Nine states have nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Iran’s nuclear program has been the focus of intense concern for years, and Saudi Arabia has vowed that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it will follow suit. Consider also that two men have the power to unleash a nuclear barrage entirely on their own — President Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who are both working assiduously on modernizing their arsenals.
Mr. Trump has said he is working on a new arms control agreement with Russia and is seeking to include China in the talks. But his administration has always found it easier to tear up treaties than to sign them, especially if the result in any way restrains the United States. As the special envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, boasted in May, “We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic put millions of Americans out of work, spending so much money on new doomsday weapons was profligate. Now, it seems morally indefensible. This week, the Government Accountability Office said that, without changes, the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons modernization effort is on track to surpass its $1.2 trillion price tag over the next three decades. It seems as though the United States is plunging into a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China without having learned the lessons of the last one.
When briefed by the military in 2017 on the levels to which American and Russian nuclear arsenals had been reduced through arms treaties, Mr. Trump reportedly demanded that the United States increase its nuclear stockpile tenfold. According to some reports, this was what prompted the secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson, to call the president a “moron.”
Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Iran nuclear deal, and he has not yet extended the New START accord, the only agreement still in place limiting American and Russian nuclear forces, which was signed by President Barack Obama and expires in early February. In addition, the Trump administration was recently reported to be thinking of breaking the 28-year-old moratorium on nuclear testing.