Dear Donald Trump: This Is Why Nuclear Weapons Are Bad

6 months, 19 days ago

This morning on his indicate Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said that according to one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors, the Republican nominee recently asked why the United States can’t use nuclear weapons.

” Three hours he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them ,” Scarborough said, as the members of the commission seated around him fell silent.

And it’s only Wednesday, y’all.

Listen. We know most of you out there are well aware of the dangers and lasting effects of nuclear weapons. And, of course, it’s possible this is all a misunderstanding( the Trump campaign didn’t respond to WIRED’s request for remark ). But this report, combined with other commentaries Trump has made about nuclear war in the past, form a rough–and terrifying–outline of what a potential Trump nuclear creed would be.

Like so many of Trump’s statements on thorny national security issues, his public pronouncements on nuclear weapon have often been contradictory. He has, in the same breath, said he is against nuclear proliferation, and that” it’s going to happen, anyway .”

” At some phase we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this lunatic in North Korea ,” he said during a CNN-moderated town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” We’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself .”

He told The New York Times that nuclear capability is” the biggest problem the world has” during the same interview in which suggested more countries should have them, saying,” Would I instead have North Korea have them with Japan standing here having them also? You may very well be better off if thats the case .”

That Trump would flip flop on policy with such velocity and regularity is standard fare for his campaign. But security experts like John Noonan, a former rocket combat crew commandant and national security advisor to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, say that when it comes to nuclear warfare, these sorts of say-anything posture is flat out dangerous.( If you’re interested, you should probably check out his entire tweetstormon the subject .)

” When you’re in the nuclear business and talking about nuclear weapon, your statements are policy ,” Noonan says. Already, he says, Trump’s terms may well be informing the calculus of other countries that could just as easily arm themselves, but have held off because of the United States’ commitment to deterrence.

If Trump continues to signal that US is committed to nuclear deterrence could wane during his administration, Noonan says,” What you’re looking at is not just a great destabilizing of a robust and sturdy security architecture. You’re looking at potentially one of the widest expansions of nuclear proliferation in history .”

At the heart of Trump’s argument on nuclear power seems to be the idea that it’s better for every country to be able to defend itself against nuclear war than for the US to do it for them. With this approach, Trump seems to be cleaning his hands of a time-tested precedent in which the United States plays a key role in disarming foreign countries’ nuclear programs.

What’s more, Noonan says, the United States’ nuclear power is strongest when used as a bargaining chip between nations. What consequence it would have against ideological terrorists such as ISIS is unclear. But Trump seems poised to use it as a tool in the ground fight against ISIS, a plan Noonan says would” backfire spectacularly .”

” Theres a difference between communicating with a foreign power like the Soviet Union, Moscow, or China, and using these with something like ISIS ,” he says.

All of this might be a predictable stance for Trump, a candidate who is proudly isolationist and has framed the US as the world’s punch bag throughout such elections cycle. Except for the fact that he is talking about nuclear warfare–a threat that is so destructive, it has no victors. It leaves its targets victims and its first movers vulnerable. As Ronald Reagan once said,” A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought .”

That much is a possibility painfully obvious to most of us, but it seems the guy who’s now vying to be the most powerful man in the world didn’t get the memo about why nuclear war is a bad thing. So here’s a primer.

First, American Security

Before we get around to the ethics of deploying atomic weapon on entire civilizations and countries around the world, we’ll start with the logic Trump’s” America First” posture suggests he’s most likely to respond to: national security.

Yes, the United States is home to a substantial share of nuclear weapons around the world. But it’s not the only country that has them. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, there are 16,000 atomic weapon spread throughout China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is growing in a time of increasing upheaval in the neighboring Middle East.

Trump knows all this, but he’s missing the key point. The best route for the US to guarantee other nations won’t abuse their nuclear power is for the US not to flex its own. This is known as the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction; it’s the backbone of our nuclear deterrence policy and it’s worked for decades. Furthermore, even from the beginning atomic weapon were designed to not be used, but rather to act as the ultimate ace up the sleeve that you never play. As the famous quote from the movie WarGames goes,” The only winning move is not to play .” To Trump’s question about use the nukes, he’s really asking, wouldn’t a threat of nuclear force scare the United States’ foreign enemies? The answer is sure. But it should also scare anyone who knows that a retaliatory attack is now far more possible than it was when the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

As Noonan sets it,” The ensuing backlash against the United States by friends and adversaries alike, as well as the inevitable swelling in ISIS’s ranks in response to such a brutal utilize of power would be a colossal strategic loss for the United States. Its something ISIS would want .”

Second, the Moral Problem

Still, it’s hard to exaggerate the ethical debate against atomic weapon. Though the actual numbers are unknowable, estimates say that in Hiroshima, the atomic bomb killed approximately 80,000 people, mainly civilians, instantaneously. More than 100,000 more would subsequently die from radioactivity and after impacts. Another 70,000 plus people were killed in the bombing of Nagasaki.

The Radiation Impact Research Foundation, which is a collaboration between the United States and Japan, is still analyzing the effects of radiation exposure. Meanwhile, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Japanese Red Cross Society lately found that some 70 years after the blasts, Japanese hospitals are still treating patients for radiation-related maladies, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

While “the member states national” security debate may appeal to Trump’s sensibilities, it’s this ethical debate that Noonan says is the foremost reason the country does not deploy its nuclear weapons.” We don’t use them first because that would be an ethical conundrum ,” he says.” That would be morally unfit of the United States and the values it holds dear .”

And then, of course, there’s the climate debate. If any case against nuclear weaponry is unlikely to oblige Trump, it’s probably this one. But it should. Experts have found that the detonation of 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs has the power to kill 20 million people, and render so many flames that the smoking would block out the sunshine, defining off a process of mass cooling within a few weeks.

As Alan Robock, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, lately told Time ,” The sky would not be blue. It would be gray .”

No one on Ground wins in that scenario. Not America. Not anyone. But you already knew that.

That this is an article we need to write in the year 2016, virtually 30 years after the end of the Cold War era, at a time when health risks of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands is at an all-time high and therefore a sane nuclear policy is of the utmost importance, underscores how much such elections cycle is unlike any before. Since the” Daisy Girl” ad first aired in 1964, presidential nominees suggesting that their foe might use the nuclear option was the political nuclear option. Now it’s just another Wednesday.

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