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Friday, December 23, 2016, 10:04

Trump wants greater nuclear capability

By Reuters
Trump wants greater nuclear capability
President-elect Donald Trump takes a question from a member of the media at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, Dec 21, 2016. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

PALM BEACH, Florida/WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump called for an expansion of the United States' nuclear capabilities on Thursday, in a tweet that alarmed nonproliferation experts who said that a boost to the US arsenal could fuel global tensions.

In his Twitter post, Trump said, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," but gave no further details.

It was not clear what prompted his comment. However, earlier on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia needed to "strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces."

Asked about the tweet, Trump spokesman Jason Miller later said 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."

The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes

Donald Trump, US President-elect

Trump, who takes office on Jan 20, also has "emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength," spokesman Jason Miller said.

Miller told Reuters that Trump was not advocating the use of nuclear weapons, and said Trump's comments were not meant to be read as a new policy proposal.

Experts wondered whether Trump's brief tweet meant he wanted to breach limits imposed on US strategic weapons and delivery systems by the 2011 New START treaty with Russia - or planned to expand the non-deployed stockpile.

"It is completely irresponsible for the president-elect or the president to make changes to US nuclear policy in 140 characters and without understanding the implications of statements like 'expand the capacity,'" said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a leading proponent of arms control based in Washington.

Putin, who has said that Trump has confirmed to him that he is willing to mend ties between the two countries, said in a speech in Moscow: "We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems."

'FARCICAL'

The US is one of five nuclear weapons states allowed to keep a nuclear arsenal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The others are Russia, Britain, France and China.

Trump's "farcical" tweet failed to communicate a "rational deterrence policy" and risks fueling arms race dynamics with Russia and China, said Miles Pomper, Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The United States needs to do more to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands, rather than creating more materials, Pomper told Reuters.

Trump, who was elected on Nov 8, campaigned on a platform of building up the US military but also pledged to cut taxes and control federal spending.

Most of the US arsenal was built between 25 and 62 years ago during the arms race with the former Soviet Union, and has been patched and otherwise refashioned many times to extend its lifespan.

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