On Nuclear Weapons, Trump is Nightmarishly Scary

An Ohio-class nuclear submarine

W.J. Astore

Much of the post-debate analysis I’ve read from last night’s presidential debate has focused on Donald Trump’s crudeness, his threat to prosecute and jail his political opponent, the way in which he stalked her on the stage, looming in the background and crowding her, and finally his non-apology apology about “locker room banter.”  Yes: Trump is most definitely lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable, but that’s hardly the worst of his qualities.

His worst quality?  His sweeping ignorance to the point of recklessness when it comes to matters of national defense, and specifically America’s nuclear arsenal.

This is what Trump had to say last night about the U.S. nuclear deterrent:

But 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. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.

This is utter nonsense.  First off, nuclear weapons are not people.  They don’t get “tired” or “exhausted” or “old.”  Second, the U.S. nuclear program has not “fallen way behind” the programs of other nations, certainly not Russia’s.  Third, even if portions of Russia’s nuclear program are “new” (whatever that means), that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the United States.  “New” in this case may mean safer and more reliable systems that are less prone to catastrophic error.

Here’s an undeniable fact: The U.S. nuclear arsenal is by far the world’s most powerful and advanced.  The key aspect to nuclear capability is survivability, and nothing is more survivable than America’s force of Trident nuclear submarines.  Virtually impossible to detect, America’s Trident force is essentially capable of destroying the world.  One submarine carries enough missiles and warheads to devastate every major city in Russia (or any other country, for that matter).  What more is needed as a deterrent?

Specifically, an Ohio-class Trident submarine can carry up to 24 nuclear missiles, each with up to eight nuclear warheads, each warhead equivalent to roughly six Hiroshima bombs.  That represents a potential for hitting 192 targets, each with six times the impact of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (which killed up to 200,000 people). That’s 1152 Hiroshimas from one submarine — a rough calculus, I know, but accurate enough to show the awesome might represented by a small portion of America’s nuclear force.

The Trident missiles are also incredibly accurate, with a circular error probability of less than 150 meters.  And the U.S. has 14 of these submarines.  (Not all are on patrol at any one time.) These highly sophisticated and ultra-powerful submarines are further augmented by land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and bomber planes (the “air-breathing” element), forming the other two legs of the American nuclear triad. Again, when it comes to redundancy, accuracy, and survivability, no other country comes close to America’s nuclear capability.

This awesome nuclear force is not a sign the U.S. is “old” and “tired” and “exhausted.” It’s a sign that the U.S. is incredibly powerful, and, if you’re a foreign leader, incredibly dangerous, especially if America’s next commander-in-chief is undisciplined, thin-skinned, and in possession of a scattershot knowledge of military matters.

Back in March of this year, Trump boasted at a debate that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality.  In this latest debate, he yet again revealed that he has no real knowledge of America’s nuclear capability and how modern and powerful (and scary) it truly is.

Sure, Trump is crude, lewd, and sexist, but those qualities won’t destroy the world as we know it.  Ignorance about nuclear weapons, combined with impetuosity and an avowed affection for he-man wild-card generals like George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, is a recipe for utter disaster.

10 thoughts on “On Nuclear Weapons, Trump is Nightmarishly Scary

  1. From the above article:

    “This is what Trump had to say last night about the U.S. nuclear deterrent:

    ‘But 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. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.'”

    Oh, my goodness. A presidential candidate from the party out of power has accused the presidential candidate from the party in power of falling behind the Nebulous Evil Other — currently the Russian Federation — in terms of national nuclear weaponry. So? I remember the presidential debates of 1960, when the Democratic Party’s candidate, JFK, accused the Eisenhower-Nixon administration of allowing a “missile gap” to develop — the “gap” favoring the Soviet Union, of course — when, in fact, no such gap existed. At no time in history has any other nation possessed more, or more types of, nuclear (not to mention chemical and biological) weapons than the United States. So Donald Trump has become the new JFK because of his ignorance concerning the number and type — if not the whereabouts — of U.S. nuclear armaments? How dreadful. How unprecedented.

    I remember a few years ago when a U.S. Air Force general got fired (a rare occurrence) for losing track of a strategic bomber flying (somewhere) over the United States armed with nuclear weapons. Oops! Given that the U.S. military cannot conduct an audit — the U.S. Army, for example, seems to have lost 6 trillion dollars over the past many years — it would not surprise me in the least to learn that the U.S. military doesn’t know exactly how many nuclear weapons it has, nor their present location, much less their state of spontaneous radioactive decay. And even if by some unlikely chance the U.S. military does know how many nuclear weapons it has in its possession — minus those on the nuclear ballistic submarines that no one can locate or otherwise detect at any given moment — who in their right mind would assume that the “high military” brass would share this information with their civilian Commander-in-Brief? The stuffed-shirt, ticket-punching Pentagon careerists have already said that they won’t do certain things that a President Trump might order them to do, even though they have not shrunk from doing such things for past U.S. presidents, so why would they behave any differently with You-Know-Her in the White House? Since when does the President of the United States have a “need to know” what the Pentagram and CIA have decided to do in pursuit of their own self-serving prerogatives? Consider the sordid record of mendacity and malfeasance by the U.S. miltiary in Southeast Asia forty years ago, as reported by David Halberstam in his justifiably famous book The Best and the Brightest:

    “The Army was beginning to function more and more like a separate organism, responding to its institutional needs, priorities, vanities, and careerism. Challenged by outsiders, by civilians, it responded by protecting its own senior officers.”

    “The only problem, as the Pentagon Papers would later note, was the the newspaper report [of America’s failing war] was right and the [official military] account was wrong. Sound misreporting [i.e., lying] did not impede the careers of [the lying generals] … but it did offer a fascinating insight into the way the miltiary worked. Loyalty was not to the President of the United States, to truth or integrity, or even to subordinate officers risking their lives; Loyalty was to uniform, and more specifically, to immediate superior and career.”

    In other words: “Kiss up, kick down.”

    What David Halberstam wrote so long ago about the U.S. Army remains just as true of the Navy, Marines, and Air Force, as well. They all fucked up, hugely, in Southeast Asia, just as they have royally screwed the pooch in the Middle East and Africa today. It’s just that thing they do. Yet the the big brass buffoons continue to lie and make excuses while demanding ever more and more of the nation’s resources so they can keep on failing upwards towards generous perks, cushy retirements, and post-military careers as lobbyists for the weapons indudstries — the perfect combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle. I very much like the term Greed-War, but I like even better the terms Warfare Welfare and Makework Militarism, Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification, Ordance Expenditure Expeditions and Commendation Accumulation Syndrome. I could go on and on coining alliterative expressions of my disdain for Military Idolatry, America’s secular religion, but I think I’ve made my disgust more than clear.

    And people worry about an ignorant Donald Trump because he doesn’t know how to get us into a nuclear war that know-it-all You-Know-Her seems determined to start? I think that Mark Twain pretty much summed up this so-called “debate” over a century ago, without even needing to watch a minute of it:

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


    1. Mike: that’s a great point about the non-existent “missile gap.” And let’s not forget the “bomber gap” as well. Yes, presidential candidates are always accusing each other of falling behind some enemy du jour; nothing new about that. But just because it’s happened before doesn’t make it less wrong.

      Trump adds intemperate language and woeful ignorance to the equation. The man knows nothing — not a thing — about the nuclear triad and strategy. And when it comes to nuclear weapons and the military, ignorance is not bliss.

      Here’s the thing: As he’s displaying wanton ignorance about America’s nuclear forces, he’s reviving the Cold War nuclear competition between the US and the former USSR, even as he’s boasting that his role models for generals are Patton (let’s attack the Russkies in 1945) and MacArthur (let’s invade China in 1951 — there’s no substitute for victory).

      Patton and MacArthur are two of the worst generals for an aspiring civilian commander-in-chief to praise. Indeed, why praise any generals? I’m sick and tired of both candidates boasting of how many generals and admirals support them (200 supposedly for Trump, a boast he made twice at the last debate). Combine Trump’s ignorance with his boasting, his threat inflation, his lack of discipline, and his thin-skinned impetuosity, and you have all the ingredients for heightened tensions leading to nuclear war.


      1. All the ingredients for heightened tensions leading to nuclear war are in place. Clinton’s election will secure that positioning. Trump talking about “falling behind” Russia in terms of nuclear weaponry was off the mark, but he would have been astute to refer to Russia’s state-of-the-art Air Force and missile defense. It should also be worth noting that the Syrians and Russians are rightfully defending against the very terrorism the U.S. employs and deploys.



      2. “…the US has never treated these proxy and terror groups as its real targets. For the US, victory in Syria, which can only be achieved by Assad’s fall, remains the primary goal and the terror networks its primary tools to achieve this goal. Russia and Syria are the primary hurdles in the way of this victory and, as such, the real enemy of the US. Hence, the current escalation…The Russian Defense Ministry has already warned the Pentagon that any US military intervention to remove Assad would result in “terrible tectonic shifts” across the region.”



  2. Only a veteran would understand what you have said and more than likely agree. There are many loyal and motivated soldiers but the politically inclined are the ones that reach to a level of influence. I have often thought randomizing promotions would do better for the military. Unfortunately, no one in the Clinton family nor the Trump family has had to serve. It is a tossup between two bad choices.


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