President-elect Donald Trump on Friday morning escalated his calls for a stronger U.S. nuclear arsenal, saying he was fine with an “arms race” if it puts the U.S. in a stronger position against foreign adversaries.
“Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” during an off-air conversation on Friday.
The attempt at a clarification came after Trump alarmed some with a vague tweet on Thursday that said, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
The tweet, which threatened to upend longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy, followed comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on his country to “strengthen” its nuclear forces.
“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,” he said, according to multiple news reports.
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Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said in several television interviews on Friday that there would not be an arms race because the president-elect would ensure that other countries trying to step up their nuclear capabilities, such as Russia and China, would decide not to do so.
“He’s going to ensure that other countries get the message that he’s not going to sit back and allow that,” Spicer told NBC. “And what’s going to happen is they will come to their senses, and we will all be just fine.”
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.”
If Trump and Putin both want to expand nuclear weapons, that would effectively end arms control efforts underway since the Nixon administration, said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that works to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons.
“This is how arms races begin — with a battle of words,” Cirincione said, urging Trump, a real estate mogul, to “make the biggest deal of his life” and negotiate cuts to the nuclear arsenal with Russia.