President Elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to call for the expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal just hours after Russian President, Vladimir Putin, did the same in Moscow.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted late Thursday morning.
While there can be little doubt that many in the media will see this as a sign that Donald Trump is taking the United States’ defense strategy in a new direction, and that these statements made by powerful world leaders could be indicative of a budding second cold war, the reality is, the new cold war has already begun.
Although he campaigned on a platform that called for nuclear disarmament, Barrack Obama’s presidency has seen the largest expansion in nuclear expenditures since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The sitting president backed an ongoing nuclear development program that will bring our aging missile arsenal into the twenty-first century, establishing new delivery systems, upgrading existing warheads, and making our nuclear command networks more resilient to physical and digital attack. The program is projected to cost nearly $350 billion by 2024, provided it isn’t axed by his successor, Donald Trump.
According to Trump’s Twitter account, that doesn’t seem likely.
Putin’s Russian regime has also been working tirelessly to expand and update Russia’s nuclear arsenal as well. Russia is the only nation on the globe that can boast a larger stockpile of nuclear weapons than the United States. In a defense speech Thursday, the Russian president said their military needs to “enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems,” but the wheels were in motion long before such a speech was ever written.
In October, Russia unveiled a new ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) nicknamed the “Satan II.” Russian state owned-news agency Sputnik announced the new missile, using France and the American state of Texas as examples of how large a land mass each missile would be capable of “wiping out.” Earlier that same month, Russia also announced that they no longer intended to honor an arms reduction agreement made with the United States that called for the disposal of thirty-four tons of plutonium.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump voiced his concerns about the state of America’s nuclear arsenal, saying the U.S. had fallen behind other nations.
“Our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen,” Trump said during the second presidential debate in October. “We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.”
America’s nuclear weapons can be deployed in a number of ways, including from submarines, aircraft, and self-propelled missiles that include ICBMs. However, the U.S. nuclear submarine fleet is already thirty years old, which makes them spring chickens compared to the sixty-year-old B-52 long-range bombers that serve as the primary air platform for America’s nukes. The technology used in the U.S.’s ICBM silos is so outdated that they actually still use the sort of 5.25 inch floppy disks some of us may remember playing the Oregon Trail on in second grade.
Upgrading these systems, however, is complex and expensive. Each system must be designed with multiple redundancies in order to ensure that technical failures cannot bring about a nuclear war or leave the United States unable to strike with its own arsenal if ever the need arose. Some suggest that maintaining the dated technology currently used in America’s missile silos serves as a form of defense in itself – preventing modern computers from being able to hack into or take control of the immensely powerful weapons. The scenes we’ve all seen in movies, where hackers take control of American nukes to bring about the end of the world, simply isn’t possible as long as the computers controlling them are older than the hackers trying to gain access to them.
One thing is clear, the United States will need to make upgrades and improvements to our nuclear weapons – when both President Barrack Obama and President Elect Donald Trump can agree on something so seemingly controversial, the need must be clear to those faced with the possibility of having to be the one that pushes the button.
Image courtesy of Reuters