Out of the many things that simply scare the bejesus out of people about Donald Trump, the scariest may be his seemingly cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons. Last spring he said he thought more countries should have nukes for their own self-defense. But when he got called out on that remark he backtracked and claimed he had never said it.
Last week, in a tweet that seemed to contradict itself, Trump said the U.S. should greatly expand its nuclear arsenal.
Trump's advisors rushed to media outlets to explain what their boss meant. Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told Matt Lauer on Today,
He’s going to ensure that other countries get the message that he’s not going to sit back and allow that [nuclear proliferation]. And what’s going to happen is they will come to their senses, and we will all be just fine.
When MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski asked the president-elect to clarify what he meant in the tweet, Trump responded "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass." Now a North Korean defector says he may be about to get his wish.
Thae Yong-ho, a North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in July, said in a December 27 news briefing that the country's leader Kim Jong-un is pushing for the development of nukes "at all costs by the end of 2017." He says Kim believes that neither South Korea nor the United States will be in a position to stop the country's nuclear development "due to domestic political pressures."
This is what makes Trump's position on nuclear weapons so dangerous. If he believes, as Spicer said, that countries will "come to their senses" over nukes, it's time for a wakeup call. Many countries, including our own in the near future, are not run by people who are prone to common sense. And Kim is certainly among that group.
In October, Director Of National Intelligence James Clapper explained why North Korea's stance on nuclear weapons is so dangerous.
They are under siege and they are very paranoid. So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a nonstarter with them. The best we could probably hope for is some sort of a cap.
A cap would require negotiations and a "carrot and stick" approach to the problem. But Trump has indicated that he has no interest in carrots -- he only wants to threaten with a promise to build more and bigger sticks.
According to Thae, Kim's goal is to pressure both the U.S. and South Korea into "stability-focused" policies by adopting a provocative military posture. That plan may have worked with a normal American president of either party, but we all know Trump isn't normal. His entire posture is based on dominance rituals in which he must humiliate his opponents. That's a dangerous type of arrogance to bring to a nuclear standoff.
Trump's proposed arms race will only dig the U.S. into a deeper budget hole than ever. And that's the "good" news. If he is expecting leaders such as Kim Jong-un to give in to American demands on nukes in order to avoid an arms race, then the hole we're talking about might be a smoking, radioactive crater.