebody who has consistently made great deals—and I don’t say me, by the way—of whatever nature, and there aren’t that many of those people, by the way; you have maybe a roomful of them in the whole country. There’s a vast difference between somebody who’s been consistently successful and somebody who’s been working for a relatively small amount of money in governmental service for many years, in many cases because the private sector, who have seen these people indirectly, didn’t choose to hire these people, any of them, because it didn’t find them to be particularly capable. But then, years and years later they get slightly promoted, promoted, promoted. The private sector has passed them by and all of a sudden these people are negotiating the lives of you and your children, your families, and I tell you there’s a tremendous amount of difference.”


Trump foresaw a situation soon when “hair-trigger” heads of state will have their hands on multiple nuclear triggers. And, Rosembaum observed, it drives him crazy that nobody in the White House senses the danger.

Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, warned on 2 June:  This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes. It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”


But Trump may well be in a position soon to do something about it himself.

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