Why the risk of a nuclear war is much higher in Trump era

December 13, 2016 10:11
Donald Trump had reportedly asked a diplomatic expert three times the same question: “Why can't we use our nuclear weapons?” Photo: Reuters

For the past several decades, political pundits around the world have been laughing off warnings about the danger of a nuclear war between the United States and China.

However, as Donald Trump is about to assume the office of US president, that danger is becoming more real.

As the only person in the US who can authorize a nuclear strike against a foreign enemy, the US president's power in unleashing a nuclear Armageddon is basically unchecked: he doesn't have to seek Congress or Supreme Court approval before he decides to push the button.

Nor does he need to consult anyone, not even his cabinet, before he makes that final decision.

Before the Nov. 8 presidential election, a number of high-ranking military officers of the US Strategic Command issued an open letter, arguing that the power to unleash a full-scale nuclear war often brings a lot of stress and pressure on the US president, and that kind of enormous stress is definitely not something that a grumpy hothead like Donald Trump could handle.

Hillary Clinton also warned during her campaign that it would take only four minutes for the first US intercontinental ballistic missile or submarine-launched ballistic missile to be fired once the president had issued an order to launch a nuclear strike.

And once fired, these missiles and the nuclear warheads on board could not be recalled.

Therefore, she said, it is important for the country to make sure that the ultimate power be only given to someone who is mentally stable and prudent, and who won't act on impulse.

Unfortunately, it appears Donald Trump is not keen on showing great restraint over the use of nuclear weapons like his predecessors were.

Joe Scarborough, a former US congressman and long-time friend of Donald Trump's, recently made a shocking revelation about Trump's stance on using nuclear weapons.

In a media interview, Scarborough revealed that during an earlier conservation between Trump and a diplomatic expert on foreign policies, Trump had asked the same question at least three times: “Why can't we use our nuclear weapons?”

Even in public Trump has repeatedly proposed that Japan, South Korea and even Saudi Arabia be allowed to develop their own nuclear arsenals, and stressed that he would not rule out the possibility of using nukes against the Islamic State.

The issue is further compounded by the fact that most of Trump's inner-circle advisers and cabinet nominees are hawkish.

Given that, concerns that Trump might launch nuclear strikes against a foreign power, particularly China, have become increasingly justified.

Despite the fact that the US currently has over 7,000 nuclear warheads while China only has 260, once a nuclear war breaks out between them, the nuclear destruction for both sides will definitely be of biblical proportions.

Besides, China may have far more nuclear warheads than it claims, given the lack of transparency of its military build-ups.

And all the rest of the world can do right now is to hope for the best.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 12.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor