Asked during the debate which leg of the nuclear triad requires the most attention, Donald Trump said a few things about the danger of terrorists getting a nuclear weapon. Then, he added, “I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.” Two days before these words of wisdom were spoken by The Donald to a national television audience, I had gotten in the mail a copy of MAD, my favorite humor magazine, with a parody of Donald Trump’s campaign that proclaimed, “Make America Dumb Again.”
Stupidity in the nuclear arena spells death for America.
I understand that MAD has a liberal bias and tends to focus its humor on conservatives and Republicans. But I couldn’t argue with the cover story on Trump, especially after it became clear in the debate that Trump didn’t understand what he was talking about. He sounded authoritative nonetheless. Moderator Hugh Hewitt had asked the question while noting, “The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out.” The air, land and sea components of our nuclear forces are the three legs of the triad. Any serious presidential candidate should know that. Trump seemed to be out to lunch at the Trump Tower.
Trump has been good for a few laughs during the campaign, while making some serious points that others have been reluctant to make, especially on immigration. That helps explain his popularity. But announcing that “devastation is very important to me” is laughable when he was asked for a serious comment on weapons that could obliterate us. This is comic-book rhetoric that can’t be excused or forgiven.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) got a pat on the back from Trump for playing along with his buffoonery. But to the credit of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), he followed up on Hewitt’s question with a serious treatment of the issue. Rubio said:
“First, let’s explain to people at home who the triad—what the triad is. Maybe a lot of people haven’t heard that terminology before. The triad is our ability of the United States to conduct nuclear attacks using airplanes, using missiles launched from silos or from the ground, and also from our nuclear subs’ ability to attack. And it’s important—all three of them are critical. It gives us the ability at deterrence. Now, some have become more critical than others; for example, the submarines. And that’s the Ohio Class submarine that needs to be modernized. The air component also needs to be modernized. The B-52, as someone earlier pointed out, is an outdated model that was flown by the grandparents of the people that are flying it now. And we need a serious modernization program as well on our silo-launched missiles. All three are critical for the defense of the country.”
Publications on both sides of the political spectrum were aghast over Trump’s declaration about the awesome power of nuclear weapons. The conservative National Review commented that Trump seemed “stumped” by the question and had responded by “stammering.” The Washington Free Beacon said Trump “appeared not to know” what he was talking about. The left-wing Rolling Stone said that “Trump had absolutely no idea what Hewitt was asking, and his answer was genuinely terrifying.” Kevin Drum of Mother Jones said, “I seriously want to hear anyone on the right side of the aisle defend Trump as a potential commander-in-chief after hearing this. Any conservative who still wants this guy as president has forfeited their last smidgen of credibility as anything more than a crude partisan hack.”
Trump’s comments are inexcusable because under the Obama/Hillary Clinton policies the United States has become more vulnerable to a Russian nuclear first strike. Hewitt’s question was a softball that Trump should have hit out of the park.
The increasing Russian nuclear threat must be one of the major issues of the 2016 presidential campaign. Stephen Blank, a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in July 2015 that “a critically important element of Russian strategy that we overlook at our and our allies’ peril” is “a continuing series of unilateral Russian violations of arms-control agreements and treaties with the United States and Ukraine.” He said, “The systematic dismantling of arms-control agreements through unilateral violations has become a consistent theme of Russian policy.” He added, “It’s a strategy of coercion and intimidation aimed at the West, and it’s meant to give Russia time to build up and improve its conventional and nuclear capabilities, and block both European integration and the sovereign choice of post-Soviet states.”
The Ukraine reference has to do with a 1994 memorandum signed by the presidents of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the United States of America (under Bill Clinton); and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The memorandum deals with the former Soviet republic’s surrender of nuclear weapons in exchange for the major powers respecting its territorial integrity. The agreement, which was the basis for Ukraine joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, was later joined by China and France. Of course, Putin blatantly violated this agreement with his invasion of Ukraine.
Other violations of international agreements or treaties included the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev at a summit meeting in Washington on December 8, 1987. Senator Cruz notes that the Obama State Department has confirmed Russian violations of this treaty, but does nothing about it.
On October 7, 2015, at a Heritage Foundation event, I asked Dr. Mark B. Schneider, a Senior Analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy, about the growing Russian nuclear advantage over the U.S. I asked him whether the Russians are in a position where they could launch a nuclear first strike on the United States and survive a counter strike. Schneider, a former senior official in the U.S. Department of Defense, said, “Not today, but certainly the long term trends, the combination of U.S. force reductions and Russian deployments go in that direction…”
While the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been declining, the arsenals of Russia and other anti-American states keep growing. In October 22, 2015, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Thomas G. Mahnken, Senior Research Professor and Strategic Studies Director of the Advanced Strategy Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said, “The United States faces a growing and increasingly capable set of adversaries and competitors, including great powers such as China and Russia as well as regional powers such as Iran and North Korea…China and Russia possess growing ambitions and, increasingly, the means to back them up. They possess sizeable and modernizing nuclear arsenals and are investing in new ways of war that have been tailored, at least in part, to challenge the United States.”
He added, “North Korea appears to be developing a sizeable nuclear arsenal and the ability to deliver nuclear weapons against the United States. P’yongyang has also demonstrated a willingness to sell nuclear technology to other states, such as Syria. Iran has growing reach and influence in the Middle East. Its nuclear program is at best frozen; its missile program continues apace.”
Meanwhile, the Russian media are full of stories about how Russian President Putin is modernizing Russian nuclear forces and threatening a nuclear attack. Consider the story from Moscow mouthpiece Russia Today about how U.S. missile defenses are “incapable of withstanding a massive strike of Russian nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).” The source is the commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel General Sergey Karakaev. RT reports that Russian military experts have determined that the U.S. could not survive “a swarm attack of the Russian nuclear triad.”
It seems like Putin and his military commanders have a complete understanding of why a nuclear triad is important.
The evidence is clear that Putin has a nuclear gun pointed at America’s head and we have little defense against it. We are getting weaker by the day. Bluster and bombast from Donald Trump won’t save us. What’s more, the United States may, even now, be succumbing to nuclear threats and blackmail. The latest news is that the Obama administration has decided that Russian/Iranian puppet Assad in Syria can remain in power. The U.S. policy of “regime change” has been abandoned now that Putin’s war planes have effectively obliterated many of the pro-Western, anti-Assad rebel groups. Russia’s military strikes have left ISIS largely untouched, so they can continue to plan terrorist attacks on the West, and Russian Muslims continue to leave their homeland by the thousands to join ISIS. It seems clear that Putin is stoking the conflict in the Middle East while extending his strategic position.
Republicans who want to be perceived as serious on national security should tell us in detail how they would challenge Putin’s Russia. Making America great again means taking on Russia before their triad eclipses ours and America is reduced to a burned-out cinder. The failure to save our nuclear deterrent would truly be mad, but not in the MAD magazine sense.