Thursday, 4 August 2016

Donald Trump, Perhaps Unwittingly, Exposes Paradox of Nuclear Arms

 A deactivated Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile in a silo at the Titan Missile Museum, a preserved military complex near Tucson.




WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump’s remarks on nuclear weapons have brought him, at times, to a question: Why should he be constrained from ever using them?
The question has, like so many of Mr. Trump’s comments, sent shock waves. But nuclear experts say it is shocking not just for the statements themselves, but for the uncomfortable truths they expose, perhaps unwittingly, about nuclear weapons.
In a March interview, Mr. Trump asked, “Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” Then on Wednesday, Joe Scarborough, an MSNBC host, said an unidentified foreign policy adviser had told him that, in a briefing, Mr. Trump had asked three times, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” Mr. Trump’s campaign has denied this.
Still, the controversy has highlighted a paradox that presidents have grappled with throughout the nuclear age: Nuclear weapons are deployed in great numbers, and at tremendous risk, for the purpose of never being used.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, though at first a proponent of using nuclear weapons, eventually deemed them too destructive to consider. “You just can’t have this kind of war,” he said in 1957. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”
Yet the United States and other nuclear powers have maintained and expanded their arsenals, enhancing their ability to launch nuclear strikes even as they have concluded that the logic of such a conflict makes using the weapons unthinkable.
This idea became known as mutually assured destruction, in which countries wield nuclear weapons primarily to deter other nuclear powers. But this deterrent works only if it is credible.
This leads to an odd dynamic: The more willing leaders are to use nuclear weapons, the less likely they will need to do so. Leaders heighten the risk — making the weapons faster, more powerful and harder to stop — so as to minimize it. They make the weapons more usable precisely because they are not.


 

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