Expanding the arsenal is a mistake

While he was still president-elect, Donald Trump took to Twitter to argue that the United States should bolster its nuclear defenses.

At first glance, it may seem reasonable to “strengthen and expand” our nuclear arsenal, but a policy of further proliferation would be dangerous and counterproductive to American security. There are two problems with increasing the size of our nuclear arsenal: it is entirely unnecessary, and it would actually undermine American security.

First, increasing the nuclear stockpile at this point is plain overkill. The first atomic weapon ever used instantly obliterated a city with the population of Greenfield and Evansville combined. Even the smallest of our modern strategic warheads has an explosive yield many times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the whole arsenal has sufficient destructive capacity to eradicate the entire human population of the Earth several times over.

Even if a catastrophic surprise nuclear attack against the U.S. wiped out our land-based arsenal, the fleet of nuclear submarines prowling the world’s oceans would still have payloads to deliver to the aggressor.

The point is that adding to this stockpile of weapons would be the very definition of unnecessary. The American nuclear arsenal can already wreak unfathomable destruction upon the planet, and expanding this ability is frankly a waste of money.

On top of that, the American nuclear arsenal was already undergoing a modernization process under the Obama administration. Since many of the warheads and the machines used to deliver them dated back to the Cold War, they were being updated, while keeping the number of warheads at a stable level, according to our obligations to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Second, increasing the size of the American nuclear arsenal would make us less safe in two ways: an expanded arsenal both creates more opportunities for catastrophic error and also could spark a new Cold War.

As it stands now, the awesome power of nuclear weapons gives any mistake the potential to result in catastrophic damage. The record of accidents surrounding our nuclear arsenal is enough to worry any citizen. Bombers have crashed, armed with nuclear weapons. A training tape accidentally inserted into a NORAD computer nearly caused a nuclear strike against the USSR. A bear was mistaken for an intruder at a base in Duluth, and because of some careless wiring, the “World War III has begun” horn sounded instead of the “intruder” alarm.

The larger the arsenal gets, the more chances there are for some catastrophic mistake, while the benefits we gain from them remain the same.

Furthermore, increasing the amount of nuclear warheads the United States fields runs the risk of seeing retaliatory increases from Russia. Trump’s commentary of “let it be an arms race!” and Vladimir Putin’s cool assertion that Russia “is stronger than any aggressor” bears concerning resemblance to the rhetoric of the Cold War. If both sides do not exercise caution, the permafrost encasing Cold War mentalities might begin to thaw, sparking a new arms race and making the world an increasingly dangerous place.

To avoid any of these potential pitfalls, Trump should not be so cavalier with his tweets. The office of the presidency carries with it enormous weight, and bandying about the suggestion of growing the nuclear arsenal is misguided and dangerous.

The days of “duck and cover” are thankfully behind us. We must be mindful and cautious not to repeat our past and move the hand of the doomsday clock any closer to midnight.

Ian Hutchinson is a Greenfield native pursuing his master’s degree in international affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at ianhutchinson@gwu.edu.