There are many things a reasonable person should be concerned with about the transition from Obama to Trump. There are a lot of uncertain questions right now over the stance of the new administration on maintaining human rights, the conflicts of interest that remain unresolved as of this writing, and what this will mean for America’s relations with not only our enemy nations but our allies. All valid questions, all deserving valid answers. One of the most anxiety-provoking questions is whether or not Donald Trump was serious about re-escalating a nuclear arms race.
To twist a quote from Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, a nuclear bomb is not a Democrat or a Republican. While Trump has appealed successfully to many older and traditional Americans, not many people were expecting a return to Cold War-style weapons stockpiling. A lot of Trump’s appeal lies in his promise to have a more robust and less restrained military. He promised to kill entire families if they had a terrorist member and to “compete” with ISIS on torture, going “much further” than waterboarding. These were positions he eventually reversed but they were heard loud and clear.
If Trump was that cavalier about breaking the rules of the Geneva Convention, imagine my shock (but not surprise) when Trump appeared on my TV screen talking about how he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Europe. When pressed, he responded that nothing was off the table, in his mind. If there were a first strike by ISIS he would consider a nuclear weapon as a last resort to target them. How Donald Trump, or anyone, thinks they can target a loosely-organized franchise of guerrilla extremists with a nuclear weapon is beyond me, but this is the brave new world we’re entering into.
By now, Donald Trump has received a briefing on the “nuclear football”, a 45-pound suitcase that allows him, at any time, to launch nuclear weapons. The only thing presently stopping a president from doing it is outright rebellion from his aides. Congress has put into consideration a bill requiring approval for the president to launch a nuke, barring retaliation for a first offensive strike from another nation. It was called the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act” and it is meant to reaffirm Congress’s ability to declare war, and only Congress’s.
Where will the foreign nuclear warheads come from? As of now, we have had no serious threats of nuclear attack, but other countries around the world routinely threaten each other. Where will the first strike occur then? Take your pick. Experts say that the most realistically volatile area, in terms of a potential strike, is going to be instigated by the conflict between Pakistan and India that resulted in four wars and continued tensions. Pakistan’s interest in nuclear weapons began after their 1971 defeat in the Indo-Pakistan war, spurred forward by the news that India was moving forward with their nuclear weapons development.
The other most likely conflict is between North and South Korea but with the opposite effect in place: North Korea routinely threatens Seoul and Japan but appears to not have the technology to back up their bluster. Tensions are high recently because of a North Korean boast of nuclear weaponry meant to threaten and intimidate Donald Trump as he moves into the most powerful seat in the west. Do they have the capability? Most likely not to reach the United States, but could they send one over the demilitarized zone and cause millions of deaths? It’s hard to say.
So let’s suppose we are struck by a nuclear warhead and Donald Trump decides to retaliate. What happens next? There was some misunderstanding as to whether Trump understands that nuclear weapons aren’t meant to be used as a conventional missile would be but as a deterrent. Whichever city is struck, wherever it is, will be eradicated. NASA did a study, using “100 Hiroshima-size bombs”, to determine the immediate environmental effects. The fire of the rubble alone would put approximately “5 megatons of black carbon particles into Earth’s upper troposphere”, causing a 1.8 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperatures around the world and a decrease in rainfall “by an average of about ten percent”. This would be “colder than the little ice age, the largest climate change in human history”. If only 50 to 100 bombs were detonated, it would deplete the ozone layer “by 40% over many inhabited areas and up to 70% at the poles”. This would be followed by a nuclear winter as well as the destabilization of the entire earth’s ecosystem, a precarious enough balance that we don’t maintain well as it is.
A continually reoccurring image Donald Trump evoked on the campaign trail was that of hordes of refugees that we did not have the manpower or time to vet properly. If there is even a small and contained nuclear conflict, “most of the world would be unable to grow crops for more than five years after”. It would create a famine and humanitarian crisis that would have the potential to kill up to two billion people and displace countless others. Read that again. Two billion. Not million. Two million people displaced would be a humanitarian crisis. There are 4.8 million displaced people as a result of the Syrian conflict. The resulting dead of a nuclear conflict would be 416 times the number of Syrian refugees but without even the relative stability of the developed nations, a lot of people would be attempting to flee to. A total disaster.
It is for these reasons, a small sampling of the horrors attached to a nuclear conflict, that I sincerely question the judgment of those who would support a man who has made multiple contradictory statements on nuclear weapons, including saying multiple times that he wouldn’t rule anything out. This same man has promised a new nuclear arms race with Russia, where their approximately 1800 readied nuclear weapons outnumber ours by about 400. This caused widespread condemnation by former security experts, including a letter written by thirty-six former nuclear launch officers who expressed concern at Trump’s tendency “to be easily baited and quick to lash out”. Why we need more nuclear weapons when we already have enough to irradiate and destroy the entire world is beyond me.
Even the nukes that already exist are too many because nuclear war isn’t a joke and it isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a human issue. And of all the reckless things Donald Trump has promised to get to where he is, increasing our nuclear stockpile can only inflame existing tensions around the world and disrupt the uneasy balancing act that all nations participate in, out of mutual fear more than anything else.
Like it or not, at noon today, Donald Trump will raise his hand and swear an oath to his office and with that, he also inherits the power to end the world as we know it in the course of several minutes. His staunchest supporters would be advised to stop changing the subject to Hillary Clinton’s loss and instead pay close attention to the actions of the man they put into power, especially to his reaction to a new UN treaty meant to prohibit nuclear weapons worldwide. Too much is at stake to choke out tired talking points now.