Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin both made public calls Thursday to increase nuclear weapons arsenals in their respective countries, as the United States President-Elect and the Russian strongman continued to align on key issues to a degree not seen with previous U.S. presidents.
Trump frequently praised Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign, and after winning the November 8 election, Trump’s first call to a foreign leader — placed reportedly while ignoring typical security protocols — was to Putin, who has since been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of personally authorizing cyber attacks to interfere in the U.S. election, with the aim of helping Trump win the presidency.
Trump and Putin’s near-simultaneous statements calling for increased nuclear weapons come after decades of decline in the nuclear weapons arsenals of the United States and Russia, thanks to a series of treaties and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, as illustrated in the following graph from the Federation of American Scientists.
Of the approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still in existence, about 93 percent belong to the U.S. or Russia, according to an FAS report.
But on Thursday, Putin addressed military leaders in Russia, telling them that while he believed that the country was now “stronger than any potential aggressor,” Russia must not “relax,” and must build up its nuclear capabilities.
“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems,” Putin said in his address.
Just hours later, Trump issued a notably similar call for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” using his preferred method of public communication, the social media platform Twitter.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
According to the nonpartisan, U.S.-based Arms Control Association, the United States currently has 7,100 nuclear weapons, while Russia has 7,300 in its nuclear arsenal. But of those, only about 4,500 are actually deployed by each country and ready for use. No other country in the world currently maintains more than 300 nuclear weapons — deployed or non-deployed — in its stockpile. China has only 260, according to the FAS report.
Trump’s Tweet about expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities came during a week of meetings with his national security advisers at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump’s own statements on the potential use of nuclear weapons during the presidential campaign were often contradictory and raised the alarm in other world leaders. Trump stated at one point that he would approve of Japan and South Korea each developing independent nuclear weapons arsenals — both countries now rely on the U.S. for nuclear defense — but later denied making holding that view.
He also said that he would consider using nuclear weapons against the terrorist group ISIS, but also said that “nuclear should be off the table,” only to quickly reverse his position to say, “would there be a time when (nuclear weapons) could be used, possibly, possibly?”
As president, there would be no checks on Trump’s authority to use the United States nuclear arsenal. The president may order a nuclear attack anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice without approval from Congress or any military advisers.
In 1986, during the U.S. presidency of Ronald Reagan when tensions with then-Soviet Russia were at one of their highest peaks, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the vast majority in the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union.
[Featured Images by Mark Wallheiser/Pool Photographer/Getty Images]