The Trump administration’s nuclear posture statement comes at a particularly rough time, reminiscent of the transition from President Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Back then, an outgoing president had watched his ambitious arms control agenda fall to tatters. Negotiations on nuclear testing and space warfare had gone nowhere, while the prospect of a second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty had been shredded by Soviet tanks rumbling into Afghanistan.
Then as now, Washington and Moscow’s strategic modernization programs were out of phase. One competitor or the other felt obliged to play nuclear “catch-up,” even when, as was true of the United States, it was actually ahead in the competition. Then, as now, there was much talk of Russian violations of treaty commitments. Some of it was true back then; this problem is far worse now.
Arms control and reductions don’t happen in a vacuum. When the Kremlin rides roughshod over the sovereignty of neighboring countries, diplomacy to reduce nuclear force structure takes a hiatus. Here again, the parallels between Carter/Reagan and Obama/Trump are striking. Crimea hasn’t just been occupied, like Afghanistan; it has been annexed, while Russian troops help proxies to establish dominion in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere along the Russian Federation’s periphery. To make matters worse still, the Kremlin has baldly interfered in democratic elections, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Under these circumstances, Trump’s nuclear posture could hardly be a statement devoted to peace, love, and understanding. Like others drafted in Republican administrations, it lends the Bomb more credence in shoring up deterrence while ascribing greater risks to disregarding deterrence orthodoxy. As this litany goes, gaps must be filled and credibility shored up by the only ways clearly understood by challengers: spending large sums of money and demanding more of a production complex already straining at the seams.
This article was originally published in Defense One. You can read the full article here.