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.