When U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, he will face a global nuclear order that is increasingly unstable. North Korea, deteriorating U.S.–Russian relations, and the triangular competition among India, Pakistan, and China are all cause for concern. Add in Beijing’s growing ambitions to control resources and sea-lanes around its periphery and Trump’s repeated promises to rip up the Iran nuclear agreement, and the future of global nuclear arms control looks even more uncertain. To be sure, there were more intense periods of danger during the Cold War, but the binary nature of that arms race facilitated arms control when conditions permitted—something that is much harder to do when nuclear dangers are rising on multiple axes.
It’s conceivable that a Trump presidency, like that of Ronald Reagan, could produce welcome surprises. But it is also possible—and more likely—that the risk of a nuclear war will grow during his term in office. Much will depend on Trump’s instincts on nuclear issues, which are far from clear, the advisors he chooses, and how he responds to the counsel they provide.
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