Thursday morning, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted about his desire to expand the United States’ nuclear capabilities.
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
It’s unclear what prompted Trump’s tweet, as nuclear weapons haven’t exactly been a hot topic of recent political conversation in the United States. But the tweet came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed his desire to expand Russia’s nuclear capabilities during a meeting with his military advisers.
“We need to strengthen the strategic nuclear forces, for that we should develop missiles capable of penetrating any current and prospective missile defense systems,” Putin said at a defense ministry meeting, according to Tass news agency. “We must carefully monitor any changes in the balance of power and in the political-military situation in the world, especially along Russian borders, and quickly adapt plans for neutralizing threats to our country.”
Trump reportedly received an intelligence briefing Thursday for the second consecutive day. That’s a change from earlier this month, when Trump admitted he was skipping briefings but downplayed their importance on the basis that he’s “a smart person” anyway.
Russia is the only country in the world with a larger nuclear arsenal than the United States, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Trump’s tweet comes almost exactly a year after he stumbled through a question about nuclear weapons during a GOP presidential debate, revealing he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” was. Since then, Trump’s made a number of concerning remarks about nukes, including being dismissive about the potential of a nuclear arms race on the Korean peninsula to refusing to rule out using nukes in Europe.
The president-elect’s apparent subtweet comes amid controversy about the role Putin may have played in helping Trump win the presidential election. A number of U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers tried to manipulate the election in Trump’s favor. Trump has repeatedly dismissed their findings while reiterating his desire to have better relations with Russia and Putin, whom he’s praised as a better leader than President Obama.
Trump has tapped men who have good relations with Putin for leading roles in his administration. Last December, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, sat at the same table with Putin during an event in Russia at which he blasted President Obama and said he didn’t know whether the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria was a “false flag.” And Trump’s secretary of state nomination, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013.
While Flynn and Tillerson are at least cordial with Putin, it’s unclear whether Trump himself has any relationship with the Russian president. During an interview that aired shortly before the election, Trump told Extra’s AJ Calloway said he has no relationship with Putin. But when Calloway pressed Trump about whether that means he’s recanting previous statements that he does indeed have a relationship with the Russian President, Trump said he’s “not recanting anything.”