Trump wants 10-fold increase in Atom Bombs but is after Iran, which has none

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As far as I can figure, the US presently has about 6,800 nuclear warheads, though it aims at going down to 4018 once it dismantles those scheduled to be decommissioned, by 2023.

The Russian Federation has about 7,000 nuclear warheads, though it aims at going down to 4,300 once it dismantles those scheduled to be decommissioned, by 2023.

This small missile gap of, practically speaking, 282 bombs appears to be sticking in Donald Trump’s craw.

Last summer he was shown a chart like this one (h/t Wikimedia Commons) in a security meeting at the Pentagon:


Trump appears to have been disturbed that the US stockpile had dropped from over 30,000 in the early 1960s and to have shouted at his National Security Council that he wanted a ten-fold increase in the number of nuclear warheads the US holds. Maybe he wanted 40,180, ten times the number of actual strategic warheads in the active US arsenal. That would be over 8,000 more than the US ever had.

NBC reports that it was over this exchange that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sighed that Trump is a “fucking moron.”

Trump wants to bother poor little Iran, which does not have a bomb and has given up the possibility of getting one. But he wants to manufacture thousands of the things? Where are the sanctions on Trump?

Trump tweeted out, predictably, that the NBC story is fake news and that the National Broadcasting Corporation should have its license revoked, and that it is terrible that journalists can just write whatever they want. Never mind that under the 1st Amendment NBC does not need a license, though the FCC did grant them a perch on the limited national airwaves when people mainly got their signal via rabbit ears. Never mind that the Constitution allows journalists to write what they like, short of egregious libel (and it is really hard to libel a public figure according to US case law).

But let’s not let ourselves be distracted by this flak.

Let us take seriously that Trump did urge a ten-fold increase in nuclear weapons. Of course, that would violate numerous existing treaties and kick off a massive arms race with Russia and China, maybe with India (and Pakistan would want to keep up with India).

Today there are roughly 14,000 nuclear warheads in the world. All are much more powerful than the bombs dropped in WW II.

Let’s say a single high tonnage nuclear warhead dropped on a major city like New York or Beijing or Moscow could kill 700,000 people.

Then ten could kill 7 million. A hundred could kill 70 million. If the US and Russia let off all of their stockpile they could kill more than the entire combined population of the US and the Russian Federation. No one would survive such an exchange in either country.

Those are direct hits. There would be massive amounts of radiation affecting neighboring countries (Canada, Mexico, eastern Europe, northern China). When The Chernobyl plant melted down in 1986, we were living in London and were instructed not to drink milk because the radiation had spread on British grass from over in Ukraine and gotten into British cow udders. How many miscarriages would there be? Cases of cancer?

And of course urban infrastructure would be devastated, which in today’s complex world would also cause more deaths. Look at Puerto Rico, where there is still largely no electricity and where patients in hospitals without back-up generators are endangered.

A nuclear exchange would inevitably kick a lot of dust into the atmosphere and there’d be several bad summer growing seasons because of the cold and reduced sunlight. Millions more could die from this cause, a small nuclear winter.

Going down to as few nuclear warheads as possible is highly desirable. If Trump got his huge arsenal,maybe he would want some high megaton bombs of the sort that have been phased out, bringing back the threat of a true nuclear winter.

I now think Tillerson’s response to Trump’s tirade at the Pentagon last summer was ‘way too restrained.

Maybe everyone figures that Trump was only blowing off steam and that nothing will change. But they should take a gander at how the EPA has been turned into an evil bizarro anti-EPA dedicated to spreading around poisonous pollution and farting billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so as to produce even more violent hurricanes.

When someone is president, you have to take them seriously, however hard it may be.

Appendix: The current state of the US and Russian stockpiles:

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that Russia has

7,000 nuclear warheads, with 2,700 decommissioned and being dismantled

4,300 or so nuclear weapons in its military stockpile.

1,958 are on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases.

500 are in storage.

1,850 nonstrategic warheads are in storage.

Some 2,700 warheads have been decommissioned and are awaiting dismantlement.

On the United States of America side of the ledger, estimates

6,819 total warheads, with 2800 decommissioned and being dismantled

1,393 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 660 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers.

Approximately 2,300 non-deployed strategic warheads and

roughly 500 deployed and non-deployed tactical warheads.

In a January 2017 speech, Vice President Joe Biden announced that as of September 30, 2016, the United States possessed

4,018 active and inactive nuclear warheads.

Biden also announced in January 2017 that the US is retiring 2,800 warheads


Related video added by Juan Cole:

What Advisors Explained To President Donald Trump About Nuclear Weapons | Morning Joe | MSNBC

17 Responses

  1. The one thing you left out of your piece, prof, was the staggering cost of all this ironmongery. I read somewhere recently (maybe something of yours) that if the US spent all its war money on the people and infrastructure as well as getting rid of fossil fuels, America could be a virtual paradise. The waste is heart breaking and the results devastating for I fear some fool will one day use these terrible weapons in anger or a fit of petulance

  2. “Maybe everyone figures that Trump was only blowing off steam and that nothing will change.”
    G W Bush put the “First Strike” Policy in place and then Obama set out to modernize (dial-up, bunkerbusters etc.)
    our nukes, but that does not seem to bother anyone?!
    Trump is not the only rotten one in Washington.

  3. There are human individuals trying to improve the state of their fellow humans, and there are a smaller number (but unfortunately more in control of economic and political/military institutions and infrastructure) of human individuals who are actively working to protect and increase their own already-too-great powers, at the expense of all other persons in the world.

    And at the expense of our children and their children.

    A lot of people seem to be so oppressed by circumstances they can’t get out of their immediate ruts; I’m more distressed by the otherwise intelligent/advantaged people who take purposely contrarian or purposely ignorant stances. It’s getting down to “Which side are you on?,” I wish I saw more people being able to be more strongly on the positive side (including myself).

  4. “I want ten fold!” That’s our boy DJ Trump.

    Trump swears he has the tallest buildings…he doesn’t. He’s worth ten billion….he isn’t. He has the highest IQ…please.

    Naturally, his ego and daddy issues dictate that he been seen as the most powerful president with the biggest nuclear arsenal. Why negotiate when you can intimidate.

    This moron might actually like being forever known in history as the man who ended civilization as we know it .

    • Yet if he ends civilization as we know it, there will no longer be a “history” for anyone to know, and possibly no human beings to know it. It’s a conundrum. I’m sure it’s what’s keeping him up at nights.

  5. Trumps ordering ten fold increase in the U.S. nuclear inventory is typical Trump. In case no one has noticed yet, our narcissistic leader and Chief loud mouth is addicted to big, and that’s how it is with him.

    I wish instead our mega rich leader were to push arms reductions. I would also say that once we start reducing the nuclear weapons stock down to dirt, then we nations of the world should begin with eliminating conventional weapons to their being no more also. But that’s me, as a purist I dream big also, Mr President Divider Sir.

    I also am a bit nervous that our ‘making up the rules as we go along’ President seems to want and mess with our First Amendment Rights. Funny how in Trump’s world the Second Amendment is untouchable, but Trump feels perfectly fine threatening the upholding of the press having freedom of speech. I guess when your the most Bigly guy in the Oval Office you can do anything you want?

  6. President Trump’s behavior is not just erratic but is becoming increasingly dangerous. Does he really understand what nuclear weapons do? Does he know that a global confrontation will practically put an end to human civilization? Has anyone told him that even a limited nuclear war would make life unbearable for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world? The most recent bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia, New Start, achieved in 2010, commits the two sides to reducing deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1550 by 2018, now Trump wants to increase US nuclear weapons tenfold! Does he have any respect for international agreements? At a time when everyone is worried about nuclear proliferation, he seems to be completely oblivious to the greatest danger that mankind is facing. He is going after Iran that has no nuclear weapons and wants to totally destroy North Korea with “fire and fury the like of which the world has never seen”, yet he seems to be totally oblivious of Israel’s nuclear arsenal amassed through deceit and deception. Congress should step in and stop this madness that threatens the entire globe.

    • Yes, Congress should step in but won’t. What we are witnessing is complete moral collapse. Trump is no surprise – he is the lurid id of the GOP – now a feature, not a bug, of that party. But the GOP is so corrupt, ignorant, and morally myopic (and I include their voting base) that all they see is a massive tax cut. This is what they want – plus to return America back to some mythical never-existed-in-the-first-place version of Leave It To Beaver or the Donna Reed show. What are the mere lives of lowly and humble millions on this planet compared to the mighty and beneficent Capitalist overlords schooled in Ayn Rand and genuinely embracing the belief that so-called “less intelligent” people don’t deserve to survive, let alone deserve government support of any kind (never minding that we have all paid out of pocket for things like Medicare and Medicaid – really earned benefits like insurance, NOT entitlements [and we should lose that term]). We are lucky each morning simply to have another day under this regime – but based purely on statistics and the size of the US it will not last. Something horrific is bound to happen I’m afraid. Clearly Trump thinks even bad publicity is good, so why not fix his place in history by . . . ending it.

    • Trump is completely oblivious to a lot of things. I expected the worst from him, but even I am astonished to discover his knowledge of how the American government works has not even reached the “how a bill becomes a law” stage. And he’s been giving money to these people for years, apparently with no understanding of what he was even buying except some strokes for his ego and a way to get the charges dropped should the need ever arise. Trump is just a living example of how far a person can rise in America armed with nothing but the most shameless capacity for bullshit.

  7. If true, Trump’s desire to own 10x more nuclear weapons is colossal stupidity. There’s a useful number of items to own and after that it’s just nonsense.

    In general the money wasted on the military (yes, I said wasted – there’s no long term income from terrorising the world just resentment and future enemies) were invested in trade and innovation, America could have become a virtual paradise.

    if the US spent all its war money on the people and infrastructure as well as getting rid of fossil fuels, America could be a virtual paradise. The waste is heart breaking and the results devastating .

    Like a talented drug addict, the United States is now so deep in debt and so corrupted, there’s really no hope. One of the great historic opportunities for a step forward for mankind wasted on tribalism, greed and military imperialism.

    It’s so very sad.

    • Consider the view of a small-minded small property owner, who gets off on his power to bully his underlings and threaten them with economic ruin. Or the clergyman who uses the despair of his congregation to keep their eyes on the next world instead of reforming this world. Or all the cops and all the prison guards.

      There are many, many people whose identity is founded upon the nation NOT being a paradise. Economically, America was well on its way to solving its greatest problems just when it threw away its budget surplus to go into Vietnam. The better things objectively got, the more the traditionally oppressed came out of the shadows with the hope that their grievances would be recognized. The oligarchs were angered and scared by this, and some decided that the solution was to turn back the clock and restore hierarchical terror under the cover of “free enterprise” and “traditional values”.

      link to

      There are those who would rather reign in Hell than share power in a republic.

  8. Today I was cleaning and I found this copy of the German AFD Party political platform. I read it and my conclusion is that both the major parties in the USA are far more dangerous to the planet than the most dangerous German Party. I am talking like 500% more dangerous.

  9. loved the head line. too bad Trump didn’t know how many nukes the U.S.A. actually had.

    Perhaps Trump wants to go down in history as the guy who started WW III. who knows and who knows why. Perhaps its all to the greater glorification of Trump. He’s like a little kid who wants attention. Doesn’t care what type of attention just so long as its attention. You know like the kid whose parents didn’t pay any attention to him.

    Why he wants to bother with Iran is beyond me. Its just another country trying to get through life. On the other hand, it is a country which refused to buckle under and that is something Trump just doesn’t get.

    The President of Iran handles himself with dignity. the President of the U.S.A. acts like a garbage pile.

    As a Canadian I don’t feel any danger from Iran and neither do the people I know. We do however feel the U.S.A. is a very big danger to world peace, the environment, etc.

    if Trump wants to scrape the deal, he’ll do it but if Iran and the other countries keep to the deal, it leaves Trump outside, where he ought to be with his friend Benny the thug.

    If Trump tries to start a war with Iran, he might be in it by himself. it is doubtful other countries will join. Its not their fight. I certainly would be working to ensure Canadian troops had no part in it, except perhaps to defend Iran. Trump may also find he doesn’t have an armed forces. A great majority of members are people of colour. they may not be up for another fight in which they have no money.

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