Nuclear Weapons


  • --/–/1987 - Trump cancels a previously-scheduled interview on nuclear arms with Ron Rosenbaum of Manhattan, Inc. two days before the agreed-upon time, saying, "I'm dealing at a very high level on this," and, "It's awesome what's at stake here...and some writer who's cynical could come along and try to make me look like an idiot and ruin my credibility." (Slate)
  • --/–/1987 - Trump sits down for the interview with Ron Rosenbaum of Manhattan, Inc. after an agreement is reached to talk about Trump Tower Atrium as well. Trump states with regard to negotiating nuclear non-proliferation, "Nothing matters as much to me now." He describes the issue of nuclear proliferation: "The fact is, it's already very late. It's one of the great problems of the world. Not one of them. It is the. And yet it amuses me that when people in Washington talk about the big issues they talk about tax reform. The hours and hours and money and worse that's spent on this ridiculous tax-reform issue. If one half of the same effort were devoted to this much more important issue, you might be able to solve it." Additionally, when asked, "What explanation do you find for the lack of action on nuclear arms spread?" Trump responds, "I'll tell you why...People just don't believe the inevitable. You know, there's a feeling that it's always going to happen to the other guy." (Slate)
  • --/–/1990
  • 11/23/2015 - In an interview with GQ magazine, Trump says, "I will have a military that's so strong and powerful, and so respected, we're not gonna have to nuke anybody." When asked, "Could we get rid of the weapons?" Trump replies, "No, no, we wouldn't get rid of the weapons. Because you have so many people out there. But I would be somebody that would be amazingly calm under pressure." Finally, when asked, "But ultimately you have to be prepared to press the button or there's no point in having them?" Trump replies, "Well I don't want to talk about that subject because that's not a subject that you know...that has to do with that whole...I just don't want to talk about it. It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them." (GQ)
  • 12/15/2015 - At the fifth Republican debate, moderator Hugh Hewitt asks Trump, "What's your priority among our nuclear triad?" Trump deflects, first stressing the importance of having "somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible" in charge of the arsenal, and then explaining that, "The biggest problem we have is nuclear–nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon." Hewitt pushes Trump, asking, "Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority?" to which Trump replies only, "I think–I think for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me." (The New York Times)
  • 01/03/2016 - On CBS' Face the Nation, when asked, "The United States has not used nuclear weapons since 1945. When should it?" Trump responds, "Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I use the word unpredictable. You want to be unpredictable...We have to be somewhat unpredictable in this whole thing. Nuclear, though, has to be absolute last stance. Don't forget, I was against the war in Iraq. I'm not a fast trigger. You have guys that you would think are very low-key. They would be faster than me. I would be a very slow trigger with nuclear." (CBS)
  • 03/23/2016 - In an interview with Bloomberg TV, when asked about "the possibility" of deploying "nuclear weapons against ISIS," Trump responds, "Well, I'm never going to rule anything out...And I wouldn't want to say–even if I felt it wasn't going–I wouldn't want to tell you that...because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use it, OK?" Trump reiterates that "we need unpredictability," and says, "And when you ask a question like that, it's a very–it's a very sad thing to have to answer it, because the enemy is watching and I have a very good chance of winning and I frankly don't want the enemy to know how I'm thinking." (Bloomberg)
  • 03/25/2016 - In a phone interview with Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger of The New York Times, Trump says "It could mean nuclear" weapons for Japan because "we're basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and 'Do something.' And there'll be a point at which we're just not going to be able to do it anymore." Trump goes on, "It's a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation. At the same time, you know, we're a country that doesn't have money. You know, when we did these deals, we were a rich country. We're not a rich country. We were a rich country with a very strong military and tremendous capabilities in so many ways. We're not anymore. We have a military that's severely depleted. We have nuclear arsenals which are in very terrible shape. They don't even know if they work." Additionally, Trump states, "I would very much not want to be the first one to use them," meaning nuclear weapons. (The New York Times)
  • 03/26/2016 - see Blair in Politico
  • 03/29/2016 - During CNN's Milwaukee Republican Town Hall, moderator Anderson Cooper asks Trump how he understands nuclear proliferation to be one of the most pressing concerns while also advocating for countries like Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons. Trump insists these other countries developing nuclear programs is "not proliferation" and "I hate nuclear more than any," and maintains, "At some point we have to say, you know what, we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we're better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself," and that "It's going to happen, anyway. It's only a question of time. They're going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely." Trump ends the discussion by stating, "I don't want more nuclear weapons" and then changes the subject to Obama's position on global warming. (CNN)
  • 03/30/2016 - During the MSNBC Town Hall, Trump argues, "Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used, possibly, possibly?" In response, moderator Chris Matthews states, "OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, when we bombed them in '45, heard it. They're hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president." Trump replies, asking, "Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?" When Matthews asks, "Can you tell the Middle East we're not using a nuclear weapon on anybody?" Trump responds, "I would never say that. I would never take any of my cards off the table." Matthews responds, "How about Europe? We won't use it in Europe?" Trump replies, "I–I'm not going to take it off the table." (MSNBC)
  • 03/31/2016 - On The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News, when Fox News host Eric Bolling asks Trump about his conversation with MSNBC's Chris Matthews the previous day, Trump says, "Europe is a big place. I'm not going to take any cards off the table. We have nuclear capability. Now, our capability is going down rapidly because of what we're doing. It's in bad shape. The equipment is not properly maintained. There are a lot of talk (sic) about that. And that's a bad thing not a good thing. The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That's the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don't want to take anything off the table. We have to negotiate. There will be times maybe when we're going to be in a very deep, very difficult, very horrible negotiation. The last person–I'm not going to take it off the table. And I said it yesterday. And I stay with it." (Fox News)
  • 04/02/2016 - see Blair in Politico for other remarks from this day
  • 04/02/2016 - At a campaign rally in Rothschild, Wisconsin days before the Wisconsin primary, about the possibility of nuclear war between Japan and North Korea, Trump remarks, "it would be a terrible thing, but if they do, they do," and adds, "Good luck...Enjoy yourself, folks." (The Guardian)
  • 04/03/2016 - In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump says about nuclear weapons, "It's not like, gee whiz, nobody has them." He also says, "Maybe" Japan "would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea." Host Chris Wallace asks, "With nukes?" Trump replies, "Maybe they would be better off–including with nukes, yes, including with nukes." Wallace pushes, "In South Korea, with nukes?" And Trump responds, "South Korea is right next door, just so you understand." Wallace says, "But that means you can have a nuclear arms race on the Korean Peninsula." Trump answers, "You already have it, Chris. You already have a nuclear arms race. When a guy like Kasich gets up and talks about, Trump wants to give everybody missiles–I don't want to give missiles. And by the way, I'd leave it the way it is, ideally." (Fox News)
  • 04/06/2016 - see Blair in Politico
  • 04/27/2016 - During the Fox News Town Hall with moderator Greta Van Susteren, Trump comments, "...but the problem with Pakistan, where they have nuclear weapons and–which is a real problem. Again, our–the single biggest problem we have is nuclear weapons, you know, countries with them. And it's not only a country, you have nine countries right now with nuclear weapons. But it's semi-unstable. And we don't want to see total instability. And it's not that much, relatively speaking. And we have a little bit of a good relationship. And I think I'd try and keep it. And it's very much against my grain to say that, but a country–and that's always the country, I think, you know, we give them money and we help them out, but if we don't, I think that would go on the other side of the ledger and that could really be a disaster." (Ali Vitali of NBC News; Think Progress)
  • 04/28/2016 - On the Today Show, Trump says about using nuclear weapons, "I don't want to rule out anything. I will be the last to use nuclear weapons. It's a horror to use nuclear weapons. The power of weaponry today is the single greatest problem that our world has," and, "I will be the last to use it. I will not be a happy trigger like some people might be. I will be the last, but I will never ever rule it out." (TODAY)
  • 05/04/2016 - During an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Blitzer asks, "But you're ready to let Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers?" To which Trump responds, "I am prepared to–if they're not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world." He adds, "And, you know what, I'm prepared to walk. And if they have to defend themselves against North Korea, we have a maniac over there, in my opinion if they don't take care of us properly, if they don't respect us enough to take care of this properly, then you know what has to happen, Wolf, very simple, they going (sic) to have to defend themselves." (CNN)
  • 08/03/2016 - During an interview with former National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden on MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough says, "Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump, and three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point, 'If we have them, why can't we use them?'" (CNBC) Later that day, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denies the report on Fox News' Happening Now, saying it is "absolutely not true," and, "In fact, those security briefings haven't started yet that they were supposedly referencing...The idea that he's trying to understand where to use nuclear weapons, it just didn't happen. I mean, I was in the meeting, it didn't happen." (Fox News)
  • 09/26/2016 - During the first Presidential debate, Trump responds, "Wrong" and "It's lies" when Hillary Clinton notes Trump "has said repeatedly that he didn't care if other nations got nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia," and that "He even said, well, you know, if there were a nuclear war in East Asia, well, you know, that's fine." Clinton concludes, "So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned." Trump replies, "That line's getting a little bit old, I must say," and that the aforementioned countries "should be paying us" for defending them. Finally, when moderator Lester Holt asks about Obama's consideration of making a "No First Use" policy for nuclear weapons for the United States, Trump states, "I would certainly not do first strike," but then also that "At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table." (The Washington Post)
  • 10/09/2016 - During the second Presidential debate, Trump compares the U.S. nuclear program to Russia's, stating, "...our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they've gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn't have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear and we are old and tired and exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing." (Politico)
  • 12/21/2016 - Trump meets with military officials at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. CNN's Barbara Starr allegedly reports "the talks included discussion of plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal." (Fox 10 Phoenix)
  • 12/22/2016 - Trump tweets, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes" at 8:50 AM EST. (Trump's Twitter)
  • 12/23/2016 - On MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Mika Brzezinski reveals an off-camera, phone conversation with Trump in which he allegedly states, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all." (MSNBC)
  • 12/24/2016 - Trump tweets, "@NBCNews purposefully left out this part of my nuclear qoute (sic): 'until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.' Dishonest!" (Trump's Twitter)


Campaign Ads

On 09/15/2016, Fenton Communications airs a nuclear-weapons-themed, anti-Trump advertisement on CNN that "uses Trump's own words to paint him as impulsive and violent," according to Max Greenwood's 09/15/2016 article in The Huffington Post titled, "New Ad Hammers Trump as Too Impulsive to Allow Near the Nuclear Button." (Fenton Communications; The Huffington Post) Greenwood notes, "The firm said it's not working with any presidential campaign." (The Huffington Post)

Polls and Public Opinion


Trump's Nuclear Foreign Policy


Korean Peninsula

On 03/28/2016, South Korean newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily runs an article titled, "Dangerous Remarks from Trump" states in response to Trump's comments about the possibility of Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons, "His views stemming from a critical lack of understanding about the alliance and security issues–are utterly short-sighted. The United States approving its allies' own nuclear path while giving up on its provision of a nuclear umbrella on the pretext of increasing defense costs will only make security in Northeast Asia more precarious." (Korea JoongAng Daily) The article continues,

"The nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan could trigger the collapse of the non-proliferation regime by sparking a nuclear domino, and deal a critical blow to U.S. interests.

We are dumbfounded at such myopic views of a leading candidate in the U.S. presidential race who tries to approach such critical issues only from the perspective of expenses. Such attitudes can aggravate the distrust and discontent of the world about Uncle Sam. Trump must refrain from his penny-wise and pound-foolish approach." (Korea JoongAng Daily)



On 12/15/2016, Putin sends a letter to Trump in which he writes, "I hope that after you assume the position of President of the United States of America we will be able–by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner–to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level." (Politico) Eight days later, on 12/23/2016, Trump releases the letter from Putin to the public, stating, "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path." (Politico)

 The day before Trump releases the letter, on 12/22/2016, Putin calls on Russia "to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems" during a defense ministry meeting. (The Washington Post) According to a transcript of the meeting from the Kremlin, this bolstering of "strategic nuclear forces" is a "key objective" for the coming year, and is listed under the Defence Ministry's first priority of developing and upgrading Russian military forces. (The Kremlin) The following day, on 12/23/2016, Putin indicates that he is not alarmed by Trump's nuclear weapons tweet at Russia's annual news conference(The Kremlin)


Saudi Arabia

Trump's Secretary of Defense, Retired US Marine Corps General James Mattis

Official Responses to Trump's Statements on Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Politicians

  • BILL BRADLEY - former Senator (D-NJ) and 2000 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination: On the 11/04/2016 Powerhouse Politics podcast Bradley asks, "Who would you trust with your life?" according to an 11/04/2016 ABC News article by Melina Delkic titled, "Trump Would Bring Nuclear War, Fmr. Senator Bill Bradley Says," continuing, "Now if it was John McCain or Mitt Romney, I would trust them with my life. Now I don't trust Donald Trump with my life because I don't think he's got the experience or the ability to diffuse a crisis diplomatically before it gets to the nuclear threshold." (ABC News) Bradley also "has formed an anti-Trump super PAC and released dramatic anti-Trump campaign ads to go with it because he believes a Trump presidency presents a nuclear threat." (ABC News) Delkic also notes Bradley says he formed the super PAC because "the danger of nuclear war supersedes any other issue." (ABC News)
  • HILLARY CLINTON - 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State: At a campaign rally at Kent State University on 10/31/2016, Clinton says, "I am running against a man who says he doesn't understand why we can't use nuclear weapons...He actually said, 'Then why are we making them?' And he wants more countries to have nuclear weapons–Japan, Korea, even Saudi Arabia–imagine nuclear weapons smack in the middle of the Middle East." (CBS News) In a 10/31/2016 article for CBS News titled, "Hillary Clinton Hits Donald Trump on Nuclear Weapons in Ohio," Hannah Fraser-Chanpong notes Clinton "quoted President Ronald Reagan, saying he feared 'some fool or some maniac or some accident triggering' nuclear war." Clinton continues, "That has been the fear and the commitment of Democratic and Republican presidents since the dawn of the Atomic Age...So, what would he think about Donald Trump, who says he wants to be, and I quote, 'unpredictable' about using the most powerful weapons ever produced?" (CBS News) 
  • JON FAVREAU - Obama's former Chief Speechwriter and Ringer columnist: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Favreau re-tweets Morning Joe on 12/23/2016, adding, "A fitting end to 2016/the world: we learn of Donald Trump's nuclear arms race from a couple of cable talk show hosts in their pajamas." (Favreau's Twitter)
  • NEWT GINGRICH - former Speaker of the House (R-GA) and 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination: Gingrich says on Fox News Sunday on 12/25/2016, "I think for the president, the next president to say, you know, we're going to have systematically rebuild (sic) our nuclear capability is exactly right...We have to candidly overmatch." As for Trump tweeting his statement about nuclear weapons, Gingrich adds, "We might as well get used to it...This is who he is, this is how he's going to operate, whether it's brilliant or stupid. He beat sixteen rivals, then he beats Hillary Clinton and he beat the elite media. He ain't giving it up." (Politico)
  • JOHN MCCAIN - Senator (R-AZ) and 2008 Republican presidential candidate: In a 08/04/2016 U.S. News & World Report article titled, "John McCain Hedges on Donald Trump Having Nukes," Gabrielle Levy writes, "Responding to a question in Arizona, where he'll face off with former state Sen. Kelli Ward in a primary at the end of the month, McCain avoided discussing his own feelings on Trump's suitability for taking charge of the nuclear arsenal." (U.S. News & World Report) Levy quotes McCain: "Anyone that the people of this country choose to be the commander-in-chief and the president of the United States, therefore can lead this country and will lead in a responsible fashion...That's the way that our democratic system works. That's how our government works...The American people select the next president of the United States, knowing full well what role the commander-in-chief is. Therefore, I have the utmost respect for the verdict of the people." (U.S. News & World Report)
  • BEN RHODES - Deputy National Security Adviser to Obama: In a 03/31/2016 Washington Post article titled, "White House Denounces Trump's Asian Nuclear Idea as 'Catastrophic,'" David Nakamura quotes Rhodes: "The entire premise of American foreign policy as it relates to nuclear weapons for the last 70 years is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states...That's the position...of everybody who has occupied the Oval Office. It would be catastrophic were the United States to shift its position and indicate that we support somehow the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries." (The Washington Post)
  • BERNIE SANDERS - Senator (I-VT): In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Sanders re-tweets Trump on 12/23/2016, adding, "It's a miracle a nuclear weapon hasn't been used in war since 1945. Congress can't allow the Tweeter in Chief to start a nuclear arms race." (Sanders' Twitter)
  • ADAM SCHIFF - Representative (D-CA): In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Schiff re-tweets Trump on 12/23/2016, adding, "Dear Donald Trump. You're new to this so here's a list of things to tweet about instead of nuclear weapons. 1.) Literally anything." (Schiff's Twitter)

World Leaders

  • HUA CHUNYING - Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, China: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Chunying tells reporters on 12/23/2016 that "Beijing is 'paying close attention' to what nuclear weapons policy Trump's administration will follow." She adds, "The countries that have the largest nuclear arsenals should bear special responsibility for nuclear disarmament, take a lead in drastically and tangibly cutting the number of nuclear weapons so as to create conditions for the eventual full and thorough nuclear disarmament." (Associated Press)
  • VLADIMIR PUTIN - President of Russia: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Putin states during Russia's annual news conference on 12/23/2016 that, "Regarding the US President-Elect, Mr. Trump, there is nothing new here. On the campaign trail he talked about the need to strengthen the US nuclear capability and armed forces. So there is nothing unusual here." (The Kremlin)
  • YOSHIHIDE SUGA - Chief Cabinet Secretary, Japan: In a 03/28/2016 Japan Times article titled, "Suga to Trump: U.S.-Japan Alliance to Stay," Ayako Mie quotes Suga responding to Trump's comments about Japan possibly developing nuclear weapons: "Whoever becomes president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance, based on the bilateral security agreement, will remain the core of Japan's diplomacy...We will maintain the three nonnuclear principles that prohibit Japan from owning, developing, and transporting a nuclear arsenal." (The Japan Times)

Trump's Team

  • SAM CLOVIS - National Co-Chair and Chief Policy Adviser for the Trump Campaign: In a 03/30/2016 Wall Street Journal article titled, "Trump Splits from U.S. Nuclear Policy," Carol E. Lee and Paul Sonne quote Clovis saying that Trump's remarks on nuclear weapons are "more a statement of a possible issue, as opposed to a declarative statement of policy." Lee and Sonne note Clovis says, "Trump will 'lay a lot of things on the table for discussion, as opposed to having a definitive' position." Clovis concludes, "Really, he is adamantly nonproliferation. Adamantly." (The Wall Street Journal)
  • KELLYANNE CONWAY - Trump Campaign Manager and Counselor to the President: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Conway says in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that "I don't think the tweet was groundbreaking...He is making a point about nuclear proliferation in the face of rogue nations and regimes that are stockpiling weapons...We have to be able to keep ourselves safe and secure. When others stop building their nuclear, we'll feel more safe." (MSNBC; TIME)
  • JASON MILLER - Trump Aide and former pick for White House Director of Communications: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Miller tells NBC News that "President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it–particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes. He has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength." (The Daily Beast; NBC News)  
  • SEAN SPICER - Communications Director and Chief Strategist of the Republican National Committee and Press Secretary: In response to Trump's 12/22/2016 tweet, Spicer suggests on the TODAY Show that the tweet was simply meant as a "warning," but then on CNN says Trump should be taken literally(NBC News; CNN)


James Acton

Co-Director of Nuclear Policy Program and Senior Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

In a 12/23/2016 NBC News article titled, "Donald Trump's Call for 'Arms Race' Boggles Nuclear Experts," Ken Dilanian notes that, "Acton called Trump's tweet unprecedented, not only for its content, but for the notion that a president-­elect would make a pronouncement about something so sensitive as nuclear weapons policy over a medium as casual as Twitter." (NBC News) Acton says,

"Nuclear policy is not made on the hoof...Because of the extraordinary implications, it is always the result of serious interagency review and careful deliberations. Allies are consulted, presidential statements pored over, words checked and double checked, crafted and recrafted...I have no doubt in my mind that Trump's Twitter feed is monitored extremely closely by foreign governments and that this will cause significant heartache." (NBC News)

Bruce G. Blair

Research Scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Co-Founder of Global Zero

In a 03/30/2016 Wall Street Journal article titled, "Trump Splits from U.S. Nuclear Policy," Carol E. Lee and Paul Sonne note Blair "said Mr. Trump's proposed approach would risk upsetting an already precarious balance of nuclear powers." Blair argues, "Then the whole house of cards comes crumbling down, and you get a world of nuclear anarchy...No one can manage a world of nuclear anarchy, not even Donald Trump." (The Wall Street Journal)

In a 06/11/2016 article in Politico titled, "What Exactly Would It Mean to Have Trump's Finger on the Nuclear Button?" Blair writes,

"What would it mean to have Trump's fingers on the nuclear button? We don't really know, but we do know this: In the atomic age, when decisions must be made very quickly, the presidency has evolved into something akin to a nuclear monarchy. With a single phone call, the commander in chief has virtually unlimited power to rain down nuclear weapons on any adversarial regime and country at any time. You might imagine this awesome executive power would be hamstrung with checks and balances, but by law, custom and congressional deference there may be no responsibility where the president has more absolute control. There is no advice and consent by the Senate. There is no second-guessing by the Supreme Court. Even ordering the use of torture–which Trump infamously once said he would do, insisting the military 'won't refuse. They're not gonna refuse me'–imposes more legal constraints on a president than ordering a nuclear attack.

If he were president, Donald Trump–who likes to say he doesn't spend a lot of time conferring with others ('My primary consultant is myself,' he declared in March)–would be free to launch a civilization-ending nuclear war on his own any time he chose." (Politico)

In the same Politico article, Blair also writes,

"One can only speculate on Trump's leadership if events conspire to embroil his presidency in a full-blown confrontation with a nuclear armed opponent. Although he has expressed very strong reservations about using U.S. nuclear weapons to settle any dispute, his views on crisis diplomacy, the military utility of nuclear weapons, nuclear strategy and many other subjects that bear on the question at hand–such as his likely picks for senior security positions in his administration–are unformed. It is well nigh impossible to assess his aptitude for crisis problem solving." (Politico)

Blair concludes the Politico article by stating,

"It is not clear that Trump is up to the task. It is no more clear that his unnamed future advisers, successors and generals would be up to it. Trump certainly has not yet made a convincing case that we could sleep soundly with him at the helm." (Politico)

In Greg Sargent's 12/26/2016 article in The Washington Post titled, "Could Trump Help Unleash Nuclear Catastrophe with a Single Tweet?" Blair calls Twitter "a tool of provocation and belligerence in the hands of Donald Trump." Sargent explains that Blair also noted, "it's easy to envision Trump Tweeting a warning to another world leader that 'if you do this or that, you'll be sorry.'" (The Washington Post) Blair further remarks that Trump's tweeting could take a situation from bad to worse:

"'Almost any threat could be perceived as warranting some sort of response that's not only rhetorical but operational,' ...In a reference to Soviet Leader Lenoid Brezhnev, Blair added: 'Brezhnev in 1973 threatened to intervene in the Arab-Israeli conflict. That triggered the United States under Nixon to respond by going on nuclear alert. We went to Defcon 3. Words and threats have consequences in the nuclear operations world, and can instigate a cycle of escalation that spins out of control.'

All this could be made a lot worse if Trump goes through with conducting 'nuclear diplomacy by Twitter,' Blair said." (The Washington Post)

Matthew Bunn

Professor of Practice at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government

Co-Principal Investigator for the Belfer Center's Project on Managing the Atom

In a 12/23/2016 NBC News article titled, "Donald Trump's Call for 'Arms Race' Boggles Nuclear Experts," Ken Dilanian quotes Bunn saying Russians "see U.S. modernization plus missile defense plus conventional precision weapons as a serious threat to their nuclear deterrent...they have been doing nuclear saber-rattling that is unprecedented." Dilanian notes, "However, Bunn said, that doesn't mean the U.S. needs more nukes," and quotes Bunn remarking, "I just think we need a broader conversation about exactly what we need for deterrence." (NBC News)

Joseph Cirincione

President of Ploughshares Fund

In a 03/30/2016 Politico Magazine article titled, "Trump's Nuclear Insanity," Cirincione writes, "Donald Trump threw away 70 years of bipartisan national-security consensus this week, saying he wants Japan, South Korea, and other countries to get nuclear weapons." (Politico Magazine) After pointing out several historic instances of U.S. intervention causing countries to abandon and/or dismantle nuclear weapons programs Cirincione argues,

"Now Trump encourages them all to get the bomb? This is national security insanity, especially in an age of global terrorism.

But Trump seems to have little sense of this hard-won campaign. He is focused entirely on the cost of the U.S. nuclear umbrella." (Politico Magazine)

Cirincione concludes his article:

"Trump's nuclear policies would reverse course, roll back the progress we have made over the past decades, ending any hope of reducing nuclear dangers. We are already on the brink of a nuclear arms race. He would hit the accelerator." (Politico Magazine)

In a 12/23/2016 Politico article titled, "Trump Threatens to Upend U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy," Madeline Conway quotes Cirincione, who "called Trump's actions 'bizarre, unprecedented, and completely out of bounds behavior for a president-elect.'" Conway notes, "Incoming presidents usually wait until they take office to make pronouncements on a topic like nuclear policy, Cirincione said. Beyond that, he said he is alarmed by the cavalier attitude Trump seems to have toward as enormously sensitive an issue as weapons of mass destruction. While Trump might see Twitter as a means to convey strength to his constituents at home, Cirincione said, 'the rest of the world is watching,' and other countries could respond with actions of their own." (Politico) Cirincione continues,

"You can't use Twitter to make nuclear policy...Look, you should at least wait until you're president. But this is why–this kind of view that he's breaking with convention, he wants to shake things up, I understand that, but not on nuclear policy. There are reasons why people spend days crafting the language of nuclear policy...These things can be very complicated...and every word matters." (Politico)

Additionally, in a 12/23/2016 NBC News article titled, "Donald Trump's Call for 'Arms Race' Boggles Nuclear Experts," Ken Dilanian quotes Cirincione saying, "Can a tweet start an arms race? This one may just have done that." (NBC News)

Tom Z. Collina

Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund

Former Research Director of the Arms Control Association

Former Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for Science and International Security

Former Director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists 


Yochi Dreazen

Deputy Managing Editor, Foreign at Vox

Editorial Board of The Washington Post


Editorial Board of The New York Times


David Feith

Editorial Page Writer, The Wall Street Journal Asia

In an 11/11/2016 Wall Street Journal article titled, "With Trump, Asia's Nuclear Crisis Expands," Feith writes,

"The nuclear crisis in Northeast Asia was bound to be one of the most dangerous challenges facing the next U.S. president, no matter who won on Tuesday. With Donald Trump’s surprise victory, though, it could metastasize in dramatic ways: If you thought North Korea’s nuclear march was disconcerting, consider that South Korea and Japan may now pursue nuclear programs of their own, raising the risks and stakes of war not only with North Korea but China too." (The Wall Street Journal)

With regard to South Korea in particular, Feith discusses the nation's plans for developing nuclear weapons with Seong-chang Cheong, a Senior Research Fellow at The Sejong Institute in Seongnam City:

"Cheong Seong-chang will be calling for South Korean nuclearization either way. Speaking in Seoul last week, before America voted, the soft-spoken scholar and government advisor argued that his country needs nukes to defend itself, that a majority of his countrymen agree, and that skeptics in government will embrace the view sooner or later. Sooner if a Trump administration backs it, he says, but within a decade regardless.

Two months ago Mr. Cheong and other security, diplomatic and engineering experts launched the Nuclear Research Group for Korea to study Seoul’s options. A similar group was established in the early 1990s, he says, but disbanded within a few years 'under heavy social pressure' because it was 'politically incorrect' to broach the nuclear issue. Today that taboo is gone." (The Wall Street Journal)

Feith concludes,

"Then there’s Donald Trump. If he sticks to supporting South Korean and Japanese nuclearization, he might as well hold a bonfire of traditional U.S. nonproliferation dogmas on the White House lawn.

Even if he reverses course, though, his record of denigrating U.S. allies has already made South Koreans and others more fearful of abandonment and therefore more likely to hedge their bets and consider going nuclear, despite the costs. Mr. Trump reportedly had a good phone call with South Korea’s president Wednesday night, but it’s no surprise that headlines this week in Seoul are blaring about 'shock' and 'panic.'

As Mr. Cheong predicted last week: A Trump presidency 'will reshape the security landscape of Northeast Asia.'" (The Wall Street Journal)

Max Fisher

Editor and Writer at The New York Times for the column, The Interpreter 


Gene Gerzhoy and Nick Miller

Congressional Fellow with the American Political Science Association (Gerzhoy)

Assistant Professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs at Brown University (Miller)


Mike J. Green

Japan Chair and Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Former Senior Director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council

Former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Former Senior Adviser to the Office of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Department of Defense

In a 03/30/2016 Wall Street Journal article titled, "Trump Splits from U.S. Nuclear Policy," Carol E. Lee and Paul Sonne quote Green on Trump's nuclear position: "The nuclear umbrella is the linchpin of American leadership in Asia...We'd be back to what we were looking at in the 1930s where we'd have to defend against the threat in Hawaii...This is the first time you have the likely top of the ticket of one of the two parties attacking the pillars of stability of American leadership in Asia since World War II." (The Wall Street Journal)

Laicie Heeley

Fellow at Stimson Center's Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense Program

Former Policy Director at Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation


Fred Kaplan

Columnist at Slate

Author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (2016)

Contributor to "War and Peace in the Nuclear Age," Boston Globe Magazine (1982) Special Report that Received Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting (1983)


Daryl G. Kimball

Executive Director of the Arms Control Association


Samuel Kleiner

Judicial Law Clerk at U.S. Court of Appeals

Former Senior Policy Advisor at The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

Former Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale Law School Information Society Project

In a 06/03/2016 article in The Atlantic titled, "With His Finger on the Trigger," Kleiner notes,

"A nuclear-armed Trump is indeed a scary thought. But his apparent comfort with encouraging other countries to develop their own nuclear stockpiles is just as scary, if not more so. For 70 years, American presidents of both parties have understood the simple arithmetic involved—that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more opportunities there are for nuclear war to break out, whether by design or by accident." (The Atlantic)

Kleiner also argues,

"A Trump presidency could reverse decades of American presidents’ work to hold the line against the spread of nuclear weapons, ushering in a new era of proliferation. U.S. leaders have applied 'tremendous pressure' on allies to get them to turn back their nuclear programs. They have led efforts to successfully reduce the number of states that had or were actively pursuing nuclear weapons, from 23 in the 1960s down to nine.

At the core of Trump’s proliferation 'policy' is a mistaken, reflexive belief that America is weak and will be powerless to stop the spread of nuclear weapons." (The Atlantic)

Kleiner concludes,

"In the months ahead, Donald Trump will continue to try convincing Americans that he is a credible candidate who can be trusted to occupy the Oval Office. He has begun to style himself as a foreign-policy realist. But he’s not a realist—he’s a radical. Stephen Walt, a prominent realist scholar, has written, 'realists prefer to "speak softly and carry a big stick;" Trump’s modus operandi consists of waving the big stick while running a big mouth.' His loose talk during the campaign has already damaged America’s alliances. And on the central question of nuclear weapons, he has clearly exposed himself to be weak-kneed in his acceptance of international proliferation." (The Atlantic)

Issie Lapowsky

Senior Politics and National Affairs Writer for WIRED


Jeffrey Lewis

Adjunct Professor at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

In Greg Sargent's 12/26/2016 article in The Washington Post titled, "Could Trump Help Unleash Nuclear Catastrophe with a Single Tweet?" Jeffrey Lewis argues,

"Imagine we're in a crisis–if he recklessly Tweets, people could read these things in the worst possible light...The North Koreans have a plan to use nuclear weapons very early in a conflict. They're not going to wait around. If they think we are going, they're going to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and Japan." (The Washington Post)

Sargent elaborates, "As a potential example, Lewis points out that earlier this year, Trump said he would handle the North Korean nuclear threat by getting China to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 'disappear.' Lewis notes that imprecise language in an errant, bellicose Trump Tweet–particularly amid rising tensions–could conceivably amount to an 'accidental assassination threat.'" (The Washington Post) Lewis adds,

"'Imagine if the North Koreans are looking for any signs that we're about to attack as their signal that they have to go,' says Lewis, adding that if Trump 'says the wrong thing' and 'gives the impression that we're about to act,' the North Koreans might 'decide not to wait around to find out if that's true or not,' and might hit 'targets throughout South Korea and Japan where U.S. military forces are stationed.'" (The Washington Post)

Sargent closes his discussion with Lewis by stating, "In this telling, Lewis notes, it's possible to envision some kind of ambiguous Tweet–such as 'we've gotta get rid of this guy'–unleashing untold consequences. Alternatively, Lewis argues, it's possible to envision a rash Trump Tweet locking the U.S. into an untenable position by 'closing off the president's ability to back down or compromise,' rather than preserving maneuvering room, making peaceful resolution harder." (The Washington Post)

(Atlantic interview with Newkirk)

John Noonan

Former National Security Policy Advisor to Jeb Bush and Foreign Policy Advisor and Speechwriter for Mitt Romney

Former Policy Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative

Former Minuteman III Launch Officer in the United States Air Force's Global Strike Command


Keith B. Payne

Professor and Head of the Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Missouri State University

President and Co-Founder of National Institute for Public Policy

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy at the Department of Defense

In a 12/23/2016 NBC News article titled, "Donald Trump's Call for 'Arms Race' Boggles Nuclear Experts," Ken Dilanian says that Payne "argues that modernization is badly overdue. But even Payne doesn't argue for expanding the number of nuclear weapons or launchers, he told NBC News in an interview. He declined to say whether he is advising the Trump team." (NBC News)

Dan Rather

Managing Editor and Anchor of Dan Rather Reports

Former News Anchor for CBS Evening News

In a 12/23/2016 Facebook post, Rather writes,

"Nuclear weapons are not a game. They are not a toy for the petulant and ill-informed to boast about on off-handed tweets. They are not gaudy hotels and apartment buildings to line up to make yourself feel stronger and more important. They are a direct shortcut to the very end of life on earth as we know it.
I suspect Donald Trump knows very little about our nuclear posture, its history, and the delicate balance our presidents have been walking since the early days of the Cold War. This was a man who in a primary debate didn't seem to understand our nuclear triad. And that's 'Nukes for Dummies' level. Now recent tweets and comments suggest he's thinking of a new arms race. When Mr. Trump suggested that countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia develop nuclear weapons during the campaign his apologists told those of us who were worried, he didn't really mean it. Where are those voices now? Because whether he means what he says, or even knows what he means, really doesn't matter at this point. Just by Trump saying it, the world order that we have known is at risk.
He's not even president yet and he's plunging us into a potential crisis that no one really thought would come. Surely there are many Republican Senators and foreign policy experts who understand the dangers of his rhetoric. Because the stakes with nuclear weapons are so high, that even slight changes in their status are cause for great concern. What Donald Trump is suggesting is at a level that would have us return to one of the most dangerous chapters in history." (Rather's Facebook)

Ron Rosenbaum


Author of How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (2011)


Joel M. Rubin

Deputy Assistant Secretary for House Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs

In a 10/07/2016 article in The Hill titled, "Ask Trump about Nuclear Weapons in Debate Before It's Too Late," Rubin observes,

"In a world with multiple nuclear weapons states, Trump’s erratic rhetoric fuels the type of uncertainty that leads to major miscalculation — and potential disaster. Take for example the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that time, President Kennedy didn’t know Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s intentions, and it led to near catastrophe. Only when the two leaders had direct communications about their intentions — and their desire to not have a nuclear war — did cooler heads prevail and was war averted.

Leaders must be clear and credible, not intemperate and unpredictable, to avoid a calamitous miscalculation.

If Trump’s plan is to leave our nuclear state adversaries guessing, then it’s more likely that he’ll scare them into taking preemptive nuclear action against us. And if Trump believes that he would use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear state actors — such as the Islamic State, which he has hinted about — then he would be using them against millions of innocent civilians without either justification or proportionality, turning the United States into a nuclear aggressor." (The Hill)

Greg Sargent

Writer at The Washington Post for the blog, The Plum Line

In an article on 12/26/2016 in The Washington Post titled, "Could Trump Help Unleash Nuclear Catastrophe with a Single Tweet?" Sargent writes,

"But perhaps the most worrisome thing about Trump's nuclear Tweet is not the intention to break with decades of international disarmament efforts that it may have signaled, though that's frightening enough on its own. Rather, it's that he saw fit to Tweet about nuclear weapons at all.

As we prepare for President Trump to take near-unchecked control of our own nuclear machinery, his nuclear Tweet is best seen as a window into his temperament. Trump still does not appreciate that every word he utters carries tremendous weight and could have dramatic, untold, far-reaching, unpredictable consequences–something that is especially true in the nuclear arena. Or, perhaps worse, Trump may be entirely indifferent to this fact." (The Washington Post)

Eric Schlosser


Author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013)

Finalist for 2014 Pulitzer Prize in History

(Endorsed by Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Jeff Stein

Columnist at Newsweek

Former National Security Editor for Congressional Quarterly

In a 09/29/2016 Newsweek article titled, "How Donald Trump Is Reviving General Douglas MacArthur's Nuclear Gameplan," Stein cites psychologist Dan P. McAdams' 06/–/2016 article in The Atlantic titled, "The Mind of Donald Trump":

"But it’s one thing for President Barack Obama or his mostly even-keeled predecessors to have the nuclear codes. It’s another thing to hand them to a man whose narcissistic, grandiose and impulsive personality 'is certainly extreme by any standard, and particularly rare for a presidential candidate,' as the psychologist Dan McAdams, a student of presidential minds, wrote in The Atlantic. A Trump presidency 'could be highly combustible,' McAdams added. 'He could be a daring and ruthlessly aggressive decision maker who...never thinks twice about the collateral damage he will leave behind.'" (Newsweek)

Stein goes on to compare Trump to General Douglas MacArthur, writing,

"The frightening alchemy of Trump’s personality and his casual remarks about using nukes is reminiscent of General Douglas MacArthur, who in 1952 threatened to ride a similar yearning to make America great again into the White House. A darling of right-wing Republicans, MacArthur was a towering hero in both world wars, but President Harry Truman in 1951 had relieved him of command in the depths of the Korean War. The proximate cause was his open insinuation that 'defeatists' in Washington, D.C., were keeping him from attacking China with airstrikes—and nuclear weapons, if need be—to break the stalemate, one he had largely created by provoking Beijing into a massive battlefield intervention. Truman, fearing such a move would prompt Russia to come to China’s aid and precipitate World War III, fired him.

MacArthur, unchastened and abetted by Republicans desperate to oust Democrats from the White House after two decades on the outside, came home to a rapturous welcome fit for a Roman general. 'Church bells pealed beneath the Bataan '—MacArthur’s plane—'as the aircraft crossed the country,' author H.W. Brands recounts in a timely new book, The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. At a time when Trump has unnerved liberals and mainstream Republicans alike with his 'huge, unbelievable' crowds, it’s worth being reminded that they are nothing compared with the mass adulation MacArthur stirred up." (Newsweek)

Ultimately, Stein remarks,

"Many Americans, and not just Trump’s uninformed devotees, yearn for tidy, simple and quick endings. They are impatient. They have forgotten, or may never have learned, how a far smarter and worldly man than Trump, a war hero riding a tide of hysterical anti-Communism, brought us to the brink of a nuclear World War III.

MacArthur was 'awesomely brilliant,' his contemporary General Omar Bradley once remarked—not something many would say about Trump—'but as a leader he had several major flaws: an obsession for self-glorification, almost no consideration for other men with whom he served and a contempt for the judgment of his superiors.' In short, Bradley said, 'MacArthur was a megalomaniac.'" (Newsweek)

John Tierney

Executive Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Former U.S. Representative (D-MA)

In a 12/23/2016 Politico article titled, "Trump Threatens to Upend U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy," Madeline Conway quotes a statement released by Tierney on 12/22/2016:

"It is dangerous for the President-elect to use just 140 characters and announce a major change in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, which is nuanced, complex, and affects every single person on this planet...The potential consequences of changing U.S. nuclear weapons policy so drastically are simply unimaginable...Current plans already call for spending $1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize and maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which the Pentagon has expressed concern about being able to afford. The President-elect will have to explain why any increase is necessary both financially and strategically." (Politico)

Alex Wellerstein

Historian of Nuclear Weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology

Creator of Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog


Dan Zak

Columnist at The Washington Post

Author of Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age (2016)


Joshua M. Zeitz

U.S. American Historian

Former Lecturer at University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and Princeton University


Further Research

Additional Research Directions

  • History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, 1945-present
  • U.S. Nuclear Waste Management Policy
  • Private versus Public Investments in Nuclear Development/Programs
  • Trump's Early Interest and Involvement in U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (1980s)
  • Trump's Views on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, 1990-2015

Additional Reading: Scholarly Sources

U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Proliferation

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Biswas, Shampa. Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order. University of Minnesota Press: 2014.

Borrie, John. "Humanitarian Reframing of Nuclear Weapons and the Logic of a Ban." International Affairs, vol. 90, no. 3, May 2014, pp. 625-646.

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Colby, Elbridge. "The Role of Nuclear Weapons in the U.S.-Russian Relationship." Task Force Report on U.S. Policy toward Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2016. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

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