On Wednesday, NBC reported that during a major national security meeting on July 20, President Trump expressed a desire to dramatically expand America’s nuclear arsenal.
Citing “three officials who were in the room,” NBC reports Trump indicated during the meeting that he wants to expand America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons to about 32,000 — a huge increase from the current stockpile of about 4,000. His comments “came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.”
According to NBC, Trump’s comments surprised officials — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was overheard calling Trump a “moron” shortly after the meeting adjourned. (NBC broke news about Tillerson’s “moron” comment last week, and Tillerson didn’t deny calling Trump that name when asked about it during a news conference last Wednesday.)
The July 20 meeting came a day after another one that left national security officials stunned.
“At that July 19 meeting, according to senior administration officials, Trump asked military leaders to fire the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and compared their advice to that of a New York restaurant consultant whose poor judgment cost a business valuable time and money,” according to NBC’s report.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly threatened to strike North Korea with a nuclear weapon. During his speech before the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump made no distinction between the King Jong-un regime and the North Korea people and said his administration is willing to “totally destroy North Korea.” That came just over a month after Trump responded to a North Korean missile test by telling reporters that if the regime of Kim Jong-un issues further threats, the U.S. will retaliate with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Though it isn’t logistically feasible to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the dramatic manner Trump reportedly desires, his interest follows a troubling pattern. During his presidential campaign, Trump said a number of alarming things about nuclear strikes. At various points, Trump wondered aloud why nukes would be made if they were never to be used, wouldn’t rule out nuking Europe, said that his strategy with regards to nuclear weapons is “to be unpredictable.”
Shortly after winning the election, Trump tweeted that America “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
A day after posting that tweet, Trump dismissed concerns about a nuclear arms race during an off-camera conversation with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.
“Let it be an arms race,” Trump reportedly said. “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
The Republican-controlled Congress is following along with Trump’s nuclear weapons strategy. As ThinkProgress reported in late July, the House recently passed an appropriations bill “that would increase funding for nuclear weapons programs while cutting funds for nuclear security and nonproliferation,” and there are indications that the Senate is willing to go down a similar path.
UPDATE (10/11, 9:45 a.m.): Trump denied NBC’s reporting on Wednesday morning.
Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a "tenfold" increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Trump also denied NBC’s recent story about Tillerson calling him a “moron,” claiming last week that his secretary of state “totally refused” the report during a news conference. Tillerson, however, never denied calling Trump that name.