Trump says the US nuclear arsenal is now 'tippy top' thanks to him, but nuke experts say he's out of touch with reality
Donald Trump Brian Snyder / Reuters
President Donald Trump said on Friday that the US nuclear arsenal was now "tippy top" thanks to him.
Nuclear weapons experts said the only major change to the nuclear arsenal was the introduction of the low-yield W76-2.
Other efforts to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear triad began during the Obama administration and continued to be funded under Trump. However, it will be some time before the US military sees some of the new systems in the works.
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President Donald Trump boasted on Friday that the US nuclear arsenal was "tippy top" thanks to him, but nuclear weapons experts told insiders the arsenal hadn't changed much during his presidency.
Trump told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh that "our nuclear power is now at the top," adding that China and Russia are dreaming of US military weapons. Trump regularly boasts of the strength of the US military, sometimes with somewhat nonsensical phrases like "super duper missile".
Trump has repeatedly called for stronger nuclear power before and during his presidency.
At a campaign event in 2016, Trump jealously praised the Russian military and voiced concerns about the United States. "Putin has always rebuilt his military," he said. "Your military is much stronger. It does nuclear power, we do nothing. Our nuclear power is old and tired and, according to all I hear, its nuclear power is tippy top."
Later that year, just before he became president, he tweeted, "The United States needs to significantly strengthen and expand its nuclear capabilities before the world comes to its senses on nuclear weapons."
In the summer of 2017, just over seven months after his presidency, Trump tweeted that he had modernized the nuclear arsenal. "My first assignment as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal," he wrote. "It is now much stronger and more powerful than ever."
The President was referring to the order (not actually his first) to initiate the nuclear stance and strategy review, which was not due to be made public until the following year.
Last September, Trump argued that he had revived the US nuclear arsenal. "Our Atom got really tired. Now we have it, as we would say, Tippy-Top shape. Tippy-Top. We got new ones and we did renovations and it's amazing. We should all pray we should never use it have to."
After Trump boasted again on Friday that he had made the US nuclear arsenal the "Tippy Top", Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert with the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider that "his statement implies that the nuclear forces are ahead of him." Tippy-Top "became president because he hasn't made any significant changes to the Arsenal since then."
The U.S. military has been working to modernize the aging nuclear triad, but that work began before Trump took office.
Trump's "claim bears no relation to reality," said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons and non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute. "The modernization program began under Obama."
The Trump administration has continued to fund this modernization, often pushing for funding, but the new systems are still in the works.
"We won't see the first of about a dozen new ballistic missile submarines until next year," said Lewis, adding that the US military "won't see the new nuclear-weapon-capable B-21 and its new air cruise missile up Mid-2020s and will be lucky enough to see a new ICBM by 2030. "
"The only noteworthy thing Trump has done is convert some of our existing W76 warheads from our submarines to a low-yield variant," he said, referring to the low-yield W76-2 now with US-U -Boating is used. Three other nuclear weapons experts identified this as the only significant change to the nuclear arsenal during Trump's presidency.
The Trump administration continues to show interest in developing new nuclear weapons. In the President's budget for fiscal 2021, the Trump administration showed interest in building the W93, a new warhead for its submarine-fired missiles, but that work has not yet begun.
"Donald Trump thinks of nuclear weapons for some reason today," Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear weapons expert for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, tweeted on Friday.
"Since August 2017 he has been boasting of single-handedly modernizing and strengthening our nuclear arsenal. He has not," wrote Schwartz. “His 'Tippy Top' claim is as absurd and unfounded today as it was when he last made it in September 2019.
"Trump's boastful, detached rhetoric about weapon systems is the order of the day," said Kingston Reif, a disarmament expert, insider after Trump's "Tippy Top" comments.
"But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Trump has proposed a significant expansion of the role and capabilities of the US nuclear arsenal," he added. "While much of the proposed expansion is still in its early stages, it is unnecessary, poses a major challenge to affordability, and would increase nuclear risk - especially when combined with the government trampling on arms control."
Vipin Narang, a security studies expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Insider that Trump's approach to nuclear policy and arms control has put US security at risk.
"The government added the W76-2 but took away the [Iranian nuclear treaty], the [medium-range nuclear force treaty] and is now threatening to tear up New START, which has likely made us less secure overall in the nuclear area," Narang and said pointed to international agreements that Trump ended or threatened during his tenure.
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